Patricia Belli, Visual Artist- Female Identity, Control, and Patriarchy

Exploration and Expression of the Representation of the Human Body, not only as an instrument of Perception, but also as a Mechanism for Domination

Patricia Belli (1996) Bodas de trapo, photo: Daniela Morales Lisac; TEOR/éTica, San José. Belli is an artist in the heart of a patriarchal society—like Nicaragua—far from becoming a limitation, this has instead proven to be a challenge, of assuming an attitude of protest to defend her female condition through her use of female clothing. She has refused to accept a passive role with respect to the dominant discourse centred exclusively on man as the creative subject.

Born in 1964 in Managua, Patricia Belli is a visual artist from Nicaragua. In 1986, she graduated from Loyola University of the South, in New Orleans, with a degree in visual arts. Ten years later, she graduated in Arts and Letters from UCA in Managua and in 1999 received a Fullbright scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute, which she completed in 2001. Upon her return to Nicaragua in 2001, Belli founded the Space for Research and Artistic Reflection, EspIRA, an association dedicated to the critical and sensitive training of emerging Central American artists.

Belli exhibits regularly in Central America, South America, the United States and Europe. Between 2016 and 2017, a retrospective exhibition of her work, organized by Curator Miguel López, through Foundation TEOR/ética, travel from San José (Costa Rica) to Managua (Nicaragua) and Guatemala City (Guatemala). In 2018, her works were exhibited during the 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. In 2019, Patricia Belli took part of the Pernod Ricard Fellowship at Villa Vassilieff.

Patricia Belli (1986-2015) Fragiles. Assortment of materials including clothing including Empty Sacks (1997). Belli patched together various fragments of used shirts. Long, woven threads extend from their pockets and fall onto the floor. The layered folds and billowing structure of the material gives an organic and even bodily appearance to this work. The title conveys a sense of loss, relating to the artist’s experience of a miscarriage. The long extensions of thread have the appearance of umbilical cords.

In her practice Patricia Belli blends sculpture, painting, video, photography, and drawing, combining them with the collaborative, non-hierarchical learning tactics she pursues as an educator. For Belli, pedagogy and administrative work are labours of radical care that can undermine traditional hierarchies in educational settings and that are inseparable from the labour of art-making.

In the late 1990s, Belli began to sew together fragments of found clothing, fabrics, and textiles. The garments both suture into and spill out of the canvas, creating hybrid assemblage objects. Her chosen fabrics evoke the labours and affects of feminine corporeality and propriety—lacy garter-belt straps, diaphanous silk slips, sleeves with rows of tiny buttons, nylon pantyhose. These elegant materials take on a more biomorphic, even monstrous effect when repeatedly folded and stitched together into layered, uncanny masses of material, as if evoking the banal horrors of domesticity and aging. Her work is highly multidimensional and versatile: a user of assemblage, and the creator of surprising installations she faces the ethical and aesthetic problems that concern contemporary art in a world where everything seems to have been invented, and where the myth of originality has lost its grip.

Patricia Belli (1996) Broken Column. Broken Column is made from various used corsets, They have been stitched together to emphasise the painful effect that corsets have upon women’s bodies. The title refers to a painting by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo entitled The Broken Column 194 4. Kahlo depicted herself wearing a steel corset with a broken marble column in place of her own damaged spine. Belli’s layered corsets suggests the collective pressures and enduring inequalities that women face in a patriarchal society.
Patricia Belli (1996) Femalia. Femalia is made from the fabric of a pink dress, once worn by the artist. Stretched and contorted across a canvas, it creates an abstract form. Folds and stitches in the fabric may suggest violence. During the 1990s Belli would often rework various materials, such as second-hand clothing or furniture, to suggest fragmented and dislocated bodies. Many of these works confront and question ideas of femininity, particularly within the context of Nicaragua, where she lives and works.
Patricia Belli (1996) Traps. Dark red garter belts and tights are stitched together and attached to a canvas. The legs of the hanging stockings dangle below the canvas. Merging together, they resemble a surreal and monstrous form. The title Traps alludes to the potential erotic and sensual effects of stockings. It suggests a process of entrapment that includes the power of attraction but also the objectification of women’s bodies.
Patricia Belli (2020) Vulnerada, Synthetic textiles 61 4/5 × 33 9/10 × 3 1/10 in 157 × 86 × 8 cm Synthetic textiles from the Entropy Series. This series of draped rags refers to the union of two opposites that interest this artist: draping, which symbolizes structure, joins frayed fabrics, which embody entropy. The series is a look at domestic life, especially the constant efforts of housewives to maintain order.
Patricia Belli (2020) Libro, Synthetic textiles 70 9/10 × 43 3/10 × 15 7/10 in 180 × 110 × 40 cm Synthetic textiles from the Entropy Series. This series of draped rags refers to the union of two opposites that interest this artist: draping, which symbolizes structure, joins frayed fabrics, which embody entropy. The series is a look at domestic life, especially the constant efforts of housewives to maintain order.

Belli begins with phenomenology and theories of perception as she considers that the human body is not only a biological structure, but that it also belongs to a culture and a period. Of the possible messages and languages that can be developed based on the body itself, the dress supplies a wide array of meanings since it is the aesthetic object closest to the individual, the most immediate substitute of the human body as well as its second skin. Since 1990, this artist has used the dress to define a very concrete female iconography in which clothing becomes a container for self-definition and identification. One of her fundamental works, Traje y paisaje (Dress and landscape, 1991), refers us to a symbolic figuration through two painted dresses. With the same security used by Frida Kahlo in painting Mi vestido cuelga ahí (My dress hangs there, 1933), Belli, presents the meaning, which is hidden under the fabrics, uses these two dresses, to express a new form of social communication through the garments. With the dress that floats, impelled by the wind, she alludes to a lack of identity inside a patriarchal society that establishes all norms of conduct. With the motionless dress, she conjures up the affirmation of female idiosyncracy. The weathervane that marks the direction of the winds is a clear referent to male power, which determined the position of woman in relationship to the dominant discourse. Through a symbolic language, Belli firmly reclaims her own space, despite cultural prejudices. She understands the expressive value of clothing, and when she decides to use textiles instead of painting them, she openly questions the paradigms of representation by using the same values that the patriarchal society had decreed as exclusively female.

Patricia Belli, Crisálida II, 1998, garments sewn together, hung from an iron rod, ca. 180 x 140 x 30 cm, courtesy the artist

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