Karen Miranda-Rivadeneira: ‘In the Mouth of the Mountain Jaguar Everybody is a Dancing Hummingbird’

Art Scene

Karen Miranda-Rivadeneira: ‘In the Mouth of the Mountain Jaguar Everybody is a Dancing Hummingbird’

The exhibition, In the Mouth of the Mountain Jaguar Everybody is a Dancing Hummingbird, is a revelation. On view at Miyako Yoshinaga, a small gallery in Chelsea, New York, the show features a body of photographic work made by Ecuadorian-American artist Karen Miranda-Rivadeneira. The images were all made in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, specifically an area that locals call “the mouth of the mountain jaguar.”

Mama Carnival, 2016,  Archival pigment print from a film negative

A deep respect for the land is potent in the culture of the region and was something that Miranda-Rivadeneira internalized in her photographic process, noting, “The spirit of the mountains reminded me not to take photographs, the instances I capture presented themselves and my task is to ask permission to borrow them.”

Mouth of the Mountain Jaguar, 2015, Archival pigment print from a paper negative

A separation between the sacred and the secular, or spirituality and the everyday, that seems to be at odds in westernized 21st century life, is stunningly balanced in Miranda-Rivadeneira’s exhibition. The installation of images takes viewers through three interlaced styles of work that gradually lead into the mystical imagination.

7 Saints 7 Devils, 2016, Archival pigment print from a film negative

At the entrance of the gallery, poetic, documentary-style images introduce viewers to the lush, enveloping vastness of the Andean mountains. The following images introduce viewers to a series of collaborative, performance-based work. In the photographs, Miranda-Rivadeneira asked locals to participate in creating scenes or narratives that use elements of traditional culture – masks, textiles, ceremony. Finally, the viewer encounters a series of work that features detailed narratives painted by local artist and farmer Julio Toaquiza over Miranda-Rivadeneira’s landscape photography.

The Offering In the Paramo,  2017, Archival pigment print with oil painting intervention by Julio Toaquiza

The photographs are not installed as separate categories in distinct areas of the exhibition space. Instead, they are slowly introduced, and then interwoven into the layout as it unfolds. This has the effect of allowing viewers to move from what appears to be factual, tangible content into an engagement with rituals of the local people, and ultimately into the intersection of those elements with visual art. An experience of the unknown, something at the heart of many global mystic systems or codified in organized religion, is pleasingly disorienting in a walkthrough of Miranda-Rivadeneira’s work.

The Marriage of the Yachaj and the Uma, 2017, Archival pigment print from a film negative

The photograph, The Marriage of the Yachaj and the Uma, was initiated by Miranda-Rivadeneira’s conversations on marriage with an elderly female healer. Their collectively imagined result was a pre-Incan marriage ceremony between the healer and a young male leader amidst a breathtakingly beautiful, snow-laden, misty mountainscape. The image also includes a soldier dressed in camouflage, a symbol of protection, and a rainbow flag, a local flag that resembles the flag of the LGBTQ community. In the Mouth of the Mountain Jaguar Everybody is a Dancing Hummingbird has the potential to make viewers take a deep pause as they revel in the awe of the unknown and Mother Earth as its conduit.

Karen Miranda-Rivadeneira: In the Mouth of the Mountain Jaguar Everybody is a Dancing Hummingbird is on view at Miyako Yoshinaga through February 17, 2018.