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FINAL – Black Banana: Exhibitions of Absence – the paper

Introduction

  Black Banana is a brief examination of structural racism in art curation and it’s effects on descendants of Africa living in Latin America. Acting as a metaphor, it sheds light on the absence of those of the African Diaspora in the workforce, and as a part of the overall Latin American cultural project. What are the histories of these erasures, and how does this history prove the existence of a racist hegemony that results in cultural exclusion? When did the whitening of Latin America begin and how does this whitening affect the economy of the black populations as well as their integration into Latin American society? Ultimately, is the lack of Black Latino representation proof of racist curatorial practices in the Latin American contemporary art world? The Black Banana focus is to create awareness around the possible denial of racism and how that denial effects who and what is curated. Ultimately the goal is to provoke an open dialog about identity, hybridity, and access. 

PDF below

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Investigation: US/Guatemala relations from Sweatshops to textile & fashion

Initially I was very much interested in investigating the relationship between the U.S. and Guatemala through the economy behind sweatshops in Guatemala that provides some of the most popular companies with various products that range from art crafts, home supplies, to cloths. Through my research it seems that in recent years there has been some pressure groups such as the Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights that is based here in the U.S., exposing large corporations and advocating for labour rights in Guatemala.

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Li & Fung in china, is one of the largest sourcing and logistics companies in the world that is considered the matchmaker between cheap labour in poor countries and affluent vendors. In investigating the Alianza Guatemala crisis it has been found that there is a huge discrepancy between the production cost and retail cost. For example, Calvin Klein boys suit retailed for %59.9 where the actual production cost is just $9.23.

“We definitely are part of bringing the prices down, there’s no question about that, because we are arbitrating factories and countries all the time,” said CEO Bruce Rockowitz.

Having said so, it seems that two societies were cheated, the Guatemalans being over-worked and under-paid, and the Americans for overpaying large companies. Now this indirect relationship raises a question, have Guatemalans exported their aesthetic taste for textile and fashion to the U.S. ?  In 1996 , professor Matthew Looper realized that the civil had taken its toll on people especially the indigenous which as a result will affect textile arts. Professor Looper, spent a year in Guatemala with different indigenous groups documenting the treatment of textile , style of attire , resources needed, patterns and designs.

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Growing from the richness of Guatemalan colors, documentation of textile, sharing the beauty , stories and memories my research paper is unfolding the exciting truth behind a globalized Guatemala through textile , fashion and arts.

My point of reference for this research is Quique Lee.

black banana: interview questions draft

this is a draft of questions, but would like to distill.

1. What does Black Banana mean to you?
2. What thoughts do you have about race in general and specifically in Latin
America/Guatemala?
3. Do you consider yourself black?
4. How do you define your racial makeup?
5. Do you feel that race is a part of the cultural pedagogy with regard to
“conflict” in Guatemala/Latin America?
6. What are your thoughts regarding representations of blackness in art and the curation of Art in Guatemala?
7. Are you part of the problem or solution? WHAT PROBLEM? Consider this: Is there a problem regarding race in the representations of blackness in art? If so what role do you play?
8. What does denial of blackness (or African heritage) mean to you?
9. When was the last time you saw an indigenous black person at an art exhibit you attended?
10. Who is the last black Latino artist you either curated or seen curated in a “contemporary art” framework?
11. Can you name one or more Black Latino artists?
12. How do you define contemporary art?
13. Are you an artist/curator?

http://blackbananaproject.tumblr.com/

Zona Intervenida: Short Film Review

A rough-cut of the film Zona Intervenida was screened at the NYU Critical Tactics Lab in the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics on Thursday, November 20th, 2014, with a talk by co-director Nitin Sawhney, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The New School.

Guatemala is a country that struggled with civil war particularly genocide against indigenous groups for almost 40 years. Nearly 200,000 people died or went missing during the war, including 40,000 to 50,000 people who “disappeared”. (Wikipedia)  Today, the young generation in Guatemala is heavily engaged in embracing their historic memory through various works of art. The film follows a number of Guatemalan artists in the fields of dance, performance and poetry displaying their translation of their historic memory of violence and civil war while they convene in Quetzaltenango  which is a former train station that was converted to a military base during the war.

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The film featured a number of performances, dance, poetry recitation and interviews. The interesting twist in the movie is that it was dealing with a generation of Guatemalans that have not been directly affected by the war, in fact this is the generation that suffered the residue of war. Accordingly it wouldn’t be surprising that their interpretation of this painful past will be different from those who had a direct interface with war.  In the film performers and dancers summon in Quetzaltenago and create a routine by which they express the journey of historic memory where they were and where they are now!

