Landscape painting in Mexico often acted as a mechanism for colonial subjugation, perpetuating Eurocentric artistic and historical values. José María Velasco is considered one of the most influential artists who made Mexican geography a symbol of national identity through his landscape paintings. Velasco’s 19th century pastoral landscapes traced the shifting economies of objects in colonial Mexico, validating claims of legality by the settler state. The premise in Velasco’s pastoral painting is a narrative of magnificence and opulence, highlighting the splendors of the imperial court and ethnic harmony in the newly established colonial state, meanwhile concealing Indigenous genocide and colonial violence. Velasco’s pastoral landscapes aptly depict subjugation and colonial violence as normalized instruments of dispossession.

The video installation ‘portrait of a nation’ examines José María Velasco’s pastoral landscapes as instruments of surveillance and colonial violence. By rephotographing Velasco’s landscape paintings with a surveillance camera and re-staging them with the collaboration of the Indigenous P’urhépecha in Mexico, the installation produces depictions of landscape inaccessible to ordinary gaze, situating video recording and landscape painting as technologies of violence. This video piece addresses the complexities of the political geography of race in Mexico, rendering landscape painting and video technologies as surveillance assemblages.

Portrait of a Nation
Video Installation
B&W, Stereo
22 mins.

An installation by Victor Arroyo

SD surveillance footage
Re-photography by Oswaldo Toledano
Sound design by Christian Olsen

This video piece was produced with support from the residency

El Colegio De Michoacan
Centro de Estudios en Geografia Humana
2015 – 2018

[ link ]


Financial Support

Globalink Research Award
MITACS, Canada

Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement Supérieur
Gouvernement du Québec

Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, Recherche, Science et Technologie
Gouvernement du Québec

Concordia University
Faculty of Fine Arts


Festival International du Film sur l’Art
Montreal, Canada.
[ link ]

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