Thought Provoking or Soul Provoking ?

Visiting “Under the same  sun” exhibition was a unique and new experience to me. The title of the exhibition suggests a number of provocative thoughts, one could be the common struggle Latin American countries face/ed, another could be the common interests of Latin American artists to voice out a history of conflict , loss, and pain through their artistic projects.

Through a vast array of rich presentations I found myself driven towards Brazilian Rivane  Neuenschwander “Mapa Mundi/BR Postal – 2007”.   She presented a collection of photos that she took from different parts of Brazil such as bars, streets, restaurants, shops…etc that are named after International cities  and countries such as New York, Tokyo, even Baghdad. These photos are made into Brazilian postcards with no Brazilian names. I find her work combines an element of humor, subtle messages, sarcasm and beauty all at the same time.  As mentioned in the Guggenheim description this may be a translation into how local communities identify themselves with global culture.  I am very curious to know on what basis  are these international names selected.

For example in Cairo particularly in Almohandessen area a lot of the streets are named after Arab cities. I am not sure if it’s a coincidence or not but it’s not hard to see that the name of the street reflects the social class of the neighborhood.  Sadly, Alsudan street happens to be one of the worsts ! I also think that this tradition stemmed from the fact that Cairo hosts the official HQ of The Arab League.

NY in Brazil !
NY in Brazil !


Is Brazilian identity at risk?  References to international cities in local areas is it a way of brining the world to Brazil or it is Brazil’s way in adapting a new more universal attitude? These are the questions that come to my mind when I look at the postcards.

Rivane describes her work as”Etherial Materialism” .  This makes a lot of sense since her style seems to make use of current material aesthetics as in the postcards or utilizing natural ingredients in constructing and deconstructing a piece of art. I came across another project by her “Contingent”  that is worth watching.

“A new film work Contingent (2008), recalls the didactic videos screened by natural history museums. Made with time-lapse photography, the film deconstructs the formation of the continents by allowing nature’s wilful course to unfold. A map of the world, rendered in honey, is gradually consumed by an army of tiny ants. Landmasses shrink to islands, isolated from their previously contiguous bodies. The whole is reduced to parts, and the system of the seven continents is reformed into a strange new alignment.”

“The circle of fires” by Jaun Downey 1979 , was also another attraction to me.  Sitting closely and surrounded by a number of screens that are displaying the same video scenes with a difference of seconds in terms of timing creates moments of intrigue in figuring out the idea of film, and one tries to catch up with change of/transition of  images in each screen.  I feel my reaction physically and emotionally to the film is the same way a member of Yanomami group would have reacted gasping in moments of Oh,  deep observation and realization.

Having said so, I have an inner conflict in the depiction  of Yanomami in this film. I understand Downey’s interests in showing the indigenous group way of life through their own eyes upon filming this rather raw and organic  documentary.  But, what does it serve? My first impression was the primitive state of the Yanomami.  Is the message sent to viewers upon watching this film is “is this what happens to indigenous groups when they live in isolation? “, ” help indigenous groups to evolve?” … I don’t get the purpose and frankly speaking accept it as just a conceptual piece of arts, it’s certainly beyond that.

circle of fire
circle of fire

Much of Juan Downey’s pioneering video work critiques the purported objectivity of ethnographic observation and documentation. To produce The Circle of Fires, the artist lived with his wife and stepdaughter among the Yanomami indigenous group in the Venezuelan Amazon for seven months; inviting the Yanomami to both make and watch videos of themselves, Downey inverted the conventional roles of observer and observed. Likely seeing themselves in this medium for the first time, the subjects are presented with a new vision of themselves through the screen’s alternate reality. The installation’s multi-monitor design refers to the circular layout of a Yanomami settlement, encouraging viewers to see themselves not as outsiders, but rather as existing within the community it represents.


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