Elle Pérez

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Artist Statement

My portfolio includes three bodies of work, Give/Take, Raw, and Reinas. Two completed and one in progress. Raw (2013-2015) is an experimental documentary project made in collaboration with amateur wrestlers from the Bronx. These images occupy the borderland between truth and fiction, both in their form and in their subject. The wrestling depicted in my images is a performance. Each match is scripted–the particularities of the fight are often choreographed months in advance–and each wrestler creates his own character through exaggeration and projection of his deepest desires for himself. The fights are a chance for these men to play with expressing power, violence, desire, identity, and sexuality in a way rarely allowed outside the ring. Shown alongside the wrestlers are images from Reinas (2014-2016) of drag queens and punk girls who use forms of identity projection that the wrestlers would recognize. Together, these images suggest that, while each subject plays with identity differently, their choices about self presentation are different in degree, not in kind.

Echoing its subject matter, Raw’s form moves between embodying and subverting the documentary mode. Some images are made strictly in the documentary style by photographing live wrestling shows, and others are elaborately constructed in collaboration with the wrestlers. These two types of images are deliberately difficult for the viewer to separate, though subtle shifts in lighting and control hint at the slip between truth and fiction that is taking place. Raw claims the rhetorical authority of documentary–the images are monochrome, realist, and unwieldy–only to disavow its own projected truth. This ambiguity highlights the ways in which ideas of truth and fiction are relational and porous when applied to art and identity.

Give/Take (2016), the body of work I am currently making, is a more personal evolution of Raw. The images nod to the complexities of my own shifting queer identity, chronicling the buildup to beginning testosterone this fall. The images trade heavily in desire, intimate disclosure, and the interplay between hard and soft. They are driven by queer signs and symbols–rose quartz, Leonardo DiCaprio, fences, stones–that lurk in everyday life, deliberately invisible unless someone knows how to see them.

This concern with visibility and legibility is paramount to the body of work, like questions of truth and fiction were to Raw. The binder hanging in the shower creates an appearance (it shapes my body into one that feels like mine), but it is rarely itself seen. The dicks, too: underneath my pants they read as simply hard or soft, but to see them together between my legs offers both potentialities at once. The images are printed life size on Habotai silk, which makes them photographic objects, and implicates them in the archipelago of the queer signs that they depict. The material is also important in that the motion and transparency of the hanging silk. The silks respond to the viewer’s body; they breathe with you as you pass. The core proposition of Give/Take is that to make something visible or legible is not to reduce it to a finite definition, but rather to allow it to take on its full complexity and possibility.



Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 2015
Yale School of Art, MFA in Photography, May 2015
Maryland Institute College of Art, BFA in Photography, May 2011


2016 ​
Culture, Curated by Marcel Alcalá, Arend deGruyter Helfer, Kate Ruggeri, & Lauren Taylor, Roots and Culture Gallery, Chicago, IL.
Group Show, Curated by Daniel Shea, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Chicago, IL
Here and Now: Qu​eer Geographies, Stonewall National Museum & Archives, Fort Lauderdale, FL
New Genealogies, Curators John Edmonds and Jenny Tang, Yale School of Art, New Haven, CT
​Lovely Dark, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, CA and Danziger Gallery, New York, NY
The Model Reader, Transmitter Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
​Bronx X Bronx, Bronx Documentary Center, Bronx, NY
LGBTQ: Per​ spectives on Equality, The Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, NC
​The Time Has Come, Longwood Art Gallery, Bronx, NY
Here and No​ w: Queer Geographies, Curated by Rafael Soldi, Silver Eye Center, Pittsburgh, PA
2013 ​
Into The Woods, Current Space, Baltimore, MD (solo exhibition)
2011 ​
You Are M​ aking Me Uncomfortable, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE


Theo Westenberger Foundation Photography Prize
Bronx Recognizes It’s Own Grant, Bronx Council of the Arts


Civil Society Institute Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center
The Jane Meyer Photography Traveling Fellowship, Maryland Institute College of Art


​NEWSPAPER​, revived and published by Marcelo Yáñez
I Don’t Care I Love It, TC Scroll, The Contemporary Museum (Baltimore, MD) 2014 ​Youth, Editor Carolina Cavalli, Editions de Syrtes (France)
​Into The Woods published by Current Gallery (Baltimore, MD)
​Outliers, Self Published
​Baby Was a Black Sheep, Self Published


20​ 16
“​Freedom of the Night: 11 Reflections on Orlando,”​ Aperture Magazine, editor Brendan Wattenberg,
“​The Unbreakable Joy Of A Latinx Club Night,”​ The Fader Magazine, by​ Patrick​ D. McDermott​,
“​Elle Pérez’s Breath​ taking Photos Of Underground Wrestlers In The Bronx,” ​The Fader Magazine​, by Duncan Cooper
“The Freedom of Young Photographers,”​ New Yorker Magazine, by Hilton Als, Web
“​Here ​ & Now: Queer Geographies in Contemporary Photography traces the diversity of the LGBT experience,”​ Pittsburgh City Paper, by Bill O’Driscoll, Print
“​Radical Transgenderism,” ​Guernica, by Elle Pérez


Dean, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 2016