“It always amuses me,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez told the Paris Review in a 1981 interview, “that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my works that does not have a basis in reality.”
The same can be said of Karen Miranda Rivadeneira’s photo-based works, which, however fanciful or surreal, are rooted in reality, not to mention in a magical-realist mode of storytelling embedded in Latin American culture. Rivadeneira, whose exhibition In the mouth of mountain jaguar everybody is a dancing hummingbird opens at Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery January 11, was born in New York City, moved back to Ecuador with her family when she was three years old, and returned to New York to study at the School of Visual Arts. Trained as an artist and then as a photojournalist, Rivadeneira began this series when she was traveling in the Andes. What originated as a straightforward documentary project was transformed, through various collaborations, into a series that braids factual and fictional narratives together. A wedding is staged between the earth and the sun (The Marriage of the Yachaj and the Uma); an older woman sits in a small tub in an overgrown yard, wearing nothing but a beaded necklace; a medicine man makes an offering to the condor soaring above him.
That last image was made as a collaboration between Rivadeneira and a self-taught Tiguan painter she met in the Andes. She had made a series of landscape photographs that she thought needed to be “activated,” and she asked him if he would paint them. She left them with him and two months later returned to find that he had added colorful, lyrical narratives – some depicting pastoral life, some more magical – to her landscapes.
Rivadeneira lets the narrative suggest the medium: some stories call for color, others for black and white, still others for a combination of photography, painting, or drawing. The black-and-white Mountain Jaguar, for example, was made from a paper negative using a large-format camera. It’s a dark, moody image showing the mists over the hunched and sleeping form of the Andes.
These surrealist-inflected photographs are a blend of Rivadeneira’s fine art background, her documentary training, and her storytelling impulse – “a coming together,” she says, “of the left and right brain.”