Collective exhibition, through July 13, 2014 (catalogue available)
Incorporating sculpture, painting, photography, video, installation and performance art from 1960 to the present, Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales features 61 artists from Central and South America and the Caribbean. Together their works explore what it means “to be global,” when free and equal cultural exchange is still limited by the power dynamics of globalization. After years of underrepresentation at home and abroad, many of these artists are now leading the discourse about contemporary art’s reach across international borders, while still reflecting social and political issues at home. At CIFO, the exhibition featured more than 80 works, while visitors to the MFA will experience 60 works in the Museum’s first-ever exhibition dedicated to contemporary Latin American art.
Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales focuses not only on the creation of art from Latin America, but also on its reception, locally and internationally. In the early 1960s, many Latin American artists’ work addressed social causes in climates of great hostility and repression by military governments that swept the region in the second half of the 20th century. And as the Cold War was fought globally, both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. vied for influence and power in Latin America. However, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the struggle between the two world powers abated and neo-liberal capitalism took hold. The ensuing decades saw the extreme acceleration of globalization, with contemporary artists––including those from across Latin America––creating a new brand of art that reacted to shifting international power dynamics and exposed issues that had previously not been represented on an international stage.
León Ferrari illustrates the global nature of the exhibition with his La Jaula (The Cage) (1979), which he created while in exile from an oppressive regime in his native Argentina. Ferrari’s imagined cage works as a metaphorical prison cell for the military officers who tortured and executed thousands, including his son, during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s. Ferrari’s use of abstraction to speak to political issues has been extremely influential for upcoming generations of artists. Emerging Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto parodies the “smallness” of the global world in Untitled (Globe of the World) (2002), which inks the seven continents onto a tiny dried pea—a gesture that reduces the massive idea of globalism onto a food many Cubans have grown tired of. In her sculpture Dialogue with Him (1998), Argentinean born, U.S.-based artist Liliana Porter displays a familiar figurine of Mickey Mouse in a faceoff with José Gregorio Hernández, the legendary Venezuelan doctor memorialized in public monuments and mementos for his saintly healing powers. Both figurines are symbols of differing belief systems that coexist in a globalized world.
As many artists became part of the larger global network, they were no longer able to identify with their culture alone––this left many asking what it means to be Latin American. Brazilian art legend Nelson Leirner illustrates this idea through his work Untitled (from the series Assim é… se lhe parece… (Right You Are if You Think You Are)) (2003). Leirner uses cartoons to interrogate the relationship between North and South America by pairing two maps of the continents collaged with stickers of Day of the Dead (a traditional Mexican holiday), dancing skeletons and Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The accumulation of skeletons evoke the dead, and perhaps the “disappeared” victims of repression in Latin America, while the grinning characters of Disney threaten an impending homogenous culture. Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta‘s self-portrait Untitled (1975), morphs her human form into an abstraction of a childhood memory, before her 1961 departure from Cuba as part of the Peter Pan Operation that brought Cuban children to the U.S. While she could no longer physically visit her homeland, the geometries of her recording revisit her roots.
“Since the mid-20th century until now there has been an increased interest in Latin American art production, but it has been only during the last 10 years that the presence of artists from Latin America has become widespread in every single important international event including biennials, museums and private collections, magazines and galleries,” said Jesús Fuenmayor, CIFO Director and Chief Curator. “For CIFO, this is our most ambitious exhibition project to date in contributing to the promotion and knowledge of the art of this region.”
Permission To Be Global/Prácticas Globales is organized into four sections: “Power Parodied,” “Borders Redefined,” “Occupied Geometries” and “Absence Accumulated.” Through these themes, the exhibition considers artists’ distinct strategies for communication in both local and international contexts. Their unique visual languages undermine the status quo, defy boundaries, humanize art’s abstractions and revisit forgotten histories. Together, they offer an alternative understanding of what it means “to be global” today.
