Delilah Montoya at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary

Delilah Montoya at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary

Charles Dee Mitchell

In Spanish, to call a woman malcriada is an insult suggesting that she has not been well brought up. The term is applied to badly behaved adolescent girls, ill-mannered servants, and in general to women who do not know their place. It is denigrating and belittling, but photographer Delilah Montoya has embraced it. With this exhibition, titled “Malcriadas,” she has inverted the insult and presented women who defy conventional gender roles. In one gallery, images of DoRa Sebastiana, the Angel of Death, held court. Montoya filled another gallery with photos of professional women boxers.

In Dia de los Muertos imagery, DoRa Sebastiana, the gatherer of souls (also known quite simply as Muerte), appears as a female skeleton riding a cart and carrying an umbrella. Montoya’s Sebastiana wears a white lace dress and, in keeping with the traditional account of her, has not yet accepted her role. She imagines herself still to be a beautiful woman, though, in a grotesque transformation, her head has become a bare skull. In photographs printed onto canvas, Montoya places Sebastiana in her dressing room, crouching on a stool and smiling coquettishly at the viewer. Monica Sanchez, the actor who poses as Sebastiana in these images, has been given an appropriately theatrical make-up job and plays her role with a weird seductiveness that is both fascinating and chilling.

In a video also included in this part of the show, we listen in as Sebastiana sits at her dressing table and talks to God. He has come to convince her to accept her new role, but she is bargaining for sainthood as part of the deal. The video suffers from bad sound and an unconvincing performance by the actor providing the voice of God, but Montoya presents the short piece in a series of closeups and cross-fades that makes for a hypnotic experience. When Dona Sebastiana gets the offer she wants, she announces confidently, “The people will fear me, and they will not respect you.”

Terri “Lir Loca” Lynn Cruz, Mia “The Knockout” St. John, Stephanie “Golden Girl” Jaramillo–these are three of the women from Montoya’s “The New Warriors” series. Montoya follows these and other professional women boxers through training, into the ring, and, after their bouts, back home to their families. Her black-and-white photographs, accompanied by brief wall-mounted texts in which the women talk about their careers, offer a sympathetic but unflinching look into a world that few visitors to an art gallery will have experienced. On one wall, Montoya presented individual portraits of the boxers, and they gaze at the camera with the confidence of sports stars at the top of their game. During the matches, Montoya is usually shooting from ringside as the women go at one another with a disconcerting fury that nonetheless fascinates. In their homes we see them as mothers, wives and daughters. These women command our respect as athletes and as individuals.

During her conversation with God, Dona Sebastiana states, “Fate is like a knife. There are two ways to catch it, by the blade or by the handle.” Montoya’s malcriadas are women who have grabbed their fate by the handle.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Brant Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group