Hilda Palafox “El afán de encontrarse a uno mismo (The Effort to Find Oneself)” at Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City


Hilda Palafox is interested in the body as the space in which the world is experienced through the senses and their respective ways of relating to one’s surroundings. Central to life, the body is the privileged point of view from which we observe the outside world. This point of view is situated in space and time—a body among other bodies, located between memory and desire.

Her characters with their unchanging faces fill up much of the canvas, composed of planes of color and bounded by lines that are incorporated into the texture of the oil paint. Palafox’s work is concentrated at the intersection between drawing and painting, where lines no longer serve to define characters and objects by their contours, but rather break up planes in order to create volume and visible bodies. Each line contrasts the neutrality and quietude of the bodies with the artist’s expressivity: they are traces of the gestures she makes in space, of her controlled, apparently contained movements, analogous to the tension of each pose, to the pause at the instant when we see these women.

The forms and color palette refer to the imaginary of lo mexicano, but they distance themselves from the commonplaces of nationalism. We can recognize influences that informed Palafox’s pieces without limiting her artistic exploration, which draws on a personal iconography that envelopes her characters within an open narrative. The objects and architectural elements that appear in her paintings and drawings allude to the uncertainty and tensions of life, to curiosity and the constant search for stages made up of planes of color suggestive of enclosed spaces resembling theatres or spaces that open out onto the horizon.

The images in Palafox’s work show the materiality of painted bodies as receptors of vital processes. Desencuentros, a book published by the Elefante collective, features a phrase that inspired the title of this exhibition: “el afán de uno quererse encontrar todo el tiempo”—the effort to want to find oneself all the time,” which presents the problem of the never-ending personal quest from the starting point of identity, an idea that the artist shares with the public.

Identity can be recognized through the collectivities to which we belong: family, nationality, or the social groups around our activities. We can present ourselves to others because we are a particularization of the generic identities that we have adopted. From these communities we draw ways of doing and reacting, ideologies, customs, and external signs that make us recognizable. The collectivity reflects us, but at the same time limits us: any deviation from the norm strips us of our place in the group, makes us unrecognized and unrecognizable to ourselves.

Another way of configuring identity can be found in the imagined, desired, and always other being that we aspire to become in order to achieve a plenitude that is alien to us. The “double” is multiplied; it takes the place of the one who acts there where the subject cannot and dare not do so; it embodies a will that we do not avow as our own, and without which we are distanced from our desires. The “double” is manifested as the satisfaction of that lack, as the personality that is divided in order to create the illusion of being an other than dialogues with the ego, the one who says “I.”

In any case, identity is revealed as a trajectory, a constant search that would appear to be seeking a concrete foundation or destiny, and that barely manages to describe an endless spiral that never quite reaches the center. That search is comparable to a displacement across the surface on which knowable objects and subjects are found. On this journey we have some certainty of what we do know, but we are unaware of how much we do not know. Moving among the things that inhabit the world is a way of becoming aware of this limitation.

Seen in this way, the search for identity is an exercise of memory, understood as a partial and distorted story of what we have been, for we have a certain awareness of what we decide to remember and memory therefore becomes a tale we reconstruct. El afán de quererse encontrar is an expression of the impulse that keeps us alive. Identity unfolds in time, starting out from a changing present, from a body that moves through spaces shared with others and thereby transforms them. Giving up this search would imply ending the narrative: it would be to accept that we are already everything we ever could have been, undoing the knot that maintains the tension between what we were and what we will be, between memory and desire.

— Eric Nava

At Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City
until April 16, 2022


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