9 Mar 2021, 4:34 pm
20 in 2020 presents creators, works and relevant paths of Latin American art in this decade, guidelines for an art that goes beyond its borders. Latin American art had the good luck to be invented by a woman. A brilliant, energetic woman who sadly left us too soon. In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Argentine-Colombian critic Marta Traba built a collective approach to contemplating the art produced in the region, a perspective also defended by the Cuban-American curator José Gómez Sicre. Before them, individual approaches to each artist, selections based on nationality or a focus on movements, such as Mexican muralism, prevailed. In 1942, Alfred H. Barr Jr. presented the first exhibition under the heading of “Latin American art”: New Acquisitions: Latin American Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). But he simply showed the public pieces purchased in the region, being unable to buy art in Europe because of the war. Traba was the first critic to work with knowledge of what was going on in the art scenes in the region and to generalize based on that same knowledge. She applied an all-encompassing and canonical vision, determined to affirm a range and an identity for Latin American art. It was a necessary action at the time, legitimizing its specific character in opposition to the common cliché of viewing it as nothing more than a derivative of Euro-American art. From the 1960s – under the heat of Latin American activism unleashed at the time – to the present, Latin American art has established itself as a field for exhibition, thought, enunciation and, especially importantly, its own affirmation.
This book is, therefore, more the fruit of the lasting success of Traba’s “invention” and its focus on context (understood as geography, society, culture, history …) as a cohesive factor in addressing art. But I’m afraid she wouldn’t care for it if she could read it. By defending the originality of the art of the region, Traba highlighted in a reductionist way the creative expression of the context and the cultural tradition, notwithstanding the extent to which she fought against exclusively folkloric or sociological readings. She was unable to open herself up to a general interpretation of Latin American art, with all of its intricate complexity. Her thinking was quite shrewd, but she tended to label, and not address the subtleties, the complications, the labyrinths. She proclaimed an exclusionary canon, advocating in favor of identity militancy, an “art of resistance”, at the same time criticizing artists who, in her view, had mimetically “surrendered” to the hegemonic mainstream or those who, through pop, conceptualism or performance art, introduced an “aesthetic of deterioration.”
This was in dialogue with, and reinforced, the identity-based neurosis that plagued many artists, critics and curators of the region, criticized by Frederico Morais starting in the late 1970s. This neurosis was not vigorously confronted until the emergence of the generation that came 20 years after Traba. They overturned the prevailing paradigms and all-encompassing, ideology-inducing reports on Latin America, its art and its culture, exerting great influence on art and ideas. This generation carried out what I called a “liberation of identity,” that is, it introduced a dynamic, relational, multiple and metamorphic idea of this identity, leading us to take a critical position toward our own opacities, fragments, contrasts, amalgams and dissociations, and even in our abundant disasters and contradictions.
20 in 2020 and the art featured in it are also the result of this epistemological selection and, as such, would be unbearably queer for Traba. The twenty emerging artists carefully selected by the editors herald the scandalous diversity of contemporary art in Latin America and reject any sort of exercise in totalization. In reality, this plurality has been manifesting itself since modernism, but there was a tendency to obliterate it in search of reports of integration capable of alleviating Latin America’s ethno-neurosis, the result of its intricate (and even discordant) cultural constitution and ambivalent position in relation to the West.
The artists presented here constitute a comprehensive panorama of trends, poetics, places, dynamics, laughter, obsessions, sensibilities, actions, reactions, detachments, attacks… in short, the entire kaleidoscope of art that we consider Latin American due to its geographic range (which should include the United States, the country with the second most Spanish speakers on Earth) or their shared historical, cultural and linguistic affinities. Inevitably, this panorama is limited by the vastness of the scenario and the intention to present artists who already have good visibility and are featured in international markets.
The self-awareness – the act of faith, we might say, to paraphrase Jorge Luis Borges – of belonging to a hard to define entity known, perhaps even incorrectly so, as Latin America has proven very insistent. As early as 1965, writer Chinua Achebe considered notions of an African literature or culture to be “props we have fashioned at different times to help us get on our feet again. Once we are up we shan’t need any of them anymore.” We have not yet reached this degree of cynicism: we consider ourselves Latin American and affirm a Latin American geographic-cultural space. Like in the Arab world, macro factors of cohesion prevail over diversity and conflicts, though differences are recognized and even highlighted. Therefore, the fact that we have Oswald de Andrade, Frida Kahlo and Gabriel García Márquez fatefully incorporated into our subjectivity can lead us to the (ever so convenient) reductionism of the ghetto and to provincialism as much as to solidarity, or else serve as a platform for outward projection, as this book does.
If I had the privilege of defending it to Traba, I would tell her that, beyond the freedom and inventiveness that predominate in the works readers can appreciate in these pages, context – so central to her, so beloved by her – is crucial for almost all the artists. It is no longer, however, the authoritarianism of a context that is the beginning and the end, a context of egolatry that obliges us to a narcissistic representation, but rather a context that acts from within. It is a context that emerges silently rather than roaring like Wole Soyinka’s tiger.
