Issue 23: Dark Matter

Sandra Sánchez

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Suspicion in Painting

Ana Segovia and the dismantling of a regime of signs

There is no suture; there is transfiguration of values. Ana Segovia’s painting rummages in the visual archives of the so-called Golden Age of Mexican cinema, Hollywood movies of the forties, soccer, bullfighting, and in other boundaries that diagram a certain erotic configuration of masculinity in which the symbol is fixed, binary, delimited, and neurotic. If an archive exists, it is because those who dominate need to leave a trace of the essential gaze that recognizes them as such in areas like the patriarchal pact, love disguised as subjugation, the principle of identity linked to the border and the national, etc.

Attributes, motifs, gestures; an iconography where, supposedly, one appears as universal. But not only does the universal not exist (except as imposition and domination), but the patriarch sustains it insofar as he is incapable of returning the gaze of those with whom he relates, of making way for what happens in encounters: multiplicity.

In a despotic affective system, the person in power uses the person in front of them only as a receptacle and reflection of their own narcissism. The despot—the patriarch—perceives himself as great, while those of us around him know him to be ridiculous, violent, undesirable. In the essay “Sorties,” Hélène Cixous speaks of this domain as the great male imposture, in which:

… there is no place for the other, for an equal other, for a whole and living woman. She must recognize and recuntnize the male partner, and in the time it takes to do this, she must disappear, leaving him to gain Imaginary profit, to win Imaginary victory. The good woman, therefore, is the one who “resists” long enough for him to feel both his power over her and his desire (I mean one who “exists”), and not too much, to give him the pleasure of enjoying, without too many obstacles, the return to him – self which he, grown greater—reassured in his own eyes, is making.[1]

Although Cixous situates her analysis in the male-female relationship, I propose to walk through her words to think about this and other power relationships where someone wants to be looked at, adored, satisfied, at the cost of the erasure of the one with whom they establish the bond. In this unequal relationship, the discourses that justify a person being in a position of submission under the neoliberal idea of personal choice and individual freedom, forget not only the singularity of each case but also that these positions stem from a collective agency, from a social group, which has validated and naturalized this type of interaction and violence: hit me but don’t leave me.

Logic where consent is displaced in favor of someone who believes oneself to be and establishes themselves as law: therefore, the others should obey and instantly annul the complexity of their desires, epistemologies, and images. Among the means of dissemination of collective agency (whether despotic or anarchic, etc.) cultural productions exist. Through them, grammars and syntaxes of the self are mimicked and distributed. In the case of the great masculine imposture, there is a seizure of the subjectivity of the other person, of their desiring flows, of their limits and anxieties.

Everything becomes a heliocentric system around the patriarch, the despot.

If the seizure of another person is not seen as serious, unusual, and reprehensible, it is partly because it is justified as part of a larger structure where such performativity not only happens repeatedly but even goes so far as to endow the parties involved with identity. This naturalization of an authoritarian desire is accompanied by a cosmological order, that is to say, by a reticular arrangement of the world with its landscapes, scenarios, objects, symbols, and motifs, which shape the relationship between the subjects, their bodies, and their spaces.

What does painting have to do with all of this? Needless to say, this medium has been a conduit for representations of the patriarchal world; for metaphorical productions that replace experiences and their affections with ideal images that erase contradiction and conflict in favor of coherence between meaning and subjectivity: classification of bodies and their functions. This is how the visual history of those in power has been told for centuries.

In addition to figures and narratives, the technical and aesthetic qualities of painting have contributed—often through beauty: the concordance of idea and form—to the production of fixed identities, among them the despotic. Portraits of the monarchy, national landscapes, women offered to the male desire of domination, the animal, the obscene image (without scene) of everything that does not agree with power, etc.

After painting, photography and cinema occupied this place of propagation of ideologies, of administration of images to be imitated, to be longed for, to the point where harmful processes are even desirable. Of course, not all paintings, not all photographs, not all films—we can even say that a medium or a work of art can contain both a conservative-despotic and a subversive side.

However, what I want to demystify is that art is naturally just, coherent, or political (as a space to question the political and discuss dissent).

Art, like any other meeting point, is susceptible to forgetting its layers of anachronistic times and flows to become a surface that is exhausted and defined by enumerating the recognizable elements on the plane. A surface that leaves aside what happens in the relationships between bodies, in gestures, and, above all, in what is outside the painting, in what did not manage to enter the regime of representation.

When I look at Ana Segovia’s paintings, I think of the power of suspicion when facing the flood of images in cinema and in painting that represent masculine desire, the surface that forgot its multiplicity and established a polar world. The paranoid suspicion which knows that something should be different, that something is out of place, what the great masculine imposture leaves out: everything that is not him and his desire. Potency becomes action when Ana returns to the images to paint them anew. Repetition introduces a critical commentary on the world that the masculine produced in its image and likeness.

