University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Shooting from the Wild Zone
A Study of the Chicana Art Photographers Laura Aguilar, Celia Álvarez Muñoz, Delilah Montoya, and Kathy Vargas
Doctoral dissertation, May 2006.
The dissertation analyzes and elaborates upon the changing map of U.S. ethno-racial formation from the vantage point of North American Studies, multi-disciplinary cultural studies, and the criticism of visual culture. The focus is on four contemporary Mexican American (Chicana) women photographers, whose art production is discussed, on the one hand, in the context of the Euro-American history of photographic genres and, on the other hand, in the context of so-called decolonizing cultural and academic discourses produced by Mexican Americans themselves.
The manuscript consists of two parts. Part I outlines the theoretical and methodological domain of the study, positioning it in the interstices of American studies, European postmodern criticism, postcolonial feminist theory, and the theories of visual culture, particularly of art photography. In addition, the main issues and paradigms of Chicano Studies (Mexican American ethnic studies) are introduced. Part II consists of seven essays, each of which discusses rather independently a particular photographic work or a series of photographs, formulating and defending arguments about their meaning, position in the history of photographic genres, and their cultural and socio-political significance.
The study closes with a discussion about ethno-racial identity formation and the role of Chicana photography therein - in embodying and reproducing new subjectivities, alternative categories of knowledge, and open ended historical narratives. It is argued that, symbolically, the "Wild Zone" of gendered and race-specific knowledge becomes associated with the body of the mother, a recurrent image in Chicana art works under discussion. Embedded in this image, the construction of an alternative notion of a family thus articulates the parameters of a matrifocal ethno-racial community unified by the proliferation of differences rather than by conformities typical of nationalistic ideologies.
While focusing on art photography, the study as a whole simultaneously constructs, from a European vantage point, a "thick" description of Mexican American history, identities, communities, cultural practices, and self-representations about which very little is known in Finland.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 19.04.2006