WE ARE YOU PROJECT
An ICONOLOGICAL CRITIQUE of DUDA PENTEADO’s WE ARE YOU
by José Rodeiro, Critic and Art Historian
The spectacular imagery of Latino artist Duda Penteado manifests two essential artistic concerns: first, his main theme is humanity’s valiant struggle(s) to attain higher consciousness, greater awareness, justice, equitable prosperity, better health, love and peace. Secondly, via his unique imagery, Penteado explores this powerful and absorbing theme of struggle within four on-going series (The Elemental Fossils series, The Beauty for Ashes series, The In Search of Paradise series and The Glocallica series); each consisting of interconnected paintings, drawings, poems, sculptures, performance-pieces and videos. Each series provides inimitably interrelated historic contexts that determine the series’ escalating scope, parameter, and direction(s), as well as affording possible solutions to complex social and global issues. Each series’ imagery boldly attempts to convey the full emotive and intellectual range of emerging 21st century human endeavors, illuminating humanity’s authorship of sublime acts of mercy, love, and beauty, as well as tragic and appalling acts of extraordinary horror, suffering, and devastation.
An iconological analysis of Duda Penteado’s monumental We Are You image ought to commence with the work’s history. The painting is associated with Penteado’s internationally acclaimed Beauty for Ashes Series; a compilation of images and artistic-occurrences, which dynamically memorialize the catastrophic events of 9/11/2001, which sparked the United States entry into various ongoing wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as the Philippine Islands). In spring 2010, the We Are You image became the official poster for the 2nd National Conference on Latino Elderly; a collaborative enterprise between New Jersey City University (NJCU) and the Latino Center on Aging (LCA). Consistent with this above-stated distinction is the fact that previously, in June 23, 2005, the piece was unveiled during the LCA’s prestigious 13th Golden Age Awards ceremony.
Iconologically, Duda Penteado’s We Are You painting is a Postmodern tour de force that simultaneously incorporates three contemporary revisionist-styles: Neo-Pop, Neo-Expressionism, and Neo-Surrealism, additionally the work is reminiscent of revolutionary modern masters Pablo Picasso and Pierre Alechinsky, who pioneered Surreal-Expressionism and Lyrical Abstraction. These stylistic references are most evident within abstract figural-elements (i.e., four uplifted colorful hands, eleven glimmering stars, a golden spermatozoid comet, a mother and a child swaddled in a cerulean blanket). These anomalous characters act upon-or-around a rotating, undulating, and escalating spiral staircase comprised of red and white stripes, resembling surreal piano-keys. Inscribed on each stripe is the name of a Latin American nation. The four up-reaching hands intimate various races inhabiting America, as well as signifying a new 21st Century American world, fusing North America, Central America, Caribbean-America and South America. Appendages (i.e., hands, feet, raised arms, legs, etc.) play prominent roles in many of Penteado’s works, including We Are You. In sundry images, recurrent stylized and expressive hands and feet serve as symbolic surrogates for people; metaphorically representing manifestations of human aspiration, signifying emblematic manifestoes of human-striving (reaching) after freedom, justice, decency and equality. In We Are You, the colors on the hands represent new colors beyond mimetic skin complexions or the predictable red-white-blue. Since the word mano means hand, the hands’ aspirational and inspirational aspects are praxis or manifestations (manifestoes) challenging ultra-capitalism, imperialism, militarism and tyranny -- poignant problems that have historically plagued The Americas. Even today, these old problems linger, e.g., slavery has been reconfigured by means of migrant-laborers’ and illegal-laborers’ nominal-wages without any benefits into a new horrific form of colonization (imperialism), which is tragically occurring within the USA, representing a dilemma that a proposed iron-curtain along the Rio Grande will not remedy nor will Arizona’s new unjust immigration policy.
