Painting of a nude woman with a light skin tone leaning on her elbows close to the ground and kissing an armadillo. The land behind them is blue and the sky above is pink and lavender.
Annie Brito Hodgin, Creatures of instinct, born to be captured (2022), Oil on board, 18 x 24 in

Southern Labyrinth

Rachel Ebio

Annie Brito Hodgin’s artwork seems to pull from a shadow realm between patriarchy and matriarchy, with the female protagonist caught in various versions of the underworld. There’s only one person in each painting: a nude woman. The singularity of the woman alludes to a matriarchal existence yet there is no physical male presence in these paintings, but the horrific scenes each female protagonist endures is an effect of patriarchal power.

The nudity of Hodgin’s female subjects is a statement of rebellion against Southern oppression and a rejection of her conservative Christian upbringing. This gives Hodgin control over the nameless women she creates and, in a larger context, control over her environment. If we return to the root of trauma, it can stem from a lack of control and decision. These demonic scenarios insight a question: what are the crimes for these women’s purgatory sentences? Simply being a female in the South.

Born in Poughkeepsie, NY, Hodgin was raised between Texas and Alabama. While she studied literature in college, it was drawing and oil painting that were a consistent place of solace for her. Over the past ten years, she has resided in Hendersonville, Tennessee just outside of Nashville. Southern Labyrinth is Hodgin’s first solo exhibition at Red Arrow Gallery. 

Hodgin’s work opens an opportunity for commentary on sexist fairy tales and the trauma of decidedly antagonist women in a world of male dominance. She uses her paintings to play with surrealism by giving nature and its animals dominant, male-like personas. Her work is imbued with sensory details of her and her family’s life.

This exhibition comprises ten oil paintings—four on canvas and six on board. With each painting, Hodgin details another Southern horrorscape that peels deeper into the psyche of this region’s trauma towards women. Her body of work speaks to the South's predilection to blame women as the sinners, monsters and whores. Each painting is directly occurring within this region making the female subject’s affliction feel like a personal reflection of female-identifying viewers observing this work.

At 60 by 48 inches, The trees said to the vine, Come thou and reign over us is one of the two largest pieces in the exhibition. Among slender hills of foliage is a nude woman being bound by long wispy leaves of kudzu. How she’s being bound is fascinating. While her left calf is coiled with leaves, she uses her left hand to hold the stem. In contrast, she extends her right arm to let a separate stem coil around her wrist. This level of submissive surrender to nature is compelling to study, since the woman’s stance indicates control and dominance. The woman in this scenario has a cropped curly pixie cut hair which alludes to wealth, whether previous or current. The manicured hills of foliage possess ghost-like faces hinting that this greenery has an appetite for female flesh. The woman’s stoic yet serious face shows a being who has accepted their fate. I’d imagine if Annie were to paint a progression of this piece occurring just a mere few days later, we’d see most of the woman’s body consumed by the forest. Imagine if a wealthy family lives on grounds they’ve stolen or occupied for generations. Mother Nature demands balance, a sacrifice.

In Will you play with Leviathan as with a bird, Hodgin depicts a woman floating in a swampy orange river with her body half submerged in water and half laying on a splintered tree trunk. A bird sits on the stump posed to attack while a crocodile swirls ominously below the floating woman. In biblical contexts, a Leviathan is a name given to sea monsters such as crocodiles and whales. Hodgin has chosen to call the crocodile a Leviathan in this work. The woman’s facial expression is a cross between a smirk and smile alluding to a taunting, feminine spirit. The dark murky shadow made by the woman, the tree and the bird’s wing rival the menacing shadow of the Leviathan. She displays no fear of either creature as if she’s formed a kinship between the two animals. The water’s color looks urine-like suggesting an immersion with one’s demons and fears. I see intentional dualism in Hodgin’s paintings which are evident in this piece by the delicate taunting of life and death that emerges from the effect of substance abuse. 

All of the women Hodgin depicts are painted with either a bluish tint that alludes to pending death or a pinkish tint alluding to rebirth.

Do you seek a peaceful death or a violent one? In Creatures of instinct, born to be captured, the woman clutches the tail of an armadillo while she kneels down to plant a gentle kiss on his back. It’s prophesied that armadillos have carried leprosy for the past 400 years due to human contact. Today, it’s thought as many as twenty percent of armadillos carry the disease. There’s a poetic nature to the woman and armadillos solitude in this scenario. Set among the rolling hills of Alabama are the only two animals who can have and spread leprosy. While this woman could be looking for prolonged misery, she could be seeking a sort of comfort. Armadillos can symbolize self-defense and protection. Is she looking for solace in her loneliness or a grisly death? Sometimes, our initial instinct can lead us to the irrational solution. When women are taught to contain and oppress their emotions, the response can manifest within the mind as acts of terror. In this cocoon of feminist angst, we long for a sign of control, so we listen to those irrational thoughts.

Hodgin depicts women in atypical poses that convey a different portrait of femininity. Unlike the Renaissance era stylings of Botticelli, Hodgin paints women with creases in their back, rolls on their stomachs and breasts that slope to the side. Men are more likely to depict women as either heavenly virgins or devious prostitutes leaving no room for an in-between interpretation. Hodgin depicts women in awkward, vulnerable poses showcasing an urgency to capture female movement instead of a need to capture women as perfect.

