Alinka Echeverría: Fieldnotes



(New York, NY) Sara Kay Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Alinka Echeverría: Fieldnotes on view December 12, 2018 through February 16, 2019. Curated by Maya Benton, this is the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York, and marks the ten-year anniversary of Echeverría’s graduation from the International Center of Photography (ICP).

Fieldnotes is drawn from Echeverría’s four-year research project, Nicephora (2015-present), based on her BMW Art and Culture Residency at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce. The museum’s extensive archive of four million images is located in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, the birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor who was the first to capture and fix light on matter. Inspired by his biography, and the photographic archives in the museum – including French colonial depictions and fantasies of the North African woman’s body – the artist deploys a rigorous, research-based approach to explore the male and colonial gaze from the inception of the photographic medium. 

As a Mexican artist who recognizes that she, too, is the product of colonization, Echeverría draws parallels between French and Mexican colonial histories, using the Niépce museum’s collection of 50,000 images from the French colonies as source material. Incorporating the format of ancient Aztec codices that hold the origin myth of Mexico City and Mexican national identity, the artist retraces the origin myth of the photographic medium while exploring otherness and exoticism as a model for desire. Echeverría is seduced by the beauty of the images that positioned women as “specimens,” yet she is also repulsed by them, resulting in a critical approach to visual representation and a desire to upend the gendered hierarchies of the colonial project.

“What interested me most was the history surrounding the inventors of photography and early printing techniques,” recalls Echeverría. Informed by her background as an anthropologist and desire to question the archive’s systems of accumulation and categorization, she notes that anthropology as a discipline and photography as a medium are both closely linked to the colonial project. “I found it a burden and a responsibility to appropriate the archive and reframe it,” she explains. “I wanted to reframe the purpose of the photographs I found there…to liberate them from the boxes. While respecting the archive as a guardian of time, I wanted to look back on history from a contemporary gaze as a practicing image maker.” 

Through collages, three-dimensional renderings and sculptural work, immersive sound installation, photography, assemblage, and moving image works, Echeverría reflects on how constructed images of women have been carried through time by way of visual codes and early photographic printing techniques.

Echeverría’s work focuses on structures of power and domination, and explores intersections between aesthetics and the forces of violence, economics, and globalization. Rather than reaching conclusions, her work “seeks questions,” as she frames it, of these historical images that “still resonate, sometimes painfully in the contemporary.” The results are aesthetically mesmerizing and intellectually challenging, asking us to interrogate both the image and the language in which it has been produced, reproduced, and disseminated for nearly two hundred years.


Alinka Echeverría (b. Mexico City, 1981) is a Mexican, London-based artist working across multiple disciplines including film and photography. Her background in anthropology and extensive field experience in Africa play a central role in her contemporary, critical approach to visual representation. Echeverría holds an MA in Social Anthropology and Development from the University of Edinburgh (2004). She spent several years working in HIV prevention projects in East Africa, as an educator and project leader for NGOs that utilized media and theater, before pursuing a postgraduate degree in Photography from the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York (2008).

Her acclaimed and widely exhibited photography and sound projects include The Road to Tepeyac (2010), consisting of 125 images of devout Mexican pilgrims carrying their personal image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the anniversary of her apparition in 1531; Becoming Sudan (2011), a three-chapter series documenting the period just before South Sudan became an independent sovereign state, a moment of societal shift and nation formation; Deep Blindness (2013-Present), combining an audio work in Nahuatl, the dying language of the Aztec civilization, with flattened Braille panels that are denied their function; and Nicephora (2015-Present) from which this exhibition, Alinka Echeverría: Fieldnotes is drawn.

Echeverría was awarded the HSBC Prize for Photography (2011), named Photographer of the Year by the Lucie Awards (2012), awarded BMW’s Art & Culture Residency at the Nicéphore Niépce Museum (2015), nominated for the Prix Pictet (2013), selected for FOAM Museum’s Talent award (2017) and the Prix Elysée (2018-2020), and has been recognized by many of Europe’s leading photography awards and residencies. Her work has been widely exhibited at international venues including solo exhibitions at the Preus Museum, Norway’s National Museum of Photography, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Les Recontres de la Photographie Arles (France) and The California Museum of Photography. Her work is included in the permanent collections of Yale University, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), FOAM Museum (Amsterdam), Musée Nicéphore Niépce (France), the BMW and HSBC Collections, The Nelson Mandela Foundation (South Africa), The Swiss Foundation of Photography, Musée de Elysée (Switzerland), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), among others. Recent commissions include the Swiss Foundation of Photography and BBC Four, for which she presented a three-part series: The Art that Made Mexico.

Alinka Echeverría: Fieldnotesis the first presentation in the Americas of the artist’s widely acclaimed Nicephora project. In 2019, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will mount a solo exhibition of this work. 

Maya Benton is a curator at the International Center of Photography in New York. She has organized numerous international traveling exhibitions, lectures widely, and is a frequent contributor to magazines and museum catalogs where she writes about photography, museums, and material culture.

Maya is currently organizing a traveling exhibition of photographer and filmmaker Gillian Laub’s contemporary images of racial segregation in the American South, Southern Rites. Her next book will be an anthology of seminal texts on Jews and Photography. She is a graduate of Brown University, Harvard University and the Courtauld Institute of Art.

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