Structures of Reverie
by Josephine Sacabo
Luna Press

"This is the story of a woman who invents her freedom by creating an imaginary architecture made of light, scraps of memory, hopes and dreams."

The mind can be immensely tricky to navigate. All the riches in the world could be bestowed upon you, but if one is a prisoner of the mind, then everything else is rendered meaningless. On the other hand, even if one is locked up in darkness and stone, an imaginative brain is the key to freedom. In this book of photographs of architecture, inspired by the true story of Juana la Loca—allegedly Spain’s sixteenth-century mad queen—Sacabo’s structures and sketches speak volumes.

Juana, the elder sister of Catherine of Aragon and mother of Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor, was multifaceted in her education and multilingual skillset. Following the death of her two older siblings, Juana is said to have slipped into darkness, afflicted with the same schizophrenia and depression that plagued several other members of her lineage. In 1509, she was placed in the Royal Monastery convent of Castile, where she would remain until she died in 1555, nearly a half-century later. If she wasn’t mad before her forced confinement, it’s quite possible that being in solitary and hearing her son say, “It seems to me that the best and most suitable thing for you to do is to make sure that no person speaks with Her Majesty, for no good could come from it,” could certainly have contributed to a compromised mental state.

Upon opening the book, the feel and fragrance are intoxicating, creating an aura of mystery and freedom from confinement. Using the influence of chiaroscuro—the art of contrasting light and dark—Sacabo’s work is imbued with a translucent quality. Even though the work is entirely black and white, there is no hindrance in conjuring limitless possibility. The blotch of white above the rows of what is likely a rendition of the Royal Monastery represents the moon, but more importantly, the hopes and dreams that, though at times elusive, are still within reach.

Interestingly, Sacabo has a strong command with shapes and splattered brush strokes. In the second piece, what is likely a portrait of the queen is a representation of the passage of time’s effect on memory. In many ways, this particular piece appears to show the figure in the same foreground as the architecture to convey that physical confinement could not keep the light from entering. In another of Sacabo’s creations, the pitch black of prison bars is juxtaposed with the penetrating glare of the figure, lost in thought and memory. Sacabo effectively manipulates the shades of black and white to create angles and dimensions that give the reader the feeling that they are inside the convent with Juana. Numerous pieces embed a pensive figure within the interior of the room, where audiences can make out the faint writing on the wall before it fades to black. Through the use of these various styles, Sacabo is not only creating mood but also giving a voice to the anguish of the central figure in her work.

An aura of reverence to one’s musings is apparent but is especially evident in the sketch of the exterior, where the visible clock tower indicates hope for escape and freedom. Moreover, elements of the architecture portfolio seem to be influenced by Cubism. As each piece is broken into smaller parts of the whole, the strong geometric shapes are evident. Specifically, the photographs in which a woman seems to be peering out a window as the rain cascades down, in conjunction with a picture of an open door and an endless corridor within the monastery, create an especially haunting sentiment. Each photograph in the compilation forces viewers to take a step back and think about Sacabo’s thought process and approach to design. While the creative structure is certainly unquestionable, the photographer has gone to great lengths to make sure that every aspect of every photograph will forcefully speak to the reader and share the plight of her muse and inspiration.

A 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Art Category Honorable Mention

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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