“Power Parodied” explores how artists call attention to unjust social realities through exaggerations of scale, extreme repetition, ironic references to the status quo and outlandish ideas for escaping social ills. Cuban artist Yoan Capote’s two-channel video Afterwords/Epílogo (2011) presents an absurd yet poetically evocative commentary on an unnamed story. The image—a young and elderly man both with sewage plungers at their ears—suggests how certain information blocks clear hearing (or thinking) and must be extracted. In Argentinean Sergio Vega’s piece Structuralist Study of Poverty (Potato, Onion, Garlic)(2002), Vega tops model-size shacks with a potato, onion and garlic (nutritional staples in the Americas) on pedestals of varied heights to evoke economic bar graphs that measure poverty levels. Costa Rican Priscilla Monge suggests an institutionally mandated detention and the forced repetition of a lesson in her chalkboard drawing No debo perder la cordura (I Should Not Lose my Sanity) (1999).
“Borders Redefined” investigates how artists use frames, surface and physical borders––like the bars of a fence or jail––to highlight ways of disrupting divides and categories. Venezuelan artist Daniel Medina’s Reja Naranja (Orange Bars) from the series Deispositivo Cinético/Social (Kinetic/Social Device) (2012), echoes linear abstractions by generations of Venezuelan artists, but also features a security gate, hinged to the gallery wall, signaling an exclusive barrier to private property. Mexican artist Mathias Goeritz disrupted the metal surfaces of his sculptures by driving nails through them, as seen in Mensaje: Decoratión Mural (Message: Wall Decoration) (1970). Goeritz has expressed that constructed spaces should elicit a response from the bodies that experience them. León Ferrari’s La Jaula (The Cage) (1979), simultaneously rigid and porous, also speaks to the theme of redefining borders.
“Occupied Geometries” illustrates how artists resist passive forms of spectatorship with pronounced imagery of active bodies in public space or with objects that prompt participation. Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s installation O Tempo Oco (The Empty Time) (2004), which suspends the soft organic geometries of flesh-colored fabric like weighty body parts, invites viewers to slow down and interact with the limbs with a suspended sense of time. In Magdalena Fernández’s animated video 1pm006’Ara Ararauna’ (1pm006 ‘Macaw’) from the series Pinturas móviles (Mobile Paintings) (2006), viewers see the stretch and strain of colored rectangles as the voice of a blue-and-yellow macaw squawks––a common sound in her native Venezuela.
“Absence Accumulated” demonstrates how many Latin American artists have refused to let history be erased. Through the accumulation of material and the layering of ideas, they draw attention to events beyond the narrow focus of officially sanctioned history. In Argentinean Horacio Zabala’s Revisar/Censurar (Revise/Censor) (1974), the official stamps of state bureaucrats culminate in an ultimate block of expression, illustrating how history is revised when countless facts are redacted. Eugenio Dittborn of Chile disseminates historical events as coded messages about the present in his Neo Transand Airmail Painting No. 41 (1985). Dittborn combines poetry, military photography and a drawing of an indigenous boy sacrificed in ancient times as a metaphor for young lives lost to Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. In Sedimentaciones (Sedimentations) (2011) Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz demonstrates how a lone hand shapes history, as it sequences photographs of world events and figures. He addresses how personal or collective memory contrasts with overriding narratives from mass media or “official” national history. Regina José Galindo commemorates victims of Guatemala’s civil war (1960-1996) in her 2003 performance and video, ¿Quién puede borrar las huellas? (Who Can Erase the Traces?). By dipping her bare feet in a basin of human blood and walking from Guatamala City’s constitutional court to the National Palace, she imprinted a visceral symbol of mass violence onto her capitol, and the internationally distributed video footage raised global awareness of the country’s nearly forgotten history. She will present a new performance in Boston in conjunction with the exhibition.
Henry and Lois Foster Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, 465 Huntington Ave, Boston, USA.
Exhibition on view Saturday through Tuesday, 10 a.m.–4:45 p.m.; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m.–9:45 p.m, from March 19 through July 13, 2014.
Headline picture’s credits : © CIFO