Grapple with American novelist and ArtForum writer Dodie Bellamy’s revelatory feature of Los Angeles-based Basque multimedia artist, Erlea Maneros Zabala in her piece, “Erlea Maneros Zabala: A feminist reimagining of Spain’s fascist past,” (July 25, 2022).
Read the excerpts below to better understand Bellamy’s impression of Maneros Zabala’s work in a post-Roe context as well as Maneros Zabala’s central message within her art: to reclaim the female figure and female voice despite the residue of Franco’s fascist violence.
“BORN AND RAISED IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY, Erlea Maneros Zabala relocated to Los Angeles in 2000. I met her briefly in 2007 through Raymond Pettibon. Though we instantly clicked, our paths didn’t cross again until 2019, when we found ourselves at the same Christmas Eve party. In May, I visited Erlea in her house in the high desert, two hours outside of Los Angeles, where she walked me through a slide presentation of “The Voice of the Valley,” her solo exhibition currently on view at Artium Museoa, Museum of Contemporary Art of the Basque Country through September 18, 2022. The show comprises four installations that are loosely in conversation with one another. I was particularly engaged by Prompt Book, 2016–22, a response to gruesome depictions of women in artworks created during the Franco Regime.
Since my visit to Joshua Tree in early May, Erlea and I have talked on the phone for dozens of hours, open-ended conversations about our personal lives, gossip, politics, history, art. The more we looked at and discussed misogynist art from the Spanish fascist period, the more apparent were its resonances with current attacks on women’s rights. Situated in the same room as Prompt Book is the eponymous The Voice of the Valley, 2017, a video of Erlea’s hands in her Joshua Tree studio doing various art-related tasks such as sanding a frame as she listens to the local right-wing radio station. Watching the four-hour video is an act of endurance, witnessing the epic cultural assault of angry male voices upon Erlea, i.e., the female artist, i.e., women in general. When Roe v. Wade was overturned, I reaffirmed my commitment to spotlight feminist projects such as Erlea’s. So, over Zoom on June 26, she and I discussed her Artium exhibition and its ramifications.”
EMZ: Until recently, the Spanish public has been unable to address the forty years of the fascist regime they endured. As I saw visitors walk through the room—so small that it felt more of a passage space between larger rooms—I was bewildered by how seldom anyone actually stopped to look at any of it.
But what struck me was the fact that every female figure in these small, cutesy artworks was being subjected to physical violence. The film, projected to fill the whole wall, consisted of a seventy-three minute monologue of a man not only making excuses for his son killing his wife but also blaming another woman for brainwashing the son into doing it.
Observing these brutalized female figures trapped in these artworks ticked me off. As I looked at them, they became animated; they turned into protagonists in a play. I imagined the thoughts and conversations they might be having all taking place in Euskara (my mother tongue) in the spirit of a group of women talking in a coffee shop or a hair salon in my hometown, sharing their grievances.
DB: Was it your intent to leave Prompt Book in Basque?
EMZ: I liked the idea that the text would be written in a language that was illegal in Spain when the artworks were created. Most people who would have seen that version of Prompt Book would not have been able to understand what the women were saying so they would have experienced the text merely as image. Later they would have been able to access the full breadth of the project by reading the translation.
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