Perhaps Traba would answer me that almost all the young people presented in the book employ an international metalanguage that stems from hegemonically established art, ready for the global market and the “perennials.” However, I would answer that they aren’t just limited to this: they build this from their difference, they reinvent from their contexts, cultures, experiences, subjectivities… and manipulate it for the benefit of their own agendas. Or they simply create valuable and original works within the predominant hegemonic language, without strictly contextual modulations. The contents of culture, place and experience, which Traba so appreciated, now tend to work more internally, molded more out of the form of creating texts and less from the representation of contexts, as we can gather from many of the works featured here. I tried to rudimentarily synthesize all of these very plural and intricate processes, through the “from here” paradigm. Not as a new, all-encompassing report, but as a navigator, a global positioning system, an epistemological GPS that helps us to orient ourselves within new cultural coordinates. I believe that “from here” has replaced, in the post-colonial world, the old notion of “anthropophagy” (the appropriation and re-signification of elements from other cultures) established by Brazilian modernism for another, of direct international invention. In it, the context becomes a centrifugal locus, from which “the international” is constructed without constraints, with a sense of belonging as well as agency: we are also “international.” A Brazilian slant on the context in global times.
The artists selected for this book move around a lot internationally. Seven reside in the United States and Europe, where many of them studied. Others split their time between cities on both sides of the Atlantic. Two are binational and bicultural. In short, a typical situation in today’s world. In this sense, it might surprise you that their works are not very cosmopolitan (cosmopolitanism understood here in the sense of global homogenization, of “McDonaldization”). Even more so: Iván Argote, Gala Porras-Kim and even an Argentine, Gabriel Chaile, often turn to pre-Columbian cultures for inspiration. Dalton Paula focuses on Afro-Brazilian culture. Jota Mombaça, Reynier Leyva Novo, Carolina Caycedo, and Argote create works of social, environmental and gender criticism. Naufus Ramírez Figueroa’s performances discuss the history of Guatemala. Alia Farid, Tabita Rezaire and Tania Pérez Córdoba usually express contextual references in their works. The work of other artists can be seen as a result of the evolution of historical lines of art in Latin America, as is the case with Ad Minolti (with his fiction of geometric abstraction and baroque), Johanna Unzueta (also with geometric abstraction), Adriano Amaral (following the very particular lineage of the Brazilian installation and its sensibility for materials) and even Pía Camil, who seems to cite Lygia Pape’s emblematic performance Divisor in certain works. Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe is a special case, reflecting the inclusive scope of the book’s selection: a Yanomami who creates art with the traditional forms and contents of its culture to export it to international circuits. His inclusion is a symptom of the greater transversality that looms within these circuits and the visual creations of traditional and popular cultures. Well, I think that these arguments might be able to convince Traba.
Life is nothing but problems. Some are good, others are bad. The editors of this book had to deal with a good problem: how to select just a few emerging artists from the extremely rich panorama of art currently coming out of Latin America, which acts and is legitimized outside of itself (we could publish another volume with artists who have not achieved international recognition, for a variety of reasons). The result is rigorous and seeks to strike a balance in terms of geography, gender and plurality in contemporary trends and poetics. In general, the artists we see here have managed to cross over without selling exoticism, based on the non-name-brand value of their work. At the same time, they danced to their own drummers, making it popular to do so. To paraphrase Aimé Césaire, we might say this book will “return them to their native land,” in order to return them to the world from there.
This text was originally published as an introduction to book 20 in 2020: the artists of the next decade: Latin America (ACT, 2020).
Ad Minoliti (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Adriano Amaral (Ribeirão Preto, Brasil), Alia Farid (Kuwait, Kuwait), Carolina Caycedo (Londres, Reino Unido), Dalton Paula (Goiânia, Brasil), Frieda Toranzo Jaeger (Cidade do México, México), Gabriel Chaile (Tucumán, Argentina), Gala Porras-Kim (Bogotá, Colômbia), Iván Argote (Bogotá, Colômbia), Jill Mulleady (Montevideo, Uruguai), Johanna Unzueta (Santiago, Chile), Jota Mombaça (Natal, Brasil), Katherinne Fiedler (Lima, Peru), Naufus Ramírez-Figueiroa (Cidade da Guatemala, Guatemala), Pia Camil (Cidade do México, México), Reynier Leyva Novo (Havana, Cuba), Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe (Sheroana, Venezuela), Tabita Rezaire (Paris, França), Tania Pérez Córdova (Cidade do México, México) e Yuli Yamagata (São Paulo, Brasil).
Críticos e curadores convidados
Andrei Fernández (Argentina), Diane Lima (Brasil), Gerardo Mosquera (Cuba), Germano Dushá (Brasil), José Esparza Chong Cuy (México), Júlia Rebouças (Brasil), Kiki Mazzucchelli (Brasil), Mariano López Seoane (Argentina), Miguel A. López (Peru), Nika Chilewich (Estados Unidos), Olga Viso (Estados Unidos), Pilar Tompkins Rivas (Estados Unidos), Raphael Fonseca (Brasil) e Ruth Estévez (México/Estados Unidos).