Close Looks: "Queen on Board" by Nelson Morales
Click on the arrow below to listen to an audio description of the featured photograph. Click on the transcript button to read the description.
At the center of this image stands a resplendent figure with all the trappings of glamour, emerging from the right side of a red vehicle. Windswept dark hair frames an oval face, seen in a three-quarters view that emphasizes the striking cheekbones, nose, and chin. Beneath perfectly groomed eyebrows, dramatically made-up eyes turn to gaze at the spectator, and slightly parted lips reveal white teeth. A sparkling necklace echoes the v-shape of the figure’s face and contrasts with the texture of the bare shoulder’s glowing skin, brushing against the fabric of the vehicle’s cover. The opposite hand, wearing a silver ring, is carefully placed on a vertical rod separating the back seat from the front of the vehicle. The bodice of the vivid orange gown glitters and flutters with the jewels and feathers that decorate it. While we can’t see the shape of the skirt – the vehicle and the wind distort it — we can see the layers of netting that adorn its exterior (and a glimpse of the right hand gathering it up) and underneath, we can see the diamond pattern of the stitching that holds the netting in place. One foot, wearing a tan leather sandal ornamented with leather flowers and silver studs, steps forward and rests on the dusty road.
The vehicle that moments earlier contained this glamorous person resembles an auto rickshaw, with three wheels and a white ragtop that has been patched in places. The vehicle’s back end is closest to us, the two rear tires readily visible, and the front end is pointed away from us — the silhouette of the single front tire is more difficult to see in the deep shadows cast on the road. The vehicle’s rear is decorated with words and images. Across the top, above the opaque window set in the ragtop, are the words: Carnicería “Vega.” On either side of the window appear the frontal heads of two longhorn cattle, each one’s face framed with a letter V. Below the cover, on the red rear door of the vehicle, the numeral 5 in red, with yellow shading, is surrounded by a white circle with edges that seem to bleed into the door’s red paint, especially on the irregular vented surfaces in the door — as though the white were spray painted using a circular stencil that didn’t rest evenly on its ground. Muddy handprints are visible on either side of the 5 and there is a slight dent in the metal band that stretches across the rear bumper. On the vehicle’s right rear side, obscured by the hem of the orange gown, are additional numerals — 4, then perhaps 0 and 2. Much of the vehicle’s interior is in shadow, but sunlight illuminates a few patches of red and black across the inside across the front.
The vehicle is parked at the left edge of an unpaved road, with a prominent rut into which the sandal-footed figure steps. The road’s surface is dry, dusty, and — if the single leaf fluttering at the lower right corner indicates its right edge – it is narrow. The photograph’s frame crops the image about one tire’s length behind the vehicle, and only permits us to see a small amount of the road ahead — perhaps one vehicle’s length. Behind the figure and the vehicle, and beyond the road’s left edge, there is a landscape. Immediately next to the road the vegetation is dense and brushy, including some dry grass and bushes with orange blossoms of a more restrained hue than that of the gown. Behind the bushes, at the image’s left, succulent plants grow tall enough to read a solid, diagonal form that might be a roof. The landscape to the right of the image shows a more distant vista, with the spokes of one commercial windmill and portions of several others visible in the middle distance. The spine of a mountain range marks the horizon, though it is partially hidden by the bushes growing beside the road. An expanse of pale blue sky covers the entire scene, vast enough to encompass several types of clouds.
“This picture evokes for me the beautiful and fiery spirits of the many people around the world who experience their gender(s) in ways outside of their societies’ prescribed boundaries. The subject of this stunning photograph emerges from a worn and damaged vehicle, which I see as a representation of the battles fought and path traversed in order to get to where (and who) she is now. Her
defiant posture, layered orange dress, shining jewelry, and flowing hair are reminiscent of a dazzling flame being blown in the wind but refusing to be extinguished.”
— Kai Ewing (they/them) is a local LGBTQ+ advocate, researcher, and artist, both within and outside their role as the Assistant for Education and Interpretation at the Ackland Art Museum.
“I see a very feminine presenting person making a grandiose exit from a coastal microbus. It is almost reminding me of the entrance of a quinceañera to her party. There is something both extravagant and easeful about this scene. Like they’re used to this level of luxury, but also it is still a striking sight.”
— Marcela Torres-Cervantes (she/her) is a North Carolina raised Latinx educator and champion currently working with the Carolina Latinx Center as the assistant director.
“It’s a beautiful photograph. The woman in the picture is dressed beautifully and appears to be on the move. The expression on her face seems happy and on a mission. Like she is on her way to something special possibly her wedding?”
— Josmell Perez (he/him) is an immigrant, Latinx, husband, father, son, brother, educator, and advocate director of the Carolina Latinx Center.
Nelson Morales, Mexican, born 1982, Queen on Board, from the series Musas Muxe, 2015, archival pigment print, 20 x 30 in. (50.8 x 76.2 cm). Lent by Allen Blevins and Armando Aispuro, L2020.7.1.
