Little Princesses: The Photographic Kingdom of Adriana Duque

Breathing new life into art historical traditions, blurring the lines between painting and photography, and capturing the innocence of children, are thriving trends in contemporary art; in the portraiture of Adriana Duque, we find all three, synthesized seamlessly in tableaux fit for fairytales. Perhaps best described as cinematic or theatrical, Duque’s photographs feature stoic little girls—think Princess Margarita in Velázquez’s iconic Las Meninas—ensconced in lush environments. The resulting delusions of grandeur function as commentaries on her native Colombia and its colonial history, as well as utopian ideals and social and cultural stereotypes.

The series, known as “Íconos,” now on view at Zipper Galeria, is as richly embedded with meaning as it is elaborately preconceived. Each work, a different version of Maria, builds upon its counterparts. Combining art historical motifs from Renaissance portraiture, Dutch Golden Age still lifes, dramatic Baroque lighting, and fanciful Rococo details, each scenario is impeccably calculated. From lighting to custom-made costumes to fresh flowers and produce to digitally enhanced blue eyes, this staging process, in addition to each girl’s impenetrable gaze, combine to form surreal situations, that ultimately upend photography’s documentary traditions.

One of Duque’s signatures, and a striking element that each portrait shares, is a pair of gold headphones, encrusted with jewels, pearls, and beads. At once enhancing the regal ambience of the scenes through their resemblance to crowns, and nodding to contemporary society and overindulged children, these headphones are also a symbolic muting device, blocking out all background noise, and allowing the girls to focus on the superficialities in front of them. This combination of incongruent details, along with the inclusion of porcelain figurines and exotic produce, also allude to the history of Latin American art, particularly the hybrid nature of Spanish colonial art where combining imagery from Spanish and native Latin American culture was common. Visually and conceptually confounding and intriguing, one can’t help but get lost in the many layered worlds of Duque’s little princesses.

“Adriana Duque: Íconos”  is on view at Zipper Galeria, São Paulo, Mar. 17th–Apr. 11th, 2014.

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