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Date Minted: June 29, 2020

Artist Description: We are constantly trapped. We are part of the whole and part of nothing.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Milton Sanz makes hyper-futuristic, somewhat disturbing art, and always centers it around black women. On display in Sanz’ artwork are black women, often bald and naked, in a variety of odd situations, hooked up to tubes or covered in grass, splayed out for the gaze of the observer, their breasts exposed, their eyes empty, their environment exhibiting force over them. That’s essentially the central underlying area of exploration in Trapped, an interactive 3-D object that, again, focuses on the intersection of unfamiliar, futuristic technology and the black woman’s form. The effect of this intersection is highly thought-provoking and also deeply disconcerting. As observers, we are forced to be complicit, via our inability to act, in the variety of postures, poses, and pains imposed upon these black women, their eyes glazed over or all-white, their privations exposed. “We are constantly trapped,” Sanz writes in the Artist Description here, “We are part of the whole and part of nothing.” That is an incredibly potent lens with which to view Trapped itself.

In the piece, a nude black woman, her skin shiny as if slick with oil or grease, sits with her hands out under her chin, elbows resting on her thighs, in a seated position, as if she is sitting on a toilet. It’s about as vulnerable and exposed a position as one can imagine, and it’s profoundly disturbing to see this woman splayed in such a way. Automatically, we realize we are seeing something not just taboo, but something we aren’t meant to see, an act we may never see another engaged in outside of those we have reached the utmost intimacy with. The woman, however, is not alone in this act; she is encircled by a highly-futuristic ring, made of metal slats and tubes pumping with some kind of orange light or liquid, an object without specific parallel in our current world, but one which nevertheless displays a tacit sinisterism. This woman is ensnared. Trapped. Metal spires reach out from the inner edge of the ring and form a metal hexagon around the woman’s midsection, while a snakelike orange tube extends outward from the ring and affixes itself to the back of the woman’s bald head. She is hooked into this mysterious machine, though whether she’s chosen this or had it foisted upon her is unclear.

The voyeurism is quite intensely communicated, especially because this interactive 3-D object allows us to approach the woman’s captivity from various angles and distances. We are never able to escape bare parts of her body. Her nudity and vulnerability cannot be eluded; they are absolutely essential to the piece, and so we are not physically allowed to look away. Sanz ensures this. And this only highlights the contrast between the unclothed human body, preeminently recognizable, with the technological trappings around her, a thing made terrifying by its unfamiliarity. 

But the woman does not wear an expression of overt pain. Her mouth slightly open, her hands below her chin, she appears bored above all things, maybe slightly uncomfortable, but not obviously in distress. She is very much a blank slate for us to place our own emotions, misgivings, and preconceptions of the material on to. The racial politics at play in forcing observers of unknown racial dynamic to impose their emotional will upon this black woman is disturbing, powerful, and inescapable. Ultimately, it is better for a critic of color to parse that out, so I’ll say only that, as a white man, being confronted with this clearly-unpermitted voyeuristic view of a black body entrapped feels wrong. The aforementioned complicity is palpable. Looking at this piece makes me feel sickened. But that’s ultimately the point. There’s no reason to place this woman in such a precarious position if not to engender some damning emotionality in observers. And that’s exactly what Sanz does.

Another way to examine the piece would be as the intersection between beginning and end, Alpha and Omega. The black body appeared first in the world, or certainly first in civilization, all of modern society springing from the Mesopotamiac Indus River Valley, an area in modern-day Iraq where the citizens were almost certainly people of color. This is juxtaposed with technology so seemingly-advanced it is unrecognizable, absorbing characteristics adopted from science fiction films and depictions of otherworldly technology we’ve seen on TV. Is Sanz suggesting that the black body is in a perpetual state of being entrapped, and by whatever technology will be coming next? It’s a pessimistic view rooted in sociocultural history. “We are part of the whole and part of nothing,” (taken from the Artist Description) also seems to suggest that the black body, and those people tied to it, are at once pulled along by the wave of human history but forcibly pushed outside of it, perhaps relating to the history of art as something predominantly white and male, the antithesis of the person centered in Trapped. 

One can also not escape the zoo animal quality imparted upon this black woman, how by being centered in the piece and also entrapped by the technology around her, she is relegated to an object, an object of display, an object of fascination, and object for onlookers to examine. That’s most troubling. It is only emphasized by the vulnerability of her position, the very real possibility that we’re seeing this woman in the state of some excretion, her entrapment and display having been ground into monotony by the time we see her, and now she is relegated to the basest of human behaviors, the most natural and humiliating, stripped of all human comforts: clothing, privacy, shelter, free-will. She is at the mercy of malicious forces more powerful than she is. And by all appearances, she is past the point of fighting against them. Resigned to be an object of voyeurism. Resigned to be an attraction.  

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