30 Years of Silence

The 9.99 Gallery is pleased to present the solo exhibition “30 Years of Silence” showcasing the extensive production of Guatemalan artist Isabel Ruiz.


The title of the exhibition does not refer to Ruiz’s silence, since she is an artist who has devoted her career to express her dissatisfaction with the national political and social situation, but rather to her personal and visceral discontent, which finds an outlet in art, and especially in the intense energy captured in her watercolors. The works are displayed in light boxes to highlight both the figures and the richness of color.


Recognized as one of the most important printers of her generation, Ruiz used her experience with printing utensils—dry points, chisels, knives, scalpels—and even her own fingers to damage and mark the paper, a material that becomes a metaphor for the victims of a dark period in Guatemalan history. It is through these wounds and darkness that Ruiz tries to express the light and the hope she wishes upon her country.


The works in “30 Years of Silence” date from the late eighties to the nineties. They focus on three series: Sahumerios, Desaguadero, and Río Negro. This extraordinary group of works will be accompanied on opening night by a live performance of Sahumerios, a dance based on a work by Ruiz of the same name, made in 1988 by Taller Coreográfico Contemporáneo, as a prelude to the celebration of International Day Dance on 29 April.


One of the smaller-scale works in the exhibition belongs to the series Desaguadero. In this work Ruiz shies away from the monochrome and seeks to include color. The figures, barely suggested, are reminiscent of Mayan creatures, hybrid animals returning their gaze at the viewer from the past. You can see that the manner in which the paper has been treated creates negative spaces that contrast with richly textured areas. Fiction and reality, content and emptiness, oppose and relate to this locus where meanings converge. We also see in the works belonging to the Sahumerios series more vibrant colors and Ruiz dancing naked while holding chinchines, rattle-like musical instruments; the figure emerges from colored smoke enveloped in dynamic dance movements.


Among the watercolors in the Río Negro series there is a three-paneled work. In this piece Ruiz rescues the intense blue skies associated with Guatemala and contrasts then with the darkness of the earth and of past sufferings. Included in the composition there is a photograph of a female face looking towards the blue sky. This photograph is one of many that Luis González Palma—like Ruiz a member of the group Imaginaria—would discard in his workshop. Ruiz rescued this photograph and recontextualized it to give it back symbolically the voice that seemed to have lost. The artist complements the composition with a shape that resembles the Patolli board, a pre-Hispanic game linked to the Mesoamerican tradition, and with the presence of the sotz or bat, a key animal figure in the work of the artist, resulting in a synchronous link between past and present.


A transition piece in the production of Ruiz is “Untitled” (1996) which uses a brown color reminiscent of skin wounds that are beginning to heal. Ruiz takes the text of the Guatemalan poet Francisco Morales Santos to accompany the large figure of the brain and augment it with meaning: “The time to talk promptly and to keep silent are handled at the end of time, when the brain fully developed like a ripe fruit becomes significant in the tree of life.”


In “30 Years of Silence” Ruiz speaks from a critical stance, and invites us to reassess the past to understand a sometimes confusing present. Her highly personal work manages to transcend its subjectivity and penetrate ours to show that through art, we can understand and assimilate tragedy and violence to find light through darkness.