december coverLa Sonrisa de Mona Lisa

A true masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa continually re-emerges to grab attention, even 500 years after it was first painted. Whether copied as part of an advertising campaign or pictured on the cover of a best-selling mystery thriller, few works of art can boast of such mainstream recognition.

Now, Italian photographer Nino Pizzi hopes to engage more discussion about the painting and its role as a feminine icon. He’s enlisted 16 female artists based in Texas, photographing them in their best Mona Lisa pose, and then having the artists take their image and recreate it to their own satisfaction.

Connie Arismendi, the only Latina artist involved in the project, admits: “The Mona Lisa is not my favorite portrait or work by da Vinci. I prefer The Virgin on the Rocks. I remember seeing it at the Louvre and thinking, ‘There’s a really fabulous painting at the other end of the room but nobody’s looking at it.’”

Pizzi was not concerned with her lack of enthusiasm regarding the painting, since many female artists share her reserve and that was the genesis of the project. “I noticed that the Mona Lisa is considered a female icon, but mostly among male artists and critics. Women rarely speak of it, “ he shares. “I wanted to give women an opportunity to reinterpret the piece, through a collaborative process, look at it from a different perspective and ultimately, establish a new dialogue.”

Arismendi says she accepted Pizzi’s invitation because of the freedom he gave her to reinterpret the work, from setting up the photo session and choosing the location, to producing the final work. None of the final portraits are posted on the project’s website,, but a sneak peek at Arismendi’s portrait (right) reveals an uncanny likeness to the original, from the famous smile to the eyes, but with contemporary flair. She says she deliberately chose to style her pose in an opposite manner from the painting, choosing casual clothes—a plain white T-shirt and white jeans—and opulent jewelry, as opposed to Mona Lisa’s formal dress and zero jewelry.

She also acknowledges da Vinci’s innovations as an artist, from the use of atmospheric perspective, where objects in the distance are less clear, and sfumato technique, a gradual dissolving of the forms, as reasons for joining the project. “The Mona Lisa is a striking example of both,” she says.

In her work, Arismendi tries to capture the ephemeral, fleeting emotions or sensations. She shares a similar fascination with da Vinci. “Sfumato means smoky, that’s what you see in his work, there are no lines. Like him, I hate lines. I prefer shadows, translucent materials.”

What also appealed to her was the chance to reinterpret an iconic work of art.

Arismendi asked that her photo be printed on mylar, a fairly translucent material and a favorite medium for her to apply papel picado technique, or perforated paper, the Mexican art form used on streamers as celebratory banners. Arismendi began to embrace the technique as she transitioned from a painter to a sculptor and installation artist. With papel picado, positive and negative spaces combine to form the image.

“I was looking for artists with a range of approaches and with experience with layering. Connie’s work intrigues me because she takes a look a history and memory through her own culture that is very personal and unique. Her work was right on target for this project,” admits Pizzi.

Coincidentally, it was an Italian who first inspired Arismendi to pursue the creative arts. “I remember going to the World’s Fair in New York in 1965, and seeing the Pieta by Michelangelo, for the first time. I was on a conveyor belt but I really saw it up close. I got so excited by the idea that people could make something so beautiful with their bare hands,” she shares. She’s seen every sculpture by the artist, since then, she boasts. “He’s my hero.”

The completed works will debut at the Austin Museum of Art in June of 2011 and remain on display through August. Pizzi also hopes to tour the collection.