Can I reflect? – A question that not only asks you to think deeply, but a common question asked in the field of pathology.
“We always have to ask during our examination, before we open up the head, we ask them ‘can we reflect’. That means reflecting tissue back,” said Alivia Magaña, a master's of Fine Arts student at the University of New Mexico.
Magaña came to UNM in 2016 from Junction City, Kansas looking for a “ground shaking experience." She found just that working as a forensic photographer for the Office of the Medical Investigator.
Since starting, she worked her way to becoming an autopsy technician, which allowed her to eviscerate and cut to remove internal organs.
Magaña said she created the series “Can I Reflect” to respond to the intense experiences she faced in her line of work.
Through her art, she reflected on topics like the acceptance of death, which she said can be very painful.
“It’s a question that I ask myself,” Magana said. “I ask the pathologist in autopsy, but in my art practice I mediate on that question.”
Contact prints of body bags hanging from the walls of UNM's CFA Downtown Studio were the main point of interest in Magaña’s series. Not unlike her artwork, Magaña said she has a unique point of view when it comes to death.
“I always think about how colorful death is,” she said. “I get to see a really unusual side of death when I open people up.”
Magaña explained creating her prints involved laying body bags on light sensitive sheets of paper. After exposing them to sunlight for 30 minutes, vibrant yellow and pink hues appear on the paper. Then, due to more light exposure, the colors transition to cool and faded shades until the images disappear.
“With these (prints) I’m really tending to and caring for them,” Magaña said. “It kind of adds another layer to the experience. When you take a picture of a moment your memory becomes the picture of the moment. In a weird way your brain starts aligning the picture with the experience.”
She said that the ability to look back on her experiences with death working as an artist have helped her accept death.
“To be able to revisit this experience in not a painful way, but in an accepting way, has been amazing for me as a person and as an artist,” Magaña said.
Magaña said she hopes others feel acceptance towards and think deeply about the processes of death.
Juana Estrada, a Print Making Graduate Student at UNM, said the art in “Can I Reflect” portrayed death in a beautiful way.
“This gives a very different insight into how we think about death,” Estrada said. “It really pushes you to think about the relationships between the body bags and the juxtaposition of how she incorporates her former experience working with them. It’s a really great body of work.”
Magaña said there are many interesting ways to get your foot in the door as an artist, especially with a photography background. Before she came to UNM, Magaña said she would photograph ghost towns for the History Department at her school in Kansas.
“I’m going through experiences and photography helped me get those experiences,” Magaña said. “I’m bringing it back into an artistic realm with photos. I think this is probably my artistic cycle for now.”
Amanda Britt is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AmandaBritt__.