Ballpoint pen ink on paper
18 x 14 cms / 8 x 5.5 inches each drawing.
Series of more than 100 drawings.
Drawings made while riding the New York City subway system
“Done on the subway in New York with a ballpoint pen, “Silences” comprises a group of
small, mostly dark works on paper, in which, however, the darkness is almost always broken by light.
Looking at the series, one recalls the “Black Paintings” created by Goya at the end of his
life. New York’s subway system systematically puts its riders in the dark as the train
travels from one station to the next, so Alava’s effort could well be in response to her
experience riding the underground. At the same time, it is fairly easy to allegorize her
sequence as a metaphor for the persistence of the human spirit in the face of darkness.
One thinks of dark experiences in prisons or pre-modern madhouses; the literal stands
in for the figurative in “Silences.” The contrast, however, between darkness and light can
be read either way—as an emphasis on the fallen condition of man or as an understanding
that light prevails even in the darkest of spaces.
It is an intense work of art, made more so by its small dimensions. Likely the
viewer feels as though he has been imprisoned, looking outward from his cell into a lit,
public space. Alava here does not deny the darkness, but she provides us with an illuminated
space as well.
What are we to make of such unsolvable expressions? In a modern sense the drawings are existential, reducing vision and people to the bare minimum of recognition. They serve to warn us of the weakness of light’s power in an environment of gloom. And then again, they also emphasize the fact that the light is found in every drawing, even should it be surrounded by shadow.
In the long run, we can appreciate Alava as an inspired and subversive artist. There is no
overt political imagery in her art, yet the conclusions we draw from it include social
concerns and fundamental perceptions of our dual and contradictory natures.”
Goodman, Jonathan, “Gema Alava: Brave New World.” /FronteraD