Diana Dowek

1942 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
Diana Dowek — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Diana Dowek during the lockdown, 2021, © Diana Dowek

Argentine painter.

A 1959 graduate of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Manuel Belgrano, Diana Dowek became active in the student movement at an early age. This led to her suspension from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Prilidiano Pueyrredón, where she studied in 1960-1964. Her reading and friendships familiarised her with Brechtian dialectics as well as cinematic montage, concepts that were to underly her work. Her interest in movies, a fascination she shared with her husband, led her to move to Italy in 1964 to take up film studies. Various procedures she used in her later series of paintings were influenced by directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Roman Polanski, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Francis Ford Coppola.

After returning to Argentina, she made the series Vietnam (1967), and participated in the protest exhibitions Homenaje al Vietnam [Homage to Vietnam, 1966] and Malvenido Rockefeller [Rockefeller Unwelcome, 1967]. The country’s growing political upheaval became the major theme of her work in the following decade. Lo que vendrá [What Is to Come, 1972] hopefully depicts a popular uprising; Procedimientos [Procedures, 1974] and Retrovisores [Side View Mirrors, 1975] expose the atrocities of para-police groups in images that anticipate the violence of the military coup in March 1976 and the institutionalisation of state terrorism. During the years of the military dictatorship (1976-1983), D. Dowek and her husband considered going into exile but decided to stay in Argentina to “struggle and resist” as members of the Partido Comunista Revolucionario.
Her work during this period precisely symbolised the prevailing climate of torture and “disappearances”, but her use of poetic metaphors allowed her to avoid censorship and to show her art in official venues. In Paisajes [Landscapes, 1976] she painted scenes of persecution in open-air concentration camps. In Paisajes cotidianos [Everyday Landscapes, 1978], large barbed-wire fences, sometimes broken, enclose spaces or imprison bodies and domestic belongings. Barbed wire reappears as an object in Argentina 78 (1978), a piece that arose from an investigation into the status of the materiality of painting and its media, which continued in Los anversos de los cuadros [The Other Side of Paintings, 1981-1983], where she experimented with broken stretchers and torn and empty canvases to give these paintings the appearance of bodies having undergone surgery. In 1981, she connected with the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (mothers who lost their children to the junta) and represented them in two paintings. One of them illustrated the campaign for human rights carried out by Amnesty International in 1989, as did another of her works.

In 2001, she began to use photography and transfer printing to “more objectively document reality” in her production. She has continued to use this procedure since then, as seen in series like Astilleros [Shipyards, 2009], Migraciones (2014-2015) and Pandemia (2020), based on photos she took herself or appropriated from the press and internet.
Women as political subjects at the heart of social reality first appeared in her Sillón [Armchair, 1969], and later in Las heridas del proceso [The Wounded Women of the Military Dictatorship, 1985], where women’s tortured bodies attest to institutional and patriarchal cruelty. Un día en la vida de María Rosario, una mujer trabajadora [A Day in the Life of María Rosario, A Working-Class Woman, 2006-2007] recounts the life of a woman factory worker and union leader.

Among other artistic and political groupings, D. Dowek was a member of the Postfiguración movement (1979-1983), which advocated going back to the country’s figurative tradition and conceived painting as an “expression of reality”, and Artistas Plásticos Solidarios (2007-2013), a group involved in fighting to keep alive the memory of the junta period and for human rights. She received grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 1995 and 2011, and the Gran Premio de Pintura del Salón Nacional (2015). She is a founding member of the Asociación de Artistas Visuales de la República Argentina, and a ranking member of the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes (2020).

Belén Coluccio

Translated from From Spanish by Leo Stephen Torgoff.

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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