Like a Prayer


After years of installations that dealt with boyhood, Ernesto Pujol recently turned to photography in a series of self-portraits as nuns. The image of his unshaven face emerging from a crisp habit was undeniably campy, but Pujol was not simply acting out a drag standard. Rather, he was paying homage to the nuns who taught him as a schoolboy in Puerto Rico.

In Pujol’s case, the nuns did good work: After completing his B.A. in painting, he entered a Trappist monastery, where he spent four years immersed in mysticism and self-abnegation. Though he has given up his vows, Pujol’s new photos prove that while you can take the artist out of the monastery, you can’t always take the monastery out of the artist. Pujol photographed himself in spartan rooms wearing monk’s habits from three different orders.

Wearing the white-hooded garb of a cloistered Carthusian monk, Pujol prays with his back to the camera, his identity utterly subsumed by his garment. Pujol is more relaxed as a Franciscan, surrounded by dogs in perfect imitation of Saint Francis. Pujol is fierce in the severe outfit of Jesuit missionaries, the Church’s intellectual army. His firm hands, in a gesture of benediction, are God’s instruments.

The vintage garments worn in the photos are also displayed on stiff mannequins. In this small gallery, the effect is like being alone in a monk’s cell, faced with three divergent attitudes about Catholicism. Pujol brings us into the monastery to get us to think twice about our own bodies, and, most compellingly, about our own spirituality.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 27, 2000

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