One of the most fascinating performances in my opinion is the sweeper/ing act. In the empty building, under a roof that drew light rectangles in the floor designed by the precision of sun rays, each performer stood in one of beautiful sun spots and held a sweeper. Everyone started to sweep their way back and forth in their designated space. All performers were barefoot , it felt as if their feet were touching base with the feet of Guatemalans who lived in another time, some were victims and some were criminals. For a brief time these performers got the chance to relive the past, the difference is they had the opportunity to make a difference in a positive way. The intensity in the sweeping act felt that Guatemalans are not erasing the past but removing the dust and cracks because there is a lot of light to see. It’s a choice that these dancers made, they refuse to be captured in a silent painful memory but insist to look beyond that. Their movements looked very spiritual as if they were touching the ghosts and spirits from the past, perhaps they gave these ghosts a closure and assured them that they shall not and will not be forgotten. There was another act where balls that were made of mud and mixed with seeds were thrown in a field that could have been an execution zone. These “seed bombs” were planted replacing memories of death with memories of birth. An interesting performance was the shadow puppetry, which was a fun entertaining way of storytelling with in the film.

The cinematography aspect of Zona felt sleek, modern, and transitional. Some of the angles were rounded which gives room for one’s imagination to see beyond what’s on the screen. At times the performances were shot in black and white and gradually hint of colors kick in as the film unfolds.  At the end of the movie , you feel that you got introduced to a style of arts that embraces the past with all of its different shades and steps into the future creating a conscious print of positive wave.

Nitin was asked, why Guatemala?  He said, he was in a visit there where he was captured by the richness and beauty of the country. He met with Bonifaz Canelo (the other co-director of the film) and biked in some of the places featured in the movie. It seems they weren’t looking for a story but a story was waiting for them to be told.

During the screening a couple in the audience commented on the beauty and organic style of the performances, Nitin mentioned that some of these moves were improvised just before the shooting. There were four women filming and assisting the crew, their energies united and produced that wonderful dance under the rain scene. The key to this movie, Nitin says, “ is the level of intimacy and connection the team enjoyed during the making of Zona.”

Watch the Film Trailer

Choices – Erika Verzutti

I was struck by the work of Erika Verzutti and artist from Brazil, in hindsight. I suppose that’s a good thing because it implies a resonance. For instance her work Venus on Fire references Venus of Wilandorf a fertility figure, sometimes called the nude woman, which dates back to 28,000 and 25,000 BCE and is one of the first art sculptures ever found. You sense it’s relation to history and blackness. When looking at it you feel it with out touching it. It was one of the few pieces that felt of the earth and organic structure. She inverts it, standing it on it’s head which can mean so many things in it’s context, the context of curation and the context of modern contemporary art.

Painted Lady

The work Painted Lady is the personification of a woman. Verzutti uses fruit and found objects, something that people can relate to, and sculpts it into what we recognize as breast and the limbs of a woman. She talks a lot about being local and not being disadvantaged because of not being a part of something. This is much like the experience of women, particularly those of color. Her work to me is about access, certainly this work which reminds me a lot of African sculpture. She uses things essential like food in this case, because we all eat it. We immediately recognize the sensual quality of this work and interact with it on a level that is base human.

Verzutti has a video segment on Artist Talk in which she talks about curation and choices.
In this talk she curates a few pieces within the curation of Under The Same Sun . The pieces she selects are the pieces most associated with found objects or the earth. This is telling about how she sees the world and the things she’s exploring in her work.

Erika Verzutti | Cruzamentos: Contemporary Art in Brazil from Wexner Center for the Arts on Vimeo.

bio

Erika Verzutti is interested in the formal qualities of things found in nature, and her work reveals the beauty and symbolic power of common objects with enigmatic properties. The intuitive and material qualities of Verzutti’s sculptures, collages, drawings, and paintings recall the mid-20th-century Neo-Concretist movement in her native Brazil, which rejected mechanized and overly intellectual approaches to art making in favor of a sensual, intuitive relationship between the artist and the object.

Verzutti initially studied industrial design (focusing on graphics) at the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, São Paulo, and subsequently studied fine arts at Goldsmiths College, London. Her installation Pet Cemetery was exhibited at Galeria Fortes Vilaça (São Paulo) in 2008 and her work was the subject of an exhibition at the Centro Cultural São Paulo in 2012, the same year her Lilliput was shown on New York’s High Line. She is participating in the 2013 Mercosul Biennial (Porto Alegre, Brazil).

Carnegie Museum of Art

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.

