Sandra Eleta (Panamanian, b. 1942), "Edita (la del plumero), Panamá" (Edita [the one with the duster], Panama), 1977, from the series "La servidumbre (Servitude)" 1978-1979. Black and white photograph. 19 × 19 in. (48.3 × 48.3 cm). Courtesy of Galeria Arteconsult S.A., Panama. Artwork © the artist.
By Ed Fuentes
At "Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985" this photograph is hanging at the Hammer, “Edith (a del plumero) Panama,” which translates to “Edith [the one with the duster] Panama.” Artist and photographer Sandra Eleta tells the viewer what object to focus on: the feather duster, leading this defiance against being a symbol of domestic servitude.
The duster is now a regal scepter with an indigenous feather work crown.
Just try to ignore the figure in the 19 x 19 inch black and white photo, a housekeeper leaning back in a chair with intricately carved wooden arms and frame covered by a decorative fabric. You can't. One shoulder is lower than the other, giving the sitter an elegance as she sits on her appointed throne. The chair becomes both prop and set, and what we see of the room represents either the hired space of a hotel room, or a private room that belongs to an owner who can afford a staff.
The image also divulges that the young woman is an inner city Mexican-American, a Chicana, as evidenced by the distinct code of carefully plucked and painted eyebrows. Projecting an attitude further is how her head slightly tilted back, almost as if in the middle of a stilled greeting of a barrio head nod, With one knee pointing directly into the camera lens, the pose is made while she is wearing a workplace uniform. The two fixtures above her head is randomness in negative space, and the relaxed framing of the photo, with its slightly off-center chair, front hand in soft focus, and the other hand in the center of the frame, reveals the subject with authority over the camera.
The 1977 photograph from Eleta’s series “Servitude" is all informal pose changes the hierarchy of any social status. Her daring stare says this is not simply the fantasy of a domestic worker; she believes it and expects us to accept her authority.
Edita (la del plumero), Panamá in situ at the Hammer Museum.
Through December 31, 2017