The righteous regardeth, the life of the beast is undoubtedly one of the most captivating pieces of the show. At 60 by 48 inches, this oil on canvas painting evokes a memory of Hodgin’s in Mobile, Alabama. Hauntingly calm, the piece depicts the woman standing in a pool while a bat bites into her right hand. The loquat fruit tree symbols growth while the fence symbolizes confinement. The juxtaposition of this scenario is cemented with the full moon, an architect of chaos who watches as all of nature’s animals succumb to their strange and nocturnal urges. Gazing at the rippled effect of the woman’s body submerged in water adds to the dreamy, nightmare effect of this scene. I wonder if she held a fruit in her hand until the bat had nothing left to eat. Did she let him bite her or did she provoke the bat to bite her? No gender is acutely  assigned to the animals within these works, but I’ve interpreted them as male. The creatures seem to directly or indirectly harm the woman hinting at a masked male presence much like an ancient Roman God in disguise preying on a largely, powerless nymph.

Exploring grief and hopelessness, Power Over the Clay is the female embodiment of despair-driven searching. In this scenario, the woman embodies that of an earthworm. Earthworms leave their casing behind them in a mound at the top of the soil. The deep expression of focus on her face implies an agonizing dig ahead. As she digs, will she find what or who she’s looking for? The straight line of the woman’s body echoes the sensation of diving into a pool. Her blue tinted skin signals her body is torpedoing through layers of earth towards death. I argue she doesn’t plan to do anything else except dig until she finds what she’s looking for or until she runs out of oxygen. The divots in the layers of earth Hodgin painted almost look like ocean waves. This is her most surrealist work within this exhibition.

The scenarios depicted in each artwork are always in medias res also known as in the midst of things. This provides the viewer an opportunity to try and piece together the woman’s past and future based on her environment, appearance and facial expression.

In this piece A Pelican in the Wilderness, a woman falls head first into the Mobile Bay seemingly into the Pelican’s mouth. This painting represents the strongest example of spatiality in the exhibition. The drastically large size of the dead minnow and singular pelican are a sweet juxtaposition against the seemingly small woman and seagull. Will she land in his waiting mouth or will she slip into the water a safe distance away? The gaze of the woman’s face looks expectant as if she didn’t fall, but decided to jump. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is punished by Zeus for helping man’s world advance. Prometheus is daily visited by a bird who feasts on his entrails. Every night, his wound would heal and the following day the bird would return again to eat his intestines. I liken the fate of this nameless woman to that of Prometheus. This is her hell loop to jump head first into the ocean not knowing if she’ll be devoured by the pelican.

There’s something placidly disturbing about All the teeming life with wings are unclean. In this painting, a woman sits propped against the trunk of a weeping willow. She seems in a daze as if she’s just woken from a nap to discover she’s covered with cicadas. These insects live underground for seventeen years until they emerge, plant their eggs then die. As they arise from the ground, the brown cicadas turn white in their maturity shortly before their death mimicking that of a human lifespan. There’s a strange peacefulness to this scene as long beams of sunlight pierce between the willow’s long leaves. This concept is called Korembi, the Japanese word for sunlight that filters through rustling trees. This feels like a direct contradiction against the cicadas whose loud noise evokes the memory of hot, humid Southern days.

In There is death in the pot, poison in the ears, a woman is painted pouring poison into her ears, a nod to Hamlet, but in this depiction the woman chooses to poison herself. The detail Hodgin infuses to the grand, white gazebo is outstanding. The crown moldings indicate vast wealth while in this scenario, the woman’s nudity implies madness and detachment. The red rose bushes that surround the gazebo both contradict and contribute to the woman’s attempted suicide. In another interpretation, the woman could have decided to swallow part of the rose bush and pour water into her ears to see if she would become a part of the garden. A sinister reincarnation of rose thorns piercing through dying, blue tinted flesh that would eventually succumb to the earth.

Hodgin creates an eloquent balance of light and dark within her work by juxtaposing beauty with horror in each painting. She exquisitely conveys themes of addiction, horror idealization, Southern torment and feminine vulnerability within her work. She’s given birth to a wave of modern-day Renaissance here in the American South, specifically Nashville, and the haunted feminist lens is the only perspective. Hodgin is a primary example that talented, self-taught oil painters not only exist in the South, but are directly inspired by the region’s unique history.
Painting of a nude woman with a light skin tone, who is standing in a pool in front of a fruit tree, a chain link fence, and a bright full moon in the sky. A bat appears to lick some blood out of the woman’s right hand.
Annie Brito Hodgin, The righteous regardeth the life of the beast (2022), Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in

Painting of nude woman with a light skin tone, seen in profile, as she burrows into the ground among layers of soil, clay, roots, and rock, with tall green grass above.
Annie Brito Hodgin, Power Over the Clay (2022), Oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in

 Painting of a nude woman with a light skin tone who is suspended in a yellow-red river, with legs anchored on a floating log. An alligator curves behind her and a large black bird sits on top of the log and has its wing spread.
Annie Brito Hodgin, Will you play with Leviathan as with a bird? (2022), Oil on board, 40 x 30 in

Painting of a nude woman with a light skin tone who is laying, body partially folded up, against a tree and on top of deep green grass, and surrounded by larger than life insects.
Annie Brito Hodgin, All the teeming life with wings are unclean (2022), Oil on board, 40 x 30 in.


Published with support through the TAUNT First Byline Fellowship.


Rachel Ebio (she/her) is an Arts and Culture Writer based in Nashville, Tennessee specializing in BIPOC visual and performing arts. Intrigued and terrified by the unknown, she explores themes of isolation, eroticism, mythology and femininity through nonfiction, journalistic writing and poetry.

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