Art, like any other meeting point, is susceptible to forgetting its layers of anachronistic times and flows to become a surface that is exhausted and defined by enumerating the recognizable elements on the plane.

The strategies to carry out suspicion in painting begin with a change in desire and eroticism. There is a cut and then a current: it is no longer about representation that dominates everything, but about a performativity where the act of painting is above all an action. A bodily and libidinal movement where one goes to the place where the body (the painter’s) suspects that it has tied a knot strong enough to organize the world to the point of turning the singular into an archetype. Ana walks all over painting, cinema, and the standardized images of a patriarchy that has drawn what is a man, a woman, an identity, a landscape, a love: a way of desiring.

The walk of Ana’s body, the painter’s body, dismantles the narrative by showing the distance between it and life, between the binary and the multiplicity, between the scene and everyday life. There is no suture, there is a transfiguration of values. That is to say, Segovia does not seek to propose a new order, to fall back into a valid narrative, but to point out how that which was proposed as love, as identity, as scenario, is a construction made from a regime of signs that must be dismantled. Impossible to invent a completely new language to do it, no one would understand it, but rather to go to the place where illusion became fact to underline—with paint—the joints of its staging. In repetition, the masculine reappears, but as an imposture.

Ana performs the operation of dismantling by using a strident color palette: harmonious, but at the same time far from the balanced contrasts of the images she refers to. A color jumps before the eye, leads it to an intensity that places it in front of the seams that unify the masculine: gestures and body postures linked to identities, phenotypical characteristics that make up an idea of beauty, scenarios that reticulate and hierarchize what each body must do in the scene. The imposture built from the figure of the masculine and its ornaments.

Ana goes to the images and underlines with colors the staging that has been there for all to see. From seeing it so much we forget its character of representation until we turn it into a symbol and pride of an equally illusory us. Long shots that in their totality hide an evident vulnerability of the bodies in the spaces; or else, male bodies engrossed, inebriated, alone. Close-ups where the face and the gesture evidence a very limited grammar of what a gesture and a face can really be in relation to other people. Tight shots of objects that help to build the masculine imaginary: guns, bullets, boots, beer cans, balls, suits, hats, cigarettes, cufflinks, hands, handkerchiefs, ties, jeans, etc.
The characters do not speak in the paintings, there is rarely a subtitle, yet we know their grammar so well that we could introduce a dialogue. And there, everything feels so artificial— sometimes, even, so painful—that the naturalization of the structure bursts: suspicion makes the metaphor stop working. That which represents and speaks instead of life has not ceased to suffocate it.
Ana’s painting introduces doubt into the eye that looks at it, in the subjectivity that positions itself in relation to it: doubt. Doubt about the scene, the pre-established function of the genres, the props with which we delimit the bodies, and the dialogues we are supposed to deliver. To doubt our image in order to ask ourselves which gaze we perform our daily actions in front of, which eyes we produce our image for. In that sense, Ana’s work is not prescriptive: neither the painter nor the paintings tell you what to do, rather the doubt they offer is both descriptive of a regime of signs and dismantling of a system of domination, that which we have called here the great masculine imposture.


I have been following Segovia’s work for some years now and I recognize the importance of the dismantling she proposes. So when the discomfort appears, it takes me by surprise. In her studio she tells me of a new suspicion, the classification of her work as queer:

I think people read my work onesidedly, with an understanding that I find a problematic in queerness because it reduces it to an ideology that is represented and not acted upon, that is no longer performative. An idea or an image and that’s as far as it went. It has been a conflict, so much so that now I am painting a giant landscape where there is the absence of a body because I want to locate the body in the viewer. I am not painting the representation of a trope of the charro or the cowboy just for that, but to make you aware of your own body, so that you relate to it through experience and feeling.

The painter’s reflection leads me to think about how the regime of signs of masculine imposture can parasitize any kinds of themes and practices. I insist that here the masculine imposture is not genital, it is a heliocentric logical operation where everything is ordered from a limited number of properties, signs, and functions around the despot.

Throughout our conversation, Ana insists on queerness as performative. “Queerness is the being unintelligible to a system. There is something in doubt: male or female? In that question, something queer is already happening. In that lack of definition.”

If we are in the field of practice, of the performative, of the intelligible in the face of the patriarchal system, there is also room for failure, for the rotted, for the flow of life in movement, not in the untainted classification of a given system. To not define the pictorial practice, to not capture it in a stable historical paradigm, to maintain it as an action, as a force between forces. To sustain the desire of its suspicion, even before itself, is to prevent it from conforming to a regime of signs, that is, to prevent it from becoming law.


  1. Hélène Cixous and Catherine
    Clément, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Sally Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).


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