Critical LOOKing with The Benton: Taking a closer look at ‘La Conquistadora at the Trinity Nuclear Site, Near Socorro, New Mexico’

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“La Conquistadora at the Trinity Nuclear Site, Near Socorro, New Mexico” is exactly what the name says. It’s a photograph of a statue and Mother Mary on the world’s first nuclear site, which happened to be in New Mexico. The exact date of the explosion is July 16, 1945. Photo courtesy of the William Benton Museum of Art.

The last of the Critical LOOKing Dialogues happened this past Thursday, with the William Benton Museum of Art hosting an analysis of “La Conquistadora at the Trinity Nuclear Site, Near Socorro, New Mexico” by Craig Varjabedian, taken in 1996.  

Assistant Curator and Academic Liaison Amanda Duoberely begins every Critical LOOKing session with two minutes to just simply look at every aspect of the piece of work. She asks the audience to step back and truly take the piece in, picking up on the details and various aspects of the photograph. “La Conquistadora at the Trinity Nuclear Site, Near Socorro, New Mexico” is exactly what the name says. It’s a photograph of a statue and Mother Mary on the world’s first nuclear site, which happened to be in New Mexico. The exact date of the explosion is July 16, 1945.  

The photograph depicts a triangular statue next to Mother Mary in the desert. To some, Mother Mary represented something more than just a religious figure.  

“It reminds me of the damage that we can do, and it almost says ‘God, help us all. Look at what we’ve done; a nuclear device exploded on this Earth,’ so the religious figure will do her best to protect or to heal to a certain degree,” one said.  

The audience correlated Mother Mary to a higher purpose at the landsite, one of healing from a devastating event that took place. It symbolizes the peace, but also the severity, that the explosion caused. Its destruction was so large that it needed a religious symbol to begin healing.  

Along with a deeper meaning, the photograph is visually appealing. The statue and Mother Mary are both a triangular shape, which allows for a cohesive feel. The photograph also incorporates elements in the foreground, middleground and background. The art piece takes up the foreground, the bushes embody the middleground and the mountains take up the background. The addition of making the photo black and white adds an emotional element to the story. It creates a somber feeling that most likely would not be so evident if the photo were in color. I believe this is intentionally done by the artist, as it was evident the landscape was one of human destruction and sadness.  

Duoberely makes a connection between the conqueror of the indigenous people and this imposition on the land/landscape.  

According to Duoberely, along with many other things, the image represents the idea of conquest and a further connection between the Trinity detonation, which she argues starts the Anthropocene concept.  

The Benton has been analyzing pieces from the Anthropocene for several months now, and will conclude the exhibit on March 5 with “Film Screening: Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” at 6:30 p.m. If you have never tuned into a Critical LOOKing session, they’re usually less than an hour and can be found on the Benton’s website.  

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