Debra Arndorfer, “Veiled”

detail 1

detail 2

detail 3

detail 4

detail 5


Debra Arndorfer (San Pedro, CA)

mixed media collage
132 pages
9” x 9” x 49.5′ open
9” x 9” x 6” closed

I fell in love with codices, the folded screen format, while studying Aztec codices at UCLA. To accompany my research paper for my Departmental Honors Project my senior year, I recreated,
re-imagined a codex using the Fejervary-Mayer Codex as a prototype. I essentially ‘followed’ the Aztec’s creative path physically, making my book the same size, number of pages, constructing my pages according to their compositions and viewed from right to left. I obtained beautiful amate paper from a mountain village in Mexico for authenticity and incorporated some of their iconography when desirable or appropriate for my creation. The task I undertook was to construct a codex that a contemporary person would recognize and understand. Making my codex also religious in nature, I substituted, East/West, Buddha/Christ, for their gods, exploring what scholars had (or had not) deciphered from their visual language. Personalizing my codex with my own work (drawings, paintings and photographs) and using art I was studying at UCLA, my intention was to honor the Aztec beliefs and sensibilities while expressing my own. Completely inspired by their originality, complexity, intricate detail and sophistication, I created nine codices, as my intense exploration and passion went in many directions, requiring more books. It was the highlight of my studies.

The work I am submitting for MCBA Prize, Veiled, is a continuation of the exploration I began at UCLA. I find the two-sided composition of the codex endlessly exciting, as when opened and viewed from different angles and perspectives, each side, alternating pages, ‘talk’ to each other, engaging and interacting in surprising ways. The folded screen format can be an intimate experience, but as intended, it is meant to be viewed by many at once and shared. Sculptural and requiring movement to see it, the viewer chooses his/her perspective, taking from it pieces (individual pages) or an overall summation.

Veiled began with drawings of three veiled heads of women from different perspectives, explored in pencil, charcoal and ink. Inspired by and fascinated with veiling done in marble, especially the sculptures by Renaissance and Baroque artists, I simply wanted to experience “veiling” in a physical way, the beauty of veiling. But as I went deeper into my exploration, I found myself thinking about what veiling suggests, what it masks or signifies (the mysterious, sexual, sensual, purity, removal from, protection of, privacy, secrecy, mourning, separation from, being hidden, entombed, repressed, oppressed; ‘we are all veiled, or veil ourselves, in some way’). I found, I was unable to let go of the image. Altering it in different ways, continuing to collage it, meshing the images, extending the veiling, overlaying the heads on photographs of structures of concrete and nature, I played with one visual idea after another. Until I realized, quite unconsciously and without intention, my veiled women became the visual expression of my own grieving process. After recent deaths in my family, this was the first work I was able to do, to come to.

My submission of Veiled is Part 1 of a much larger work in progress. (Part 2: is entirely white, of 43 broken doves in remembrance of the 43 students who disappeared in Mexico/soaring doves, opposite side; Part 3: explores crucifixion, ‘forced to be totally open, vulnerable, sacrificed’/Schiele and the selfie, opposite side; Part 4: beach walk/Iowa aerial view, opposite side; Part 5: ‘…what a wonderful world…;’ Part 6: all black, the cosmos). When completed and fully open, I expect the six sections to total 250+ feet. As a whole, this work offers a culmination, a comment on what it means for me to be alive, as I try to understand, to ‘place’ myself, in what can be a frightening and wondrous world at the same time.