Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Denisse Ariana Pérez observed that the elements characterizing ‘blackness’ were not celebrated but something she was encouraged to hide. For Denisse, her latest film Black Anatomy feels like a “homecoming,” a poetic ode to the black body and a powerful reclamation identity. Wielding artifice, poetry and collaboration, Denisse writes and directs a strikingly beautiful and tender lesson on black anatomy. She takes Urth behind the scenes to share the film’s conception, personal origins and process.
Words and Photography by Denisse Ariana Pérez
How did the idea to create “A Poetic Lesson on Black Anatomy” come to you and what made you pursue it?
I like to look at themes and words and re-explore and re-write their meaning. I do this often as a writer, I like to dive deep into a general term and reinterpret it. When I capture images I like to focus on beauty, on highlighting, on squeezing the poetry out of a subject. So this was an opportunity for me to do these same exercises with the Black body. I have always been fascinated by how multifaceted Black identity is, so I wanted to pay homage to this multifacetedness and this complexity. No two Black bodies have the same experience or appearance, but they do share something mystical about them and this was what this was about. This project is an invitation for self-exploration, to look at our bodies closely, to honor them, to observe them, and to admire them. This was an opportunity to look at previous stereotypes of the Black body, be it the size of the lips or the density of the hair, and revindicate them through poetry. This project is an invitation to celebrate all that a Black body is and can be.
What are you exploring through the making of this film?
I had a vivid image of Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings in my head and replaced it with a Black body. It made me think of the times when Black bodies were used for scientific research without their consent and when they were used as objects of anatomical study. This film is an anatomical exploration from a place of self-determination, where the subjects themselves get to explore their bodies for their own contemplation and nothing else. Where they can pay attention to the music that is within them.
“This film feels like a homecoming in a way. To put all my skills together, to conceptualize, to write, to direct, but also to bring all parts of my identity together.”
All creative projects express the artist’s experience in some way. In what ways is this project personal to you?
It is a very personal project because I grew up in a place where Black bodies are not celebrated at all. In the Dominican Republic, you need to hide or mold the features that make you look too “Black.” This work and some of my previous photographic work are rebelling against this notion that Black bodies are not beautiful enough or worth being celebrated. This project is also personal because I myself am biracial, so claiming the Blackness in me has been a liberating and gradual process. Through my work, I have been able to explore my inner Blackness and how it takes a different unique form than that of others but at the time it is shared with others. This film feels like a homecoming in a way. To put all my skills together, to conceptualize, to write, to direct, but also to bring all parts of my identity together.
Walk us through the making of it. Was the process quite collaborative? What was the atmosphere like on the day?
This process was so beautifully collaborative. I spent significant time with Álvar Riu Dolz, the DOP of the film, and Alexander Venndt, the Art Director, defining how to shape the story and translate it into film after I wrote the script and storyline. Luiz Felipe Lucas also joined as a movement director later on and we spent afternoons in my apartment, the 4 of us, exploring poses and sharing how we interpreted each body part. Luiz himself has such a different experience than me interpreting and exploring what it feels like to live in a Black body, and it was wonderful to feed off of his unique insights. In so many of my personal photographic projects, I had to assume so many roles at once, I had to be the stylist, the choreographer, and the director. Film requires much more collaboration, and in this particular case, we created an open dialogue where we respected and trusted each other’s opinions. The energy on the set on the shooting day was magical, everyone was so happy and proud to be there. Everyone could feel how meaningful it was what we were aiming to do. I will always remember the energy of that day.
ART DIRECTION ALEXANDER VENNDT MOVEMENT DIRECTION LUIZ FELIPE LUCAS NARRATION MAKEDA (MEME GOLD) CARAYOL MUSIC REUBEN JAMES SET DESIGN CRISTINA RAMOS PRODUCTION FALCA MODELS MAKEDA (MEME GOLD) CARAYOL, LUIZ FELIPE LUCAS, JOREL E, PANTERINO, ESTEFANÍA MENDES, ROSANA EHIZELE OZGUL PRODUCER IGNASI VARGAS PRODUCTION MANAGER LUNA AUSINA PRODUCTION COORDINATOR MARÍA BADÍA PA ALBERTO ARMARIO CINEMATOGRAPHER ÁLVAR RIU DOLZ 1ST CAMERA ASSISTANT LUCÍA AJÚRIA 2ND CAMERA ASSISTANT MARC VILLAFRANCA PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT JOSÉ LOURRE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR NORA NAVARRO GAFFER JAN HAASE SPARK ROMÁ COTS COLE KEY GRIP MARC ROS GRIP JUAN IGNASI PRÁTOLA SET DESIGNER CRISTINA RAMOS PROPS PEDRO RAMOS SOUND TECH DAVID GASCON (114 STUDIO) STYLIST STEPHANIA YEPES MUAH ITZIAR LORENTE FILM EDITOR ALEIX RODÓN COLORIST MARTIN SOMOZA SOUND DESIGN DAVID GASCON (114 STUDIO) CAMERA & LIGHTING NAPALM RENTALS GRIP MUXART SOUND GEAR 114 STUDIO TRANSPORT MODASA PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT LOCATION SUPPORT
WITH SUPPORT FROM: URTH, ATMOS, PROBATION, HOMECOMING AND OPEN DOORS GALLERY.
Denisse Ariana Pérez
Denisse Ariana Pérez is a Caribbean-born, Copenhagen-based copywriter and photographer. She is obsessed with words, people and imagery and finding ways to make them speak to one another. Her photographic work has been featured on It’s Nice That, The Guardian, VICE, Dazed and Ignant, and she is now an Urth ambassador.