Under the Same Sun – Guggenheim

One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind as I explored the exhibition at the Guggenheim: why do I find the written blurbs accompanying each art piece, more compelling than many of the art works themselves? Perhaps when it comes to art which serves to promote social justice, the focus IS meant to be on the actual subject matter it is attempting to bring attention to. The art work is merely a vehicle and a platform, an expression of the intention of the artist. Throughout the exhibition, I preferred art works which took the art out into the public, onto the streets, where it interacted with passersby, and forced people to think or do a double take.

For this reason I found the sculpture by Ivan Navarro, “Homeless Lamp, the Juice Sucker,” where he created a shopping cart made from white fluorescent tubing, particularly arresting. In 2005, the artist, pushed this cart through the streets of Chelsea, searching for public sources of electrical power. A powerful way of bringing attention to the matter, as we are all familiar with the image of homeless men and women wandering NYC streets pushing all their worldly belongings around in a shopping trolley.

DIE3

This form of artistic protest reminded me much of Guatemalan artist, Regina Jose Galindo, who walked around the Congress of Guatemala building in 2003, dipping her bare feet in a white basin full of human blood as a protest against Guatemala’s former dictator becoming the president. As I mentioned in our class discussion, these two artists had similar intentions when taking their art out into the streets, but in the case of Regina’s work, the tone and theme is so, so much darker.

20071107022901_galindo_3_dddaThis, too, was a work of art, taken out into the public space, forcing non-art-appreciators, simple passersby, to stop, look, think. Isn’t that what art should be about? (I don’t want to say art ‘should’ be about anything, at the same time, art should be whatever an artist wishes to make it, whether he or she takes it out to the public or keeps it locked up in a room for nobody to ever witness) Art shouldn’t be simply restricted to those who intentionally go to the Guggenheim, buy a ticket, and choose to ‘see’ art? Are we not then preaching to the somewhat, converted? One of the artists at the Guggenheim also suggested the consumerism behind the visiting of museums. Ironic, seeing as he was housed in the same sort of exhibition 🙂 I can’t remember his name, but it was the artist who projected the squares of light onto the walls.

Another thought I kept having was, art seems to lose a lot of its value when it is housed in a sterile environment of a museum exhibition, I find. The exhibition felt like a display, rather than a live exhibit, one emitting energy and experience and dynamism. I would love to explore: how does one curate an art exhibition that is ‘alive’ and breathing? i recently went to Photoville, a photography exhibition, housed in numerous shipping containers, out on Brooklyn Bridge park. This exhibition emitted energy, somehow… it was an ‘experience’ for me, and I enjoyed simply wondering through the arena, taking in the atmosphere, the photos, the people.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/sam-lo-aka-sticker-lady-only-thing-m-045040477.html

From the Guggenheim: I also really loved Runo Lagomarsino’s piece, ContraTiempos, where he found shapes that resembled the silhouette of South America in the cracks of the concrete sidewalk.

contratiempos_latin11_0He saw the concrete fissures as a metaphor for the flaws in the modernist project as a whole. I loved this idea of seeing metaphors through something as easily ignored as a sidewalk. I wanted to share some photos I took recently, for a Visual Storytelling class I am taking with Shari Kessler. They can be viewed here.

Outside to be Inside

From all the art works that we could appreciate in the Under the Same Sun exhibition, the one who struck me the most was Javier Tellez video Bala Perdida (One Flew over the Void). This short film try to cross the social and political boundaries in two ways. First is the most obvious one, when a human cannonball is shot over the border into the United States without a visa, we clearly understand that is a statement against boundaries and the hardships faced by millions of Latin Americans workers who cross the border illegally every year in search for better life. But there is another social and political border that Tellez crosses with this film when he documents a parade organized by local psychiatric patients, in this specific case, he show us the other as the “normal” and give an unexpected space to the unexpected people.

Javier Tellez, a Venezuelan artist who lives in New York, creates films that combines documentary with fictionalized narratives to question definitions of normality and pathology. When he is going to do an art installation, he looks first to make a collaboration work with institutionalized patients living with mental illness, to rewrite classic stories or invent their own, he creates what he calls a “cinematic passport to allow those outside to be inside”. His work is understood as a therapy that attempts to cure viewers of false assumptions, rather than the patients, he tries to build a bridge through the desestigmatisation of those who are different.

There are two main elements in Javier Tellez films. One is the use of masks as an allusion of the therapeutic potential in the change of roles. The second one, is the constant communication through boards and the dissociation of sound and image, the constant use of voice over, reminds us the voices that the patients hear.

I like Javier Tellez work because he gives voice to the voiceless, he portraits the other, the individuals that we usually don’t think about. As he said “his work is for the “normal” society, who must be cured from their fears and prejudices against those who are different”.

