The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is dedicating a retrospective to the work of Peggy Ahwesh (Pittsburgh, 1954), one of the most groundbreaking and irreverent filmmakers of the American underground. Ahwesh began to make films in the early 1980s, projecting all of the effervescence of punk into her work. According to Eileen Myles, the Kodak Company would return each roll of developed film to her with a patient explanation that that they “had done it wrong”. Like Andy Warhol, Ahwesh gave her actors complete freedom in the field, but did impose some cut-off limits never imagined by the creator of Sleep (1963), to whom Ahwesh paid tribute with The Fragments Project (1985-1995).
The world of Ahwesh’s films is unquestionably female. However, the femininity that emanates from pieces like The Color of Love (1994), The Vision Machine (1997) and the more recent She Puppet (2001) is a far cry from the feminine ideal found in commercial and genre film, despite her intense dialogue with those models. Her kingdom lies in the suffocating claws of culture. While Ahwesh was able to create a strange sensation of distance with respect to pornographic film codes in The Color of Love by using Astor Piazzolla’s concertina in the background of a scene that is simultaneously voluptuous and pathetic, in She Puppet, it is the language of videogames that is transgressed through her subtle re-editing of the videogame Tomb Rider and its heroine Lara Croft. The irony of the image of the female body turned into an object of sexual exploitation in commercial genres appeared in her first film The Scary Movie (1993), in which two girls wearing painted moustaches and sideburns laugh and scream while fondling each other in an ignorant imitation of sex.
Returning to the words of Myles: “In Ahwesh’s films, you can never forget that woman is an animal. Something beautiful, savage, pathetic, left behind. Something that begs to be filmed. […] Peggy’s hero is the anonymous woman, a monster if you see her in a certain way, a deity, a captive dignitary if you interpret her in another. […] In all of her work there is something naughty. We women are a mystery to ourselves”.