Danny Zavaleta Art Work

Fugalternativa Contemporary Art Space
Feb 12, 2014 10:01PM

Danny Zavaleta (1981, San Salvador) has generated his language inserting in contemporary art iconographies of popular sectors, including those that are banned: the visual compendium of tattoos and graffiti, as well as to the gestures, the jargons and even the texture of the walls found in the marginal slum areas, where the Maras concentrate in his country.

Originating in complex circumstances involving migratory displacements, forced repatriations, and a rigid system of castes without mobility or options, these groups composed of reckless quasi-children and adolescents obtain a social identity by imposing their power through violent strategies outside the law. Zavaleta represents in different media the graphic signs that support a rituality in which forms of belongings and modes of identity are built under the permanent and uncontrolled threat to death

Irony is also a conceptual strategy in his works, which are derived both from the investigations of the “Ciclas or Mara” groups, and from the familiarity with its subjects, since the artist has not been an outside observer who appears in these scenarios and reproduces an aesthetic and foreign vision, but somebody who grew up in Soyapango, one of the areas where that urban Mara of violence is concentrated.

His Made In, embroidery is a homespun costume, paradise the format of the most representative icon of popular culture: the typical Salvadoran dress. But it replaces the traditional pastoral embroideries representing birds, trees, or the rising sun with codes found in the Mara templates for tattoos. Likewise, it complies figures repeated in the country’s buses, in which the popular, religious and iconographic languages mix those of the widespread violence and personal keys.

The use of embroidery one of the ancestral crafts inseparable from the everyday life of many indigenous communities, but also one of the forms of precarious live hood in present-day big cities and other elements of local social reflection to the dress piece. But at the same time, though its iconoclastic restatement of what the national costume really is it cites reference to art history, which evoke the practice of performances and deconstruction of the iconic, as it occur in the relationship between Joseph Beuys’ felt grab, and its appropriation by Maurizio Cattelan.

By transplanting and unifying religious phrases and gang signs in black threat on immaculate white tablecloths, he renders the installations disturbing. Each piece embroidered with minimal elements denying the profusion of color and forms in the popular aesthetics destabilizes the borders of representation, and attacks the nations of a social gaze that generally stands with its back to its own abysses.

The act introducing in institutions, galleries or museums all these marginal iconographic formats, confers a sort of legitimacy, if not to the violent practices that sometimes accompany, to their desperate claim for insertion and social belonging.

On the other hand, Zavaleta’s paintings are an exploration that gathers together in his blots, textures and figures graphic components that are repetitive elements in the Mara’s graffiti when somebody dies. Likewise, he reproduces the walls of his urban territories copying them from a photographic documentation that he translates to the canvas. But the artist also poses a diachronic gaze of violence and of forms of exclusion, which run across centuries. Thus, the image of a man whose head has been covered with a hood by the Inquisition in the Middle Ages coexists with the signs tattooed on the skin of the places where the “Mara-18 or the Mara Salvatrucha” extended their simulacrum of power. Since it is anyway, a power, which imposes terror without generating any kind of transformation, and which, implies an insane transit, which often ends in death.

The layers of paint seem to gravitate over the empty places; the graffiti float between fragments of flaky walls like a gigantic metaphor for lack of social cohesion. In some cases, like in the graffiti-like drawing of the “Jaina” (a Mara member’s woman), Zavaleta uses the elements of its idealized representation to construct a non-existent character in the Maras, and in the respect, an scathing fable of their sexism, since this is an empowered woman, a gang leader.

Through these types of works, or projects like his caustic alphabetization chart – which showed, from A to Z, linguistic and iconographic conventions of the Maras one of his greatest achievements has been reaching and giving visibility to the multiple graphic alphabets of violence in the context of contemporary art. Zavaleta has transplanted to the art world the fissures of a social fabric in which it is possible to say: “My Mom doesn’t pamper me: my Mara does”.

At the moment when, as he asserts, “there is a rare thing called truce”, his works, filled with local referents but engaged in a dialogue with the painting of the generations that lived moments like the Fall of the Iron Curtain, form a map that helps to thread the present territory of the country like El Salvador, opening it up to a future dialogue.

Fugalternativa Contemporary Art Space