“What do I see? A dirt road, fields, mountains or mountainous clouds in the background, a hint of a wind turbine that converts the wind’s kinetic energy into electrical energy. An electrifying person — both subtly and boldly defying binary gender, race, and class categories—stepping out of a three-wheel red and white numbered vehicle stamped with steer heads and the label “Carnicería Vega.” This stepping out seems sudden, unexpected. Mutually “arresting” exchange pervades the scene — viewers may be arrested by what the camera has “captured.” Significantly, the photographed person is returning the gaze of the photographer (and the viewer), returning it with eye-liner emphasized eyes and lips parted. The inclined, partly turned body with one sandaled foot descending to the earth, engaged gaze, and parted lips are remindful of an enigmatic angel of annunciation. What is the intense countenance
communicating? Though the still photo freezes the person emerging, ongoingmovement and metamorphosis are suggested by the visible effects of the wind: in the figure’s windblown black hair and in the brilliant, reddish orange multi-dimensional gown blown backwards alongside the vehicle, echoing and contrasting with the fixed red metal and stretched white canvas of the auto rickshaw. The viewer is privy to some mysterious miracle most powerfully signaled by the figure’s deep-set eyes and multi-layered, voluminous raiment that flames on the wind with an anamorphic life of its own.”
— María DeGuzmán is the Eugene H. Falk Distinguished Professor of English & Comparative Literature and Founding Director of The UNC Latina/o Studies Program.
- How has the artist used narrative elements like the scene’s setting, the figure’s gestures and facial expression, and the action taking place, to draw us into the photograph?
- Look closely at the figure’s gaze. What are the eyes communicating? How would you respond?
- Nelson Morales’ artwork often captures human characteristics such as strength, perseverance, self-awareness, and compassion. What other human qualities do you sense from this image?
- Historically in Western societies, people have thought about gender in binary terms: male or female. But many indigenous societies — including the Zapotec in Morales’s native Oaxaca — conceive of gender as more fluid (as we increasingly understand it to be). Consider how you think about gender. How, if at all, has your understanding of gender and gendered identities changed over the years?
- Read more about Queen on Board in the Ackland’s About the Art guide.
- Learn more about Nelson Morales and his work. View the artist’s website.
- Watch and listen to Nelson Morales speak about his creative process at the CreativeMornings/Charlotte lecture series (fast-forward to 11:50).
- Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today is the country’s first broad survey of contemporary artwork from across North America to explore the construction of identity through gender and outward appearance. It was organized by the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Photographs by Nelson Morales are included in the exhibition. Visit the website for Transamerica/n.
Artist Conversation with Nelson Morales
Friday, October 9, 2020 | 12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
This free public conversation with photographer Nelson Morales was held when Morales had select photographs from his series Musas Muxe on view at the Ackland. The photographs explore the everyday life of muxes — people who identify as a third gender — of the Oaxaca state of Mexico. Click on the Youtube video below to watch!
Family & Friends Sunday: Latinx Heritage Month
Sunday, September 25, 2020 | 2-5 p.m.
Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with a live story time, crafts, and a closer look at works by Latinx artists in the Ackland’s collection for our September Virtual Family & Friends Sunday!
DIY activities available here.
NEA Big Read at the Ackland
October 11 – December 4, 2020
Free. Registration required. Click here for links to each program.
NEA Big Read at the Ackland will focus on Advice from the Lights by author Stephanie Burt. Events reflecting LGBTQ+ lives and experiences — including a keynote conversation with the author, a series of book discussions, and Drag Storytime for children — will take place virtually on ackland.org from Oct. 11 – Dec. 4.
Close Looks at Cocktail Hour: Nelson Morales’s Queen on Board
Wednesday, October 28, 2020 | 5:00 p.m.–5:45 p.m.
On October 28, 2020, the Ackland’s Object-Based Teaching Fellow, Erin Dickey, led an informal conversation focused on Nelson Morales’s Queen on Board. Click on the Vimeo player below to watch!
Ackland Film Forum: Queer Genius Watch Party & Panel
Tuesday, October 13, 2020 | 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Free. Registration required. Click here to register.
Queer Genius explores the remarkable lives of five queer female artists: Barbara Hammer, Eileen Myles, Black Quantum Futurism, Moor Mother, and Dynasty Handbag / Jibz Cameron. Watch along with filmmaker Chet Pancake at 7 p.m. and then join Chet and film scholars Franklin D. Cason Jr. (North Carolina State University), Sarah Keller (University of Massachusetts Boston), and Martin Louis Johnson (UNC-Chapel Hill) for a virtual post-film discussion at 9 p.m. Links provided with registration.
Image carousel, starting at center and scrolling to right:
Nelson Morales, Mexican, born 1982, Mother and Daughter, from the series Musas Muxe, 2017, archival pigment print on metallic paper, 16 × 24 in. (40.6 × 61 cm). Lent by Allen Blevins and Armando Aispuro, L2020.7.5.
Nelson Morales, Mexican, born 1982, Goddess of Four Arms, from the series Musas Muxe, 2016, archival pigment print, 19 ¾ x 29 ½ in. (50.2 x 74.9 cm). Lent by Allen Blevins and Armando Aispuro, L2020.7.4.
Nelson Morales, Mexican, born 1982, Self Portrait with Red Skirt, from the series Musas Muxe, 2016, archival pigment print on metallic paper, 15 1/2 × 23 1/4 in. (39.4 × 59.1 cm). Lent by Allen Blevins and Armando Aispuro, L2020.7.6.
Nelson Morales, Mexican, born 1982, The Great Lady, from the series Musas Muxe, 2017, archival pigment print, 19 ¾ x 29 ½ in. (50.2 x 74.9 cm). Lent by Allen Blevins and Armando Aispuro, L2020.7.2.
Nelson Morales, Mexican, born 1982, Oriana and Her Dog, from the series Musas Muxe, 2016, archival pigment print, 19 ½ x 20 ½ in. (49.5 x 74.9 cm). Lent by Allen Blevins and Armando Aispuro, L2020.7.3.
Close Looks: “Queen on Board” by Nelson Morales is supported in part by the Laughing Gull Foundation.