Ana Espinal is a photographer who resides in the Bronx. Born in the Dominican Republic, she moved to the United States at the age of 13. She received an A.A degree in Photography at LaGuardia Community College and now attends the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She’s passionate about the arts and since she was a little girl has been in love with Photography. Photography is the way she can fully express herself.
Espinal’s debut was a very successful photography exhibit on March 1st at SVA, where she showcased 21 photographs. Surrounded by friends and family who came to share her achievement, she was showered with praise and flowers. Espinal was positively the talk of the night. Her vibrant and beautiful photographs left people literally speechless.
Her first show is titled, “Flor de Mujer” (Flower of Woman) and it is centered around the “Faceless Doll,” a popular cultural and artistic tradition that has become a symbol of the Dominican Republic.
The “Faceless Doll” was originally created by sculptress Liliana Mera in 1981. Mera molded small dolls made of terracotta, each fashioned to look different and unique from their hair to their clothes. With this, Mera wanted to capture every individual ethnicity of the Dominican culture giving the doll just one face, but she found the task impossible. Dominicans are extremely varied physically and culturally, so she left the dolls faces featureless, unfinished, and with a smooth surface, so as to represent all Dominicans, from indigenous to immigrants to the millions who left the island and are now spread all over the world. Today, these dolls are produced by many artisans across the Dominican Republic.
In “Flor de Mujer,” Ana Espinal took Mera’s original concept and its evolution and turned it into its opposite, giving the doll not just “a face,” but “all the faces.” In her series of photographs she explores the ethnicity of Dominican women, through their physical characteristics. She successfully captures these women in their most raw and natural state. The women represented in these pictures all look very different with distinctive features and unique skin tone. Ana says:
“My work focuses on the ethnicity and physical characteristics of Dominican women from ages 18 to 30 years old. I worked closely with my female relatives and friends from the Dominican community living in New York and New Jersey. My inspiration came from traditional faceless dolls. They are unique dolls that reflect the mixture of the Dominican ethnicity. I decided to use crepe paper to create the clothes and flowers as a representation of the nature of my country.”
I am one of the Dominican women in Ana’s show. It was almost like an out-of-body experience to have the chance to be part of this exhibit: for one night I felt like a star and at the same time it felt like I was part of something bigger than me. For one night, Ana made me really look at myself and understand in a deeper and more direct way who I am and where I come from. I felt proud to be from such a diverse culture. I am proud to be a Dominican woman! Thanks, Ana.
I had a chance to informally chat with the very shy Ana Espinal during the exhibit:
SM: Do you usually want people to get a message from your photographs?
AE: Of course! I think all of my photographs have meanings behind them. And it’s not just about my photographs. In general all pictures have something to say, for the past or present, whatever that may be. Always.
SM: What kind of work do you like doing or what kind of pictures do you like to take?
AE: I like portraits. I like to photograph models in the studio. That’s my thing, I love the studio work. It’s like creating something new out of a simple thing and using light fixtures. I enjoy doing that. I like to photograph people and I also do self-portraits as well.
SM: That’s really cool. So, what is “Flor de Mujer”?
AE: “Flor de Mujer” is a project that I’ve been working on for a few months. It’s about the identity of the Dominican women. I wanted to show where we come from, because we are all mixed and different. That’s what I wanted to portray.
SM: Where did this idea come from?
AE: My inspiration came from this doll, the “faceless doll” from the Dominican Republic and the story behind that is, because we are a mixed culture we don’t have a specific look. So, the doll doesn’t have a face. I really wanted to give the doll a face. I wanted to see the variation of women from the Dominican Republic.
SM: Do you have one of those dolls at home?
SM: The one on display over there is yours?
AE: Yes, I told my sister, “like you need to bring one!” and she was like, “Ok” (Ana Laughs)
SM: What do you hope people get out of this photo exhibit?
AE: I just want people to understand that we are different. It doesn’t matter how we look, we are all different.
SM: So, I know that this is a project for your school, for SVA. Are you planning on taking it elsewhere, like showing it in another gallery?
AE: The project is not just about SVA. This is a project that I want to keep for myself, for my career. This, I think, is the beginning of something good. So, I will try to put it out there and see how it goes.
We wish Ana Espinal the best of luck. She’s very shy and soft-spoken, but she shines in her work, bringing out her creative and fierce side. She’s a talented photographer with something to say! Keep a look out for her.
Written by Solansh Moya
Edited by Farmer Marx
Photos are part of the “Flor de Mujer” series by Ana Espinal