Findings and Secrets: The Explored Gaze of Claudia Saggiante Rangel

By Alina Peña Iguarán, edited by Jim Luce.

Claudia Saggiante Rangel formally began her studies in Art when she was 17 years old under the tutelage of the Peruvian painter, Carmen Bravo in Cuernavaca, Morelos (Mexico).  That moment triggered Saggiante’s artistic life.  Since then she has learned a new language that has allowed her to explore and question everything that she observes.


In an exclusive interview, Claudia Saggiante remembered a lesson Bravo taught her, that the young artist has now taken as part of her own legacy: Learn to observe.  With no hesitation one can notice that the act of observing is more than a tool to grasp reality in her work.  Looking through Saggiante’s career means to encounter the gaze as a visual discourse, and sometimes the gaze will become a figure or character who explores, in a deep and reflective way, self-identity.

What does the creative process look at and represent?  What are the limits of the gaze in this process of close scrutiny?  These are some of the questions that arise in Saggiante first work (2002-2004).

In 1998 she studied at Centro Morelense de las Artes (CMA), a prestigious art academy in Cuernavaca that characterizes and distinguishes among Mexican academics for its experimental approach to the Arts.  At that time she took courses with Gustavo Pérez who would become her mentor.  Later on, in 2002 , being a student of the Department of Arts at Universidad de las Américas – Puebla (Mexico), she went abroad to expand her curriculum in Madrid for one year.


Spain, as an ally of the United States after the September 11 attacks, invaded Baghdad.  This scenario forced Saggiante to experience war in a dual way; through a paradoxical game between distance and proximity.  On one side, civil protests against Spanish intervention followed by strong repressive measures from the police.

The other, televised images of the bombings over the Iraqi capital.  All around the globe one could see these green images shot by night cameras.  Experiencing war through the media as a simulated reality, and even uncanny due to the fluorescent green color of the image brought out her project War Glasses, a photographic essay that includes six pieces.

Claudia Saggiante explored and questioned the various and different levels to represent reality.  War Glasses is composed of: Three doubled images deploy a game of mirrors.  The first one shows a protest; the second, Bagdad being attacked; and the third depicts an injured man being carried on a stretcher.


The last two shots were taken from a television screen, but the first was shot by the eyewitness of the artist.  It is very important to point out that the protagonist of these images is Saggiante’s glasses that, in the very front of the image, filter the scene.  However, they do not blow up or make clearer the televised scenes or the civil protest.

What the glasses do is to personify the gaze.  They attempt to communicate confusion and fear.  Saggiante does not give us maxims but cogitation.

Following the same structure of three double images, one on top of the other, Saggiante looks at her autobiography through the lens of the camera.  Self-portrait with Mirrors is an exercise where she thinks of identity.  She begins with an old picture of her family, and moves to a current official identification picture.  Identity is not considered as univocal presence, but it is introduced multiple times in a mirror box.


The first shot, her parents’ wedding, is the founding of the intimate history.  The second shows her glasses.  Finally, the third shot, shows an official identification photograph of the Artist.  All these inside the same mirror box question authority’s right to define the identity of the person, and the glasses are the key element to denouncing it.

In 2004 Saggiante developed, as her thesis project, the relationship between the viewer and the viewed in the work Neighbors.  It registers the travel of the gaze from the common and open space to the intimate world in an apartment building in Cholula, Puebla.

These apartments share a skylight, the only mutual area that at night becomes a sort of platform where the nocturnal eye of the camera travels into the personal and ordinary night life of the neighbors.  The lens invites everyone to make the same voyeuristic journey.  The eye begins to look into the balconies, then goes to the rooms, the kitchens, and maybe from an angle look at a bathroom and ends up turning 180º to look at the source, herself.  It is precise to recognize that in Saggiante’s work every reflection about the “Other,” in this case the neighbors, becomes a self-reflection: Who am I? How am I viewed by others?


In 2005 Claudia Saggiante moved to Stockholm where she was honored with a scholarship at the prestigious Royal College of Fine Arts (Kungliga Konsthögskolan).  There, she began a new esthetic period.  Saggiantes’s early work was depicted in strong colors: dark greens and blues, bright yellows and ocher.  However, in Sweden Saggiante would use black and white in photography and painting.  Also, this period would be characterized by the use of the glass technique.

Her first series of painting acrylic over glass, Colourless Traces, depicts the suburbs landscape where most of the immigrant communities inhabit.  Saggiante as a Mexican migrant experienced with many others the “foreignness status.”  Despite the melting pot and diversity one can find in Stockholm, Saggiante perceived and gave expression to the city in grey shades where building projects repeat endlessly, and streets seem to have no final destination.  This painting series was published on Shifting Boundaries by Regina Muller.

Saggiante, after learning the glass techniques under the tutoring of Inga Modén, exhibited in 2008 The Space in Between in the Art Gallery Mejan.  The project included a series of sculptures of holding hands in various positions that enclose, like a chest, a story.  According to palmistry hands narrate our past, present, and future.  But in Saggiante’s case they also enclosed something concrete.


The question arises: What are the holding hands protecting?  What is inside?  One of the most interesting pieces in this exhibition is a series of very fragile and small pieces of glass (test tubes) made through the technique of blown glass.  The models for these figures were made of the space in between the hands, that minute space our hands create when they hold each other.

Saggiante uncovers the hidden space through these amorphous, small, transparent and extremely delicate shapes of glass that hardly can be touched.  What is inside? A delicate and beautiful intimate center that must be kept safe.

Black Cities is a photographic essay in black and white, following a traditional and classic esthetic that the artist uses to deploy solitude.  The lens becomes a flaneur that walks through the city at night looking for something.  Sometimes the flaneur finds a nocturnal and empty landscape; at other times, his own shadow.


In 2009 and 2010 Saggiante lived in New York City where she attended the International Center of Photography and participated at the Choplet Ceramic Studio in Brooklyn.  At the Studio she worked with different techniques.  Her most recent sculptural work suggests a return to Mexican Culture.

Due to her regular visits to the gallery of pre-Columbian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Latin American presence in New York City, her work began to approach her native culture.  The figures she modeled are a sort of spliced vessels, closed, one against the other.  It insinuates a present and visible culture, but at the same time, a hermetic one.

Claudia Saggiante believes herself to be an artist who enjoys being seduced by different materials, techniques, and experimenting working with her hands.  However, throughout her career, Saggiante has combined her work with theoretical thought.

Due to her fascination for studying theory of art, she is currently attending classes on History and Analysis of Photography and Video Art at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack) in Stockholm, Sweden.  Saggiante also teaches drawing at Folkuniversitetet.

Recently, she held exhibitions in Milan (Italy), New London (USA) and Stockholm (Sweden).

Alina Peña Iguarán, graduate of the Boston University Ph.D. program in Hispanic Studies, who has been awarded first prize in the Concurso Nacional de Ensayo Nellie Campobello.  Peña Iguarán lives in New York and teaches Spanish at Montclair State University.

See Stories by Jim Luce on:

Art   |   Film   |   Literature   |   Mexico   |   New York

Originally published in The Daily Kos, September 25, 2012.

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