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IMAGE HEADER: Aldeide Delgado
Vital contributions to an evolving archive and canon of women photographers can be attributed to the innovative work of Aldeide Delgado, a photography and art curator, researcher and editor. With a focus on Latin American and Latinx communities, including photographers from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and artists of Latin American descent living and working in the United States, Delgado is the founder and director of Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA). Based in Miami, WOPHA is an outgrowth of a prior project, Catalog of Women Cuban Photographers, that Delgado initially conceived as a book, but one that came to life as an online database and archive. Read on to find out more about these projects and Delgado’s contributions to the fields of photography and women’s studies among others.
Carlotta Boettcher. San Francisco 70s: Urban Portrait series. 1972-1978. Courtesy Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: One of your seminal projects is the online archive and the publication, Catalog of Women Cuban Photographers, which led to your role as co-founder and director of Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA). Can you tell us a bit about these two projects, their existence as ongoing–living sites of production, and how you define women?
ALDEIDE: I will start with the last question because I consider it is crucial to the understanding of the conceptual frameworks of my practice. When I use the term ‘women’, I am very aware of the different definitions of this fictional construct and how such definitions have evolved through the diverse history of feminism. In my use of ‘women’, I do not consider it a static category. In fact, as philosopher Paul B. Preciado has argued, the category ‘women’ works as an opaque entity that has hidden the privileges of certain groups of women—white, heterosexual, cisgender, middle class women, specifically-above other racialized women and/or eccentric subjectivities. I’m very inspired by theorist bell hooks and her definition of ‘woman’ as a subject position. Quoting this idea from art historian Claire Raymond’s book Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics (2017), bodies who experience and are shaped by specific forms of sexist oppression may be socially configured as ‘women’. In my projects, I adopt the category ‘women’ as a political subject, recognizing that there are different ways to identify as a woman according to class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, creed, ability, and gender. My use of ‘women’ is inclusive of all cis and trans women in addition to any person who identifies as woman.
Having said that, my exploration of and contribution to Women’s Studies began in 2013 with the development of Catalog of Cuban Women Photographers. The Catalog is the first project to comprehensively collate scattered and obscure information on women artists who contributed to Cuban photographic history spanning the 19th century through the present. In the post-1959 island context, proposing a Catalog of Cuban Women Photographers became a radical act as the history of Cuban photography has been institutionally defined by a group of male photojournalists whose work, in association with the political agenda of the government, legitimized the populist values of the Cuban revolutionary project and its heroic-male-centered official iconography.
Although initially I conceptualized the Catalog as a book project with a limited timeframe and roster of artists, every time I met with a new photographer and learned of her story, the significance of bringing these stories to light through a long-term interactive initiative was reaffirmed for me. When, in 2016, I migrated to Miami, I decided to expand the project scope and create an accessible, ongoing online archive to the benefit of artists, curators, and scholars in general. The website hosts artist profile pages, which feature short professional biographies, artist statements, and a selection of 15 images from their portfolios. Also, it preserves Cuban art historical texts that explore the relationships between gender and photography, feminism and photography, as well as monographic studies of various women photographers.
Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA) emerged as a result of this primary database. In 2018, after spending five years working on the Catalog, I founded the nonprofit organization to research, promote, support, and educate on the role of women in the photographic arts. WOPHA has a strong focus on historical research, producing rigorous academic content with particular emphasis on the diverse artistic production of Latin American and Latinx communities, including photographers from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and artists of Latin American descent living and working in the United States.
Coco Fusco and Nao Bustamante. Photography by Sven Weiderholt. Paquita y Chata se arrebatan. 1996. Courtesy of the artist, Alexander Gray Associates Gallery and WOPHA.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: What are your thoughts on collaboration, a central component of WOPHA, and also on presenting work that is bilingual? What are some of the challenges and some of the triumphs?
