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Portrait of María Eugenia Chellet

María Eugenia Chellet was born in Mexico City in 1948. Chellet is a multidisciplinary artist working in performance, photocollage, video art, objects, and installation art. Her work centers on self-portraiture and explores how women throughout the history of art and popular culture—such as cartoons, pinups, fotonovelas, and advertising—have been celebrated, fetishized, and stereotyped. Between 1966 and 1970 she studied science and information technology at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. In 1971 she studied photography at the City Literary Institute in London. Between 1981 and 1984 she earned a masters in visual arts at ENAP, UNAM (Escuela Nacional de Artes, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in Mexico City. Additionally, over the years Chellet has studied video art and performance and investigated popular urban culture with great depth. As a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences at UNAM, where she taught between 1975 and 2009, she delivered workshops on popular iconography, exploring feminine archetypes of women in comics and fotonovelas. She also worked in journalism and created dioramas about Mexico and social issues for the Directory of National Culture in Mexico City. She began her career as a photographer, and her work gained prominence as a member of the Group MARACAS (Movimiento de Arte a las Cantinas [Art Movement to the Bars]) in the early 1980s, and for her participation in the second and third Coloquio Latinoamericano de Fotografía in 1981 and 1984.

Yohn Lennon (1968)—included in the Pinacoteca de São Paulo exhibition—is an early work which demonstrates how, at the age of twenty, the artist was already preoccupied with self-portraiture, which later became the central theme of her work. Chellet has stated that in this work she is embodying a transgender generational identity and, by impersonating a rock icon like Lennon, she identifies as belonging to a countercultural generation promoting peace and love. In 1981 Chellet was invited by Grupo Fotógrafos Independientes to participate in an exhibition of self-portraits at the Galería Manuel Alvárez Bravo in Mexico City, where she exhibited En las manos del maestro (In the hands of the master, 1981), from the series Complejo de musa: Autorretratos (Muse Complex: Self-portraits). In this work Chellet intervenes in Self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer (1500), one of the greatest classics of art history, by adding between his fingers a cutout of her own face. This early self-portrait marks the moment when the artist focuses on the theme of self-portraiture, often intervening in important art historical works such as Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (ca. 1485); Rubens’s Susanna Lunden ("Le Chapeau de Paille"["The Straw Hat"], 1622–25); and Francisco Goya’s La Maja desnuda (The Nude Maja, 1797–1800). Through these works, she appropriates stereotypical or archetypical images of women both to enact them, and to talk about her own identity. Through cutting and pasting her own images onto sacred works of classical art, she explores and deconstructs the identity, stereotypes, and fetishization of women. On the one hand, she relates to the models in the paintings as a fantasy of transcendence, and on the other, she parodies and deconstructs these very models. On these works she stated: “It is not the object-woman seen through the eyes of others, I am myself the object subject of my own encounter.”#

In Dulces dieciséis (Sweet sixteen, 1981), from the series Complejo de musa: Autorretratos, Chellet contrasts and relates a serial repetition of her own photographic image as an innocent schoolgirl going to nun’s school, to the erotic image of François Boucher's Resting Girl (Louise O’Murphy, 1751), whose model for the painting in real life was sixteen, like Chellet herself. This work also marks the beginning of a great preoccupation present in the artist's work that she explores to this day: the erotic and the empowerment of her own sexuality. While producing these photocollages, Chellet also began a lifelong practice as a performance artist. Central to her performance work are the notion of the Muse and the diverse feminine archetypes that the artist impersonates, such as the mother, the nurse, the seductress, the older woman, the nun, the prostitute, the sage, etc., to both explore and deconstruct entrenched stereotypes and identities associated with the roles of women in society. Chellet is an active artist to this date.

—Cecilia Fajardo-Hill

Selected Solo Exhibitions

1988 Archetypen, Prototypen, Stereotypen, Galería Trabant, Vienna, Austria

1999 La Maja soy yo, Academia de San Carlos, UNAM, Mexico City

1996 Irresistibles y Coladas, Museo Casa León Trotsky, Mexico City

2012 Bonita hasta la muerte (retrospective exhibition), Ex Teresa Arte Actual, Mexico City

2015 Cuerpos Habitados, Museo de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City

Selected Bibliography

Alcázar. Josefina. Performance: Un Arte del Yo. Autobiografía, Cuerpo e Identidad. Mexico City and Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2014.

Castillo, Erick. Bonita hasta la Muerte: María Eugenia Chellet en el Ex Teresa Arte Actual, December 19, Replicante, Cultura Crítica y Periodismo Digital, December 10, 2012.

Fernández, Octavio, and Cecilia Santacruz.  Mujeres del Salòn de la Plàstica Mexicana. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2013.

Hernández, Edgar Alejandro, and Inbal Miller Gurfinkel. Sin Límites: Arte Contemporáneo en la Ciudad de México 20002010. Mexico City: RM, Cubo Blanco and CONACULTA, 2013

de Luna, Andres. Los convidados del alba: Textos sobre arte y artistas. Mexico City: Editorial Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-X, 1997.