Also at play within We Are You are artistic-allusions to Frédéric Bartholdi’s “Statue of Liberty” entitled Liberty Lighting the World. This 1886 gift from France to the US affirms that America is a land of immigrants and refugees. Penteado’s penetrating We Are You image stands as the new “Statue of Liberty” for a new millennium. In fact, there are many significant similarities between Bartholdi’s Beaux Art statue/lighthouse and Penteado’s Postmodern image; these parallels are especially apparent when flying in a helicopter over Liberty Island, Jersey City (NJ), then Penteado’s unique foreshortening is instantly palpable. Moreover, the four sets of contiguous tri-windows along the statue’s base assume forms of four expanding hands up-reaching. Central to the composition is Picasso’s heroic Latina woman (as madre) protecting and nurturing her child. Above the mother and child, a spermatozoa-comet flares (which is emblematic of the Latino child). The “comet/child” is about to become a new star within ‘Old Glory’s’ firmament. Thus, the stars are not merely symbolic of states; but equally signify the incorporation of people into the USA. Hence, Penteado’s We Are You image embodies in the infant child US Latinos’ symbolic-emergence as a new star. This is an idea that Penteado borrows from Martin Luther King Jr., who enjoined every person to contribute to America’s success, by tolerating and using everyone’s gifts to advance and enhance American prosperity and justice. Thereby, King asked patriotic Americans to perpetually renew America’s 1776 revolutionary commitment to freedom and equality.
In We Are You, Penteado avows M. L. King’s inclusive Civil Rights approach. This emerging need for a new Civil Rights movement is particularly important, within a 21st Century context of growing US-Latinization. And, against the backdrop of current and recurrent hostilities toward US Latinos, Penteado’s We Are You image addresses and analyses contemporary anti-Latino sentiments and milieus with the singular idea that US Latinos are historically and traditionally part of the fabric of American life. We Are You’s utilization of many colors (green, yellow, ochre, blue, red, white, gold, and orange) clearly symbolizes unique Latino ingredients and flavors that culturally enrich and amplify American society and life.
Via We Are You’s distinctive wedding-cake design, Penteado accomplishes his new Latinized awareness or perspective by architecturally layering the various levels of awareness. These layers permit the rising-up of awareness, revealing that Latinos “are” and have been here in North America at least for over 19,700 years (according to recent finds at Cactus Hill, Virginia, the oldest archaeological site in the USA, wherein all DNA evidence leads directly to the Iberian Peninsula). In this new light, We Are You proclaims that Latinos are not all illegal; rather Latinos are thriving in America; many are doing well, pursuing careers as lawyers, doctors, politicians, artists, professors, businessmen, engineers, etc.), quickly becoming the USA’s largest minority-group. In the future, a sculpture of the We Are You image is currently being pondered by the artist, because the 2-D components and figural elements easily translate into a 3-D format. The wedding cake design lends itself perfectly to a strong ziggurat-esque structure. The field-of-stars could be placed on the ground; while the spiral and step-like effects of the stripes could permit the piece to function as a fountain, with a rippling downward flow of water -- indicative of rebirth. Ideally, water would run down in a stream along the stripes meeting in a pool containing fifty stars. The Picasso-esque female figure would hold the comet in her hand evoking the torch held-up by Bartholdi’s Liberty. The possible use of water in the sculpture is intriguing. Since, often Penteado’s images connote (suggest) aquatic or underwater scenes, reminiscent of creatures swimming or floating within a glass aquarium. Metaphorically, globalization has placed contemporary American life within a fish-tank that revealingly exposes how Americans actually connect with other cultures.
We Are You is a means to an end created by an artistic-prophet, who is unleashing a clarion call for America to embrace other cultures, by rejecting discrimination, intolerance, and segregation. We Are You asks viewers to break boundaries that unfairly separate people, by refusing to accept simple answers; instead, the image poses complex and correct questions. As Duda Penteado has stated, “Philosophically, my mission as an artist is to empower and to create dialogue about difficult issues,”. . . . . “To have skill, determination, and inspiration is not enough. A great artist has the ability to capture the imagination of future generations and say something of direct relevance to them. In my case, my art pieces are not an end in and of themselves, but a means of arriving at fundamental human truth” (Penteado).
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