ALDEIDE: Historically, a fundamental strategy employed to document the many contributions by women in photography has been the formation of self-organized communities of female photographers banding together for solidarity and networking. In the last conference I presented at, the 1-54 Forum London 2020, my Keynote address about Latinx art expanded this hypothesis, previously developed in my presentation at the 2019 Fast Forward conference: “How do Women Work”, by highlighting the conceptualization of collaborative projects among Latino/a/x artists from the seventies through the nineties. I’m inspired by the legacy of these practices of resistance, and I truly believe in the power of collaboration to impact the processes of claiming spaces, rewriting art history, and challenging art institutions.
I reflect on the role of museums and how independent initiatives can develop, in partnership with them, counternarratives that deconstruct, subvert, and make visible long ignored voices in these spaces. As a Latinx art researcher, also, it’s so important for me to make WOPHA accessible and welcoming to different audiences. My goal is to translate and make available our online archive and programming in as many languages as possible, according to the demographic audiences of a project. English and Spanish bilingual content is relevant to many WOPHA texts, but I also believe in the inclusion of indigenous dialects when the project requires it.
In terms of challenges and triumphs, I would briefly mention the particular challenge brought on by the urgency to access artworks by uncelebrated women photographers from the early twenty century before their families or loved ones inadvertently throw away their body of work after their passing. Also, it has been challenging to track down actual photographic prints by creators from the 19th century, let alone securing access to institutional archives. On the other hand, I’m very proud of an exhibition I curated last year, Building a Feminist Archive: Cuban Women Photographers in the US. The show revealed artwork rarely seen or exhibited before while spurring dialog, for the first time, on the pluricultural experiences of Cuban women artists in the US within the current discussion about Latinx art.
Conversation with artists during Building a Feminist Archive: Cuban Women Photographers in the US. 2019.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: How does your location in Miami frame or inform your thinking and work on women photographers and Latinx photographers?
ALDEIDE: Feminist geographer and social scientist Doreen Massey’s 1991 essay A global sense of place defined ‘place’ as an evocative mix of people of multiple ethnicities living and working side-by-side. A ‘place’ is not static; it is not frozen in time. Rather, a ‘place’ is a process constituted by social interactions that distinguish it from the outside. Its multiple identities and histories, along with the social relations that occur within it, define its specificity. Reflecting on this concept and on that of the ‘border’, as developed by Chicana feminist poet and theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, I try to imagine a ‘place’ for photography in Miami. I explore what sort of places dedicated to photography we need, how local institutions and organizations think about photography and represent the interests of artists in the city, and, finally, how by embracing the political dimensions of this border place we can subvert the narratives of photography history.
María Martínez-Cañas. Estructuras Transformativas series. 2017. Courtesy Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: One intention of WOPHA’s mission is “to shift attention from mere images of women to their role as active creators”. Thinking about this in relationship to your curatorial project Solid Abstraction, which examines how abstract art can be radical today, what are your thoughts on moving beyond the prevalence of figurative representation as a means of moving culture forward?
ALDEIDE: This is an interesting question because it presents the problem of representation-or, as you stated, figurative representation-in photography. I’d like to exemplify my answer with the work of Cuban-American, Latina artist Maria Martínez-Cañas, who recently received the well-deserved Michael Richards Award from Oolite Arts. Martínez-Cañas’ work is driven by a continuous process of experimentation resulting in photographic pieces wherein abstraction and representation collide, evoking the displaced and fragmented notions of identity and exile. Women artists have used various techniques to challenge the veracity, or objective reality assumed, in photography and to evidence its constructed specificity as a way to subversively go beyond the normalization of gender-the idea that women do certain types of work, for instance-but also, to speak about the complexities of our daily experiences. Having said that, I believe that if we want to move radically forward, it is our role and responsibility as researchers to produce knowledge beyond the rigid structures that have relegated the practices of many artists to the margins of history.
Visit Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA) here: www.wopha.org
Find out more about the work of Aldeide Delgado here: www.aldeidedelgado.com