There was Fernando de Szyszlo, the great abstract painter and sculptor, a genial sphinx with a perpetual smile and a red pocket handkerchief.
Lost on no one was the bittersweet irony of the gathering of 100 or so visiting aesthetes and Washington-based expats: The shy artist in whose honor they had been summoned probably would have preferred that they not bother.
Her name was Daphne Dougall Hogg de Zileri, a photographer who died last month at 75 of complications from asthma. Her intentional lack of fame as an artist — even within Peru — stood in contrast to the high caliber of those who were in the know and who admired her work.
Seldom exhibited, rarely reviewed, she published two volumes of black-and-white photographs in the 1990s. “Soliloquios,” or “Soliloquies,” was a series of portraits of people alone, a meditation on solitude. She often set her figures against the vast and sometimes rugged terrain of Peru or within the equally monumental urban landscapes of world capitals.
“She was an artist who shunned publicity, the limelight, and who passed through life and art with an extraordinary discretion,” Vargas Llosa said in remarks at the reception that opened the exhibit “Daphne: The Subtle Power of a Woman’s Eye,” which continues through Wednesday at the embassy.”
A quiet creative force
The day before, in the empty gallery, her husband and three of her five children who could make the trip helped hang the photographs. Like so many women artists the world over, Daphne Zileri’s creativity started at home, with her family.
Sifting through photos, Enrique Zileri, a courageous magazine editor with a gravelly voice, has made discoveries about his wife of 51 years. What he now considers her best self-portrait was never published. He saw it only after her death: A young woman with big eyes meets the camera with a direct gaze.
“This is a photogenic, self-effacing photographer,” Enrique Zileri said, seeming to relive his wife’s beauty. “She had a blend of shyness and audacity.”
A self-portrait that Daphne Zileri did publish revealed only her shadow, elongated by the sun on rippled Peruvian desert sand.
They met in 1959 at the old airport in Lima, when she was passing through to her native Argentina. They were introduced by mutual friends who happened to be Argentine flight attendants. The following year they were married.
Zileri was in the second generation of the family that founded and ran Caretas, one of the oldest weekly newsmagazines in Latin America. In the 1970s, Peru’s dictatorship at the time shut down the magazine several times for its pro-democracy editorials. Enrique and Daphne and their children were forced into exile more than once.