This video looks at American postcards depicting Mexicans, mostly from the 1900s to the 1930s. The artist is interested in these images because early Hollywood films used them as references to show how Mexicans live, behave and look like. So, they helped create many of the stereotypes familiar to us today. Ramirez has an ongoing interest in this topic and most recently wrote Dark Fate: the camera lens as a black hole, an essay that thinks about the film Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as a descendant of this postcard tradition. Back to Postcard eXotica, the idea behind the work is to re-stage the imagery of these postcards using a contemporary language. So, the scenes in the video often resemble horror movies, music videos, or plain cliches. Most of these postcards are demeaning towards Mexicans and are shot by US tourists and the military, who was stationed in Veracruz at the time. The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) is one of the reasons why these images are so mean and racist, since Americans were afraid of Mexicans and wanted to vilify them. Unfortunately, this representation of Mexicans stuck and directly inspire what we see today.
From the artist statement:
Postcard eXotica is a 30min cinematic re-enactment in HD Video of a collection of found photographs. More specifically, vintage American postcards produced circa 1900-1930s that depict Mexican stereotypes. The work seeks to think through the Western gaze by approaching the pictures as movie scenes and revealing the condition of their making – particularly the way they are scripted, staged, lit and filmed. In a broader manner, the video pastiches early cinema, contemporary pop and horror to trace the ways in which these ideas manifest today. Indeed, Postcard eXotica suggests that many of these images were constructed to elicit a calculated response from the viewer, belonging to a larger tradition of Othering in picture making. The postcards appropriated in this work are of interest as they were produced circa The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), an event that provoked great curiosity in America and thus attracted a large number of photographers and entrepreneurs that exploited the Mexican battle for their financial gain. Consequently, these images resorted to the conventions of the Western Gaze in an effort to please a buying public. They also responded to the threat of armed conflict by vilifying or patronising the Mexican troops.
The people depicted in these postcards, therefore, are often redolent with imprints of fear and desire. This pool of imagery is relevant as it quickly became a reference point for Hollywood productions, cartoons and advertisements that eventually gave form to the Mexican stereotype known to us today (violent, lazy, criminal and hypersexual). Postcard eXotica employs the script and the notion of a cinematic re-enactment to upset this mode of representation. The script is conceived here as a line of command that determines the way in which the body is staged for the camera. Therefore, the aim of this video is to scramble the legibility of this script and make room for a different way of seeing. The production of the work began by developing a series of scripted actions prompted by the original images, these were later delegated to 15 performers and realised in the environment of a photographic studio utilising cinematic devices, such as camera shots, montage and post-production. The resulting video seeks to reconfigure the Western Gaze and render these images anew.
This video was re-edited in 2018 for the occasion of Diego Ramirez: Towards The Umbral curated by Anabelle Lacroix, ACMI in partnership with ACCA as a parallel program to their exhibition Dwelling Poetically: Mexico, a case study curated by Chris Sharp.
‘Postcard eXotica’, HD video, 30min, 2016-18.
Supported by The City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program.
Directed by Diego Ramirez
Videography by Matthew Berka
Sound Design and Score by Luca Dante
SFX Make Up by Moya O' Brien
Editing and Post-Production by Diego Ramirez
16 Delegated Performances