When I think of Rineke Dijkstra’s work, the first thing to come to mind are her beach scenes. Glowing adolescent bodies against eerie blue greys.
What I was not prepared for when I visited Dijkstra’s retrospective at SF MoMA this week was how captivating the bullfighter portraits would be. Not only for the contradictions they exude – a bullfighter should be strong, courageous and other “masculine” qualities, not torn down, dirty, exhausted, relieved – but also for their sheer beauty. These men look like innocent children, almost like dolls with clear skin, dark hair, and soft intricate fabrics. I love the delicate patterns and the rose colored jacket and ties. Even the blood and dirt that drip down their faces and shirts are elegant. If this was supposed to dissuade me from bullfighting, it is not working.
These were hung to juxtapose portraits of mothers holding their recently delivered babies. The viewer is meant to draw comparisons between the two sets. Both went through intense physical exertion and a life-changing event that was also life-threatening. It is supposed to raise questions of what qualities really depict masculinity and femininity. I appreciate this line of questioning, however, the bullfighters on their own confuse masculine/feminine, hard/soft, strong/weak in a wonderful and gently perplexing way.
The show runs through May 28.