Nadia del Pozo, Vientre

JTF (just the facts): Co-published in 2018 by the artist and Inframundo (here). Hardcover, hand-bound, 124 pages, with 49 color photographs, some on transparent paper spreads. Includes a two-part essay (on pink paper) by the artist. In an edition of 300 copies. In separate English/Spanish editions. (Cover and spread shots below.)

A special edition is also available, which includes a print (same link as above).

Comments/Context: The cover of Nadia del Pozo’s Vientre sticks out on a crowded table of photobooks. From afar, it looks like a dense swirl of textural hair, but then you reach to grab it and it reveals itself as bumpy, the cover not flat but interrupted by ripples and mounds that give it a tactile, three dimensional quality. It is then that we notice that the hair isn’t naturally red, but is instead covered in dried, darkened blood which has matted the hair into this whorl of color, and we begin to understand that this isn’t a normal publication.

The idea that an engrossing photobook could be made from images of the killing and dismembering of goats is an altogether counterintuitive impulse, but this is just what del Pozo has accomplished. Her photographs were taken in La Mixteca, in Oaxaca, Mexico, at an annual event where the local goats are traditionally butchered for food. But del Pozo doesn’t turn this into a documentary effort showing us an exotic cultural ritual; instead, she gets in much closer, where the blood and guts spill onto the stained ground, testing the artistic balance between beauty and savagery.

Del Pozo eases us into the subject matter with visual baby steps: the back of one of the women who will later perform some of the butchering, a creeping trail of fire engine red blood across a concrete floor, a jawbone in the long grass, and then a wider view of the floor once again, the puddled slick of splattered blood now much messier and thicker, like an Abstract Expressionist painting.

But as the pages turn, the gruesomeness is increased, pushing us to look at stringy entrails, slippery guts, hairy skins, and other less identifiable left over parts. Along the way, del Pozo never lets us forget that there are humans here doing the cutting – the process is never entirely anonymous or distanced, even when faces are held in shadow or covered with clothing. Weathered fingers hold the hides, metal tools and knives are tucked in waistbands, and bloody footprints surround a pair of amputated hooves, and we vicariously participate in these actions via the photographs.

By the midpoint of the photobook, our ability to be shocked has been dulled a bit by the earlier imagery, so del Pozo can go further, toward udders, testicles, and placentas. Not since Frederick Sommer’s bloody chicken heads have we seen animal entrails given such intimate, almost loving, attention. Severed legs are set in a row against a woven floor, the highlights and shadows hollowing out the stringy dry tendons and ligaments. Dollops of congealed blood fall like drops of thick paint. Bloated shiny entrails and organs look like pumpkins or hanging gourds. A tiny dead fetus, its fragile hind legs visible, is tenderly held in a hand. And a headless white goat confuses us with its fluffy softness.

Del Pozo winds the story down by showing us the meditative aftermath, where bloody feet (apparently they do the butchering barefoot) wait in the afternoon sun, mops come out and shosh the bloody mess around while attempting to clean up, and the setting eventually moves to the river, where feet and hands are washed, and loose entrails float in the clear shallow water like jellyfish or strands of transparent seaweed.

The word vientre in Spanish can be used (and translated) in multiple ways, and del Pozo weaves most of the possibilities into her narrative. It can of course mean guts, innards, and entrails, but also belly, fetus, womb, and even bowels, and so del Pozo finds images that follow the cycle of life, from birth to death, with the intense connection between mother and child goat made raw and physical.

The design and construction of Vientre has been executed with thoughtfulness and creativity. Aside from the innovative genius of the bumpy cover, most of the images themselves are arranged and sequenced on white paper, moving between left and right positions on the page to full spread full bleed presentations, keeping the rhythm of the page turns and the sizes of the pictures unpredictable. The main flow is interrupted by two unusual paper stocks. One type (employed a handful of times throughout the book) uses transparent paper as the foundation for up-close images of sacs, bags, and other slippery entrails. The transparency matches perfectly the tactile feel of the innards, allowing us to see through the stretched skin to the webbing, vesicles, gelatinous fat, and bulbous blood vessels, finding natural beauty in things we might normally find disgusting. The other unexpected stock holds the two-part essay, the text printed on the pink butcher paper commonly used in Mexico. This association brings us back to the idea that this whole grisly process ends in food, and the ultimate nourishment of the community.

Vientre continually walks the knife edge of being alluring and revolting, and it is this deliberate dissonance that gives the photobook its punch. Even in its most grotesque and unnerving moments, it always returns to delicacy and unexpected grace, the brutality of the process recast within the natural and enduring cycles of life. Vientre asks us to put aside our squeamishness, and rewards us with a richly visceral and memorable visual experience. By forcing us to grapple with instinctual complexity in ways that aren’t always easy or comfortable, del Pozo gets inside our heads, and the churning emotions and reactions found there make Vientre very hard to forget.

Collector’s POV: Nadia del Pozo does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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