If you want to learn more about Javier Téllez here is an good interview about his work, is in english and spanish: http://bombmagazine.org/article/3379/javier-t-llez

Brief History of US Interventions in Latin America Since 1946

The in-class comment “i don’t always understand art,” or something like that, is a thought that is never too far from my mind on  museum visits. For this trip to the Guggeinheim I wasn’t sure what to expect, going in with the image of “a man walking into a cow” from the previous class I was up for anything.

The first thing i encountered were the musical instruments everyone was staring at, waiting for the first person to play them, waiting for the general permission to actually touch the art. Although I don’t recall the artist’s name I found it be a great introduction to the exhibition; a don’t take this so seriously approach. The aura of the Guggenheim changed as more people dared to play with these cymbals.

The exhibition was filled with mixed media, nothing close to “classical.” (Classical being a term that’s up for discussion) I enjoy this different approach to art, especially in a space known for it’s strict definition on “classical ” art. Albeit, a few pieces were lost on me without context, others needed no prior knowledge to understand how strong they were, even in their simplicity.

Carlos Motta’s  screen print, ”  Brief History of US Interventions in Latin America Since 1946,” was the piece that took me away, the one that reminded me this generation of artists have a lot to work off. The list of US interventions touches the surface of how many times the US has mingled in Latin American affairs, providing a foundation for the current despair in many of the mentioned countries.  The success of  this piece is similar to the cymbals, in that people can be apart of this art; they can read it, think for themselves and best of all take a copy home (or multiple if like me you want to share with others.) This takes the piece out of the museum, a place in the Upper East Side with a particular audience.

“Dignity has no nationality” and “Can you hear me?” under the same Sun

Under the Same Sun was the name of the most recent Guggenheim exhibition that explored the scope of Contemporary Art in Latin America. “Under the same Sun” also seems a very appropriate phrase to use in the title of an article that analyses the work of two artists from the lower part of the continent and the influence that the local-global binomial have had in their work.

Tania Bruguera is a Cuban contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between Chicago and La Havana.

Jessica Kaire is a Guatemalan contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between New York and Guatemala.

There is no need to point out the obvious similarities, but by looking closely at Bruguera’s and Kaire’s work -specifically at Dignity has no nationality and Can you hear me? respectively- an interesting dialogue between their discourses can be appreciated. Let’s just start by describing both pieces:

Dignity has no nationality is a public project (a collective performance?) that challenges the idea of nationality and borders. Guggenheim’s website describes Bruguera’s proposal:

“The artist and her collaborators will be stationed outside the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to gather signatures on postcards addressed to Pope Francis. Referring to Vatican City as a place that was “born as a conceptual nation without borders,” these cards request that the Pope grant citizenship to all immigrants as a concrete gesture of support and protection. Members of the public who are unable to visit the museum may also contribute their signatures online at dignityhasnonationality.org.”

DignityHasNoNationality

On the other hand, Can you hear me? was a series of performances and their respective video-record, in which Jessica Kaire recreates identical settings in both sides of Skype conversations she held with Guatemalan friends and family while being in New York. In her website, the Guatemalan artist explains her project as follows: “This low-tech project is an exploration of the dissolving of boundaries through new technologies. It also presents an opportunity to alter our spacial and temporal awareness.”

CanYouHearMe

Image courtesy of Jessica Kaire’s website

After this brief introduction, we can start digging deeper on these projects similarities and specificities.

First, let’s go over what these artists share: Both were born in countries with a rough political history and a significant diaspora (which somehow they are part from), both are currently based in the U.S., globalization and its influence on identity are part of both personal quest, and both embrace technological and social practices’ languages and aesthetics (petition signing and Skype conversations) to create their pieces.

As there is some common ground between both pieces, there are also differences on the way they approach to the subject matter (understood as the intersection between identity, migration, and globalization). Dignity has no Nationality tries to detach identity from its geographical and national constrains. Can you hear me? explores the role of geographical distance in preserving identity, which in this case is not necessarily a national or geographical one, but one that builds up from personal, intimate relationships.

One could say these are variations on the same theme, but while Tania’s proposes a political approach, Jessica’s offers a more ludic one. The former poses again Debord’s and Benjamin’s questions about the role of art and its possibility to promote change. The latter puts those questions aside (at least in this particular piece) and focuses on the experience, on the now.

Bruguera’s and Kaire’s selected pieces ignite several reflections regarding the nature of art, its purposes, its formats, its environment. One thing is certain; a blog post is not enough to express the understanding one can get from posing both pieces “under the same Sun.