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Visual and verbal elements intersect in List Center exhibits

While the adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" points to the endless interpretive and descriptive possibilities offered by visual images, the specificity of language and words themselves are generally thought to offer more incisive meanings. Artist Kay Rosen of Gary, IN, upsets this order in her current exhibition at the List Visual Arts Center, by using language as the subject of her paintings, turning words into pictorial images that explore language.

Relying on word play, humor and attunement to popular cultural forms, Short Stories/Tall Tales asks viewers to explore the ways meanings are read, derived and decoded from language by using puns and repetitions, breaking grammatical rules and examining the graphical properties of words themselves.

On Thursday, May 15, at 7pm in Bartos Theater, Steven Pinker, director of MIT's McConnell-Pew Center for Cognitive Neurosciences and author of The Language Instinct, will discuss the relationship between spoken language, written language and ideas in connection with Ms. Rosen's exhibition.

This exhibition completes the List Center's year-long series of projects in which artists presented work exploring the nature of language and communication.


The List Center's season finale also features two exhibitions by contemporary Latin American artists, Nahum P. Zenil: Witness to the Self and Luis Gonzalez Palma: Photographic Works.

Although Mr. Zenil is well known in his native Mexico, the List Center exhibition is the first in the United States to offer a comprehensive view of his work. Inspired by the realist painting and the 19th century folk ex-voto (retablo) tradition of folk painting, the artist paints evocative full-body self-portraits that explore themes of personal and cultural identity in late-20th-century Mexican society.

Mr. Zenil's style is also influenced by Jose Guadalupe Posada, a turn-of-the-century social realist, and by Frida Kahlo, who similarly used the self-portrait as a means of exploring her own identity and psychology as well as larger political and gender issues. Mr. Zenil depicts relations with his family, particularly his mother, his past as a school teacher, and his ambivalent and contradictory feelings toward Catholicism and his own homosexuality. His works often deal specifically with issues of masculine identity and being gay in Mexico's conservative, patriarchal society.

Guatemalan architect and artist Luis Gonzalez Palma photographs Mayans of his acquaintance, not to document the contemporary urban scene, but to delve into deeper psychological issues. He poses his subjects with theatrical costumes and symbolic trappings such as angel wings, flowers, crowns or skulls.

"The situation in Guatemala is, like that of many other countries in the Third World, very critical," Mr. Palma has said. "I am not interested only in expressing this marginalized condition but in the consciousness of solitude and a reflection on the fragility and temporary nature of life. The indigenous face has been really a poetic metaphor of this awareness of solitude, not only of a human group but of all mankind. Of course my country causes me pain, just as the human race causes me pain."

The shows will remain on view through Sunday, June 29. For more information, call x3-4680 or see> on the Web.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 14, 1997.

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