Monday, September 22, 2008

The Protagonist of an Endless Story

Angel Rodríguez-Díaz

In this dramatic portrait, Rodríguez-Díaz, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1955, has captured the dynamism of Chicana author Sandra Cisneros, one of this country’s premier Latina writers. The artist, who moved from Puerto Rico to San Antonio via New York, has chosen a large canvas and low viewpoint to give his subject heroic stature. He frequently paints portraits that depict his sitters in this unflinching, almost confrontational manner.

His work deals with issues in the Latin American community, specifically the complexity of balancing and participating simultaneously in two cultures. His work has been compared to that of Frida Kahlo and El Greco, because of its dark, yet magical essence. In regard to his explorations of identity through portraiture, the artist claims, “I am faced with the basic principle of who the person is. The contexts in which I place my subjects foreground their manner of being in the world.”

He places Cisneros in front of a fiery orange and red sunset whose horizon line is low enough to dominate almost the entire background. Green plants surround the author. This background suggests a fertile imagination and a passionate force. Dressed in a sequined black Mexican skirt, Cisneros defiantly stands with her arms crossed and legs apart. Her low-cut dress and bejeweled hands, arms, and ears suggest a boldly feminine and sexual persona. An excerpt from her poem“Loose Woman” seems to capture the essence of the artist’s composition: “I’m an aim-well, / shoot-sharp, / sharp-tongued, / sharp-thinking, / fast-speaking, / foot-loose, / loose-tongued, / let-loose, / woman-on-the-loose / loose woman. / Beware, honey.”

Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. Her poetry, short stories, and novels explore issues of feminism, poverty, religion, and oppression in American society. Her novel The House on Mango Street (1984), her book of poems entitled My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), and her collection of short stories called Woman Hollering Creek (1991) have won numerous awards and literary distinctions, among them the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and two NEA fellowships.