Throughout her practice, artist Aimée Zito Lema has engaged with questions of social memory and the body as an agent of resistance. Her exhibition at Mercer Union takes up these interests in relation to personal and collective photographic histories, with a particular meditation on how the diasporic experience complicates such categorical boundaries.
Moments of protest and political confrontation have been an area of ongoing study for the artist. In this exhibition, Zito Lema reflects on her family’s experience of living under the civic-military dictatorship that took power in Argentina following the right-wing coup of 1976. Taking as a starting point for her research, the artist looks to images published in Nuevo Hombre, a leftist periodical from Argentina that began in 1971 and dissolved five years later following the widespread curtailing of civil liberties. During those intervening years, the magazine, which described its editorial directive as revolutionary in spirit, published more than seventy issues that included cooperatively authored works often written under seals of authorial secrecy. As security forces began increasingly targeting suspected left-wing activists, those who ran Nuevo Hombre were either disappeared or went into hiding. The artist’s father was once among the publication’s editorial advisors, and its end marked the beginning of a life that included years of exile.
Scryer in the Archive brings together Zito Lema’s sensitive curiosity and autobiographic impulse, to present composite image works that test the possibility of recovering new meaning where history and the present moment stage a visual dialogue. At Mercer Union, the installation comprises a series of large-format reproductions of images from Nuevo Hombre on top of which are printed tracings of figures in family photographs rendered by the artist. Each is installed in a low basin of water that sits directly on the floor of the gallery. These works, together with a series of photographic sculptures that appear to sit on the surface of the water, trace a web of connections from the artist’s childhood through to that of her own children.
Like the scryer who takes lessons from water, and reads time and the unseen in continuous tension towards the future, the artist’s new works forgo linearity in the photographic to consider representations of time as it is layered in the body, both individual and intergenerational. For Zito Lema, this accumulation signals the body as a source of contact and transmission, where historical moments and personal narratives converge anew to unsettle the record.
Scryer in the Archive (2022), is the third project in Mercer Union’s Artist First commissioning platform and Zito Lema’s solo exhibition in North America.