It is rather irksome and ironic that in the land of the free and democratic that people might refer to themselves as “Kings” or “Queens.” If everyone were royalty, who would work? And who would serve? Yet, with the best intentions, calling someone by this grandiose name implies that one honors the beauty and the ultimate spiritual elevation of that person.
So now arrives artist Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz’s exhibit “Sovereign,” on view at the Longwood Arts Gallery on the campus of Hostos Community College until August 2nd. Co-curated by Juanita Lanzo and Kimberly Vaquedano-Rose, “Sovereign” captures the inner life and turmoil of the artist as presented in self-portrait. Drawings and photographs here are selfies of the inner-artist’s true self, an approximation of the truth.
This show is a lot like one of those magazine articles and photo spreads that convince women that body image isn’t important however here the artistic conversation elevates and explicates those feelings of self-doubt from the inside out. This is a inner-self selfie in the time of gratuitous vanity and self-marvel but Raimundi-Ortiz allows a viewer to marvel at the humanity and the royal living side-by-side, sometimes in union, sometimes in competition but as with so much of Raimundi-Ortiz’s work, she is a master at what she’s doing, totally in control and always on message. This is an artist in command of her art and what she says.
This is not the tiptoe frilly or the flinty images of Queen Elizabeth the First but a glance into an every woman’s dynamic inner struggle with passion, reservations, desires, and how to temper all with wisdom and balance. There can only be one place and one place only and that is deep inside of the person looking for bravery, strength and self-preservation. Ultimately, one can only be one’s own salvation.
For example, before I go too far afield, the first eye catching installation is an uncanny self-portrait of the artist painted on a full wall. The eyes penetrate and the lips purse.
The vision is of the artist who sees and knows. A viewer doesn’t look at Ortiz but it’s as if Ortiz stares out over her viewing subjects. To be sure, this temporary work is a great feat.
In another series of photographs, a warrior queen clad all in white holds an unsheathed blade. Reminiscent of a Rembrandt, the artist time travels, transporting herself to different times and different royal dynasties of her own creation. This outward royalty reflects to an inward greatness. (In full transparency, this reporter is an adjunct professor at Hostos Community College and went to college with the artist.)
On view are full costumes, Marie Antoinette-style wigs and head dresses from a past time when the artist presented her work and when she dressed in this regal attire. Most works here are of the artist except one of Ortiz’s mother, probably the grandest of them all.
These are not self-conscious or sarcastic renderings but the artist laughs at her own contrivances. In photographs of the artist dressed in royal regalia, Sovereign queen Ortiz seriously camps up her subject – herself. Moving inward, Ortiz’s emotionally finds enough outward sense to tongue in cheek wearing poufy sleeves and flowing gown, making serious fun of herself. This is high class vaudeville.
Essentially, Ortiz addresses her inner-queen, like an inner-child, and touches on other women’s majesty however what comes across is how down to Earth her royalty can be. This art deserves a curtsy or a bow because this is a working class queen who realizes and finds that monarchs too can be just one of the girls.