Critics’ Picks

View of “Soldadera,” 2015.

View of “Soldadera,” 2015.

Los Angeles

Nao Bustamante

Vincent Price Art Museum
1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez
May 16–August 1, 2015

Women have often been written out of revolutionary history, but Nao Bustamante’s multimedia exhibition “Soldadera” reignites the figure of the female soldier for the present moment. Soldaderas fought alongside men during the Mexican Revolution. Inspired by a pilgrimage she made to visit the last living soldadera, a woman named Leandra Becerra Lumbreras, Bustamante’s show expresses a utopian wish that one might transmit gestures of care, protection, and ferocity across historical time.

Bustamante is best known as a performance artist; this show combines video performance with a reconceptualization of Mexican women’s historical experience through the materiality of fiber and photographs. The yellow fighting costumes on display are made out of Kevlar®, a synthetic material most famous for its use in bulletproof vests. Modeled after early-twentieth-century styles worn by actual soldaderas (with puffed sleeves and floor-length skirts), the dresses function as a kind of retroactive armor, their sturdiness contrasting with the delicate cotton needlework made by Lumbreras, on display in vitrines (Gallina, Post Revolucíon, circa 1920, and Peacock in Profile, circa 1978). Lumbreras herself (reportedly age 127 at the time of filming) can be seen in a stereoscopic video installation titled Chac-Mool, 2015, wordlessly expressing herself through clapping hands.

The exhibition includes a five-minute looping video intervention into Sergei Eisenstein’s legendary unfinished film, ¡Que viva México!, one unfilmed segment of which was titled “Soldadera.” Bustamante’s realization of this missing reel uses black-and-white archival photographs as a historical backdrop before which vibrant women in yellow Kevlar® dresses dance triumphantly. Bustamante does not attempt to mimic Eisenstein’s cinematic style, but rather her video serves as an invocation of the soldadera’s radical spirit for postmodernity.