Art in Guatemala somehow remains extemporary, as if suspended inside a dense and palpable dimension. Guatemalan art not only answers to creative happenings, the work displayed here helps forge the country’s history, to form and reform the collective thought; they are also part of the historic development of the country. The creative authors are also representatives of the historic memory, just like protagonists.
Guatemala Después will remain like one of those creative and historic feats that deepen a footprint, a problematic; it widens the contemporary creative spectrum. Ciudad de la Imaginación in Quetzaltenango and The New School in New York worked on this exhibit, an exposition that tries to reveal the ways that we understand historic memory through art. The dialogue that Guatemala Después proposes is meant to rethink the country’s history from different perspectives and thoughts.
Participant artists: Benvenuto Chavajay, Jessica Kairé, Regina José Galindo, Julio Serrano, Angel y Fernando Poyón, Yasmin Hage, Maria Jacinta Xon, Sandra Monterroso, Quique Lee, Enrique Pazós, Daniel Perera, Colectivo Kaqjay, Andrea Monroy, Franco Arocha; among others.
Disciplines: visual arts, film, interactive design and digital narratives.
Guatemala Después will be open up to July 3rd, 2015 in Ciudad de la Imaginación, Quetzaltenango
Today we deepen into the three editorial pillars of the exhibit, the curators of the project that lead and gave harmony to the voice of Guatemala Después
Interview to Anabella Acevedo and Pablo José Ramírez, co-curators of Guatemala Después
esQuisses: Some of the artists in the exhibit have a long and respected career. What are some of the elements you can observe that have changed or matured from their initial work to the one presented in Guatemala Después?
Anabella: Is hard to say, the artists who have the longest career, in time they do have matured their work and have acquired the capacity to adapt to new proposals and trends. But I think it would be too rush to talk right now about elements that have changed or their maturity from their Guatemala Después experience, this will come later on, not now.
Pablo José: There has been a mobilization rather than a changing process, their concerns have moved towards the cultures. Last year’s production, coming from several artists, tend to think less in the actual politics and more about what is politic related; also they work towards indigenous questions and their relation with miscegenation, the micro politics (sexuality, gender, ethnicity, community) they have, someway, gone farther the postwar discourse.
esQuisses: Why the interest in the historic healing through art in this exhibit?
Anabella: This is something that comes from way back, and it answers to an existential need tightened with Guatemala’s sociopolitical context. The historic healing was a recurrent theme that came out in the Bienal de Paiz’s last edition; it was identified because there was a group of artists to whom this was very important. With this exhibit we tried to engage ideas about the country’s history from the present, but also taking into consideration the historic memory that it still being configured. In this search we’re trying to understand the country, to understand ourselves, precisely to heal.
esQuisses: How does Guatemala Después reflects the current social and sociocultural moment in Guatemala?
Anabella: I think it has been a lucky coincidence that this exhibit happened during the current social movements. However, Guatemala’s history is such that someway, somehow, it would’ve fitted perfectly into another time. To study our history is necessary to make structural changes that might heal the country’s social tissue. However, for the first time since a long time there has been happening a series of events that makes us think that something can actually be changing, an exhibit like Guatemala Después can be very valuable then.
Pablo José: Guatemala Después is an exploration of our history with a certain notion of today. The project’s fundamental premise is to try to explore other forms of writing the history while always watching with a critique eye over the dominant forms that have written the history before, which excludes most of our habitants.
esQuisses: Do you think that this exhibit and the artists’ current work goes hand to hand with other artistic contemporary manifestations?
Pablo José: I think that the so called postwar time in Guatemala has definitely made its impact on all the sides of our cultural production, but I also see that the concerns that literature addresses, for example, are in many cases different to those in the visual arts. The dialogue is feasible, complicated, and yet very necessary.
esQuisses: What does the exercise of “rethinking the past” offer to the artwork of an artist present in the past and in the present?
Anabella: Its something inevitable for some artists here in Guatemala. Not necessarily as an obvious and direct way, but it’s a constant during the research process. Guatemala’s history has a lot to offer to these processes, both socially and individually; there’s some links to the healing process as well.
Pablo José: There’s no way to think the present without revising the past and projecting into the future. To think about the memory and history is a necessary exercise. Art, as place in the country’s culture, has always being, in a sense, anti-historic. For instance, a piece done during the first half of the 20th century can be very contemporary thanks to its current contribution, while a piece of Benvenuto Chavajay can almost be an archeological exploration. In this sense art is constantly flirting with the eternal.
esQuisses: What does the “rethinking of the past” offer to the artistic scene?
Pablo José: Lets say that art is very important to understand the colonial heritage, but also the ancestral cultures that coexist in the present. Art is an important asset to somehow dismantle the oppressive history that’s still active.
esQuisses: Do you consider this exhibit as valuable to the historic memory with what was presented in the past?
Pablo José: I think is just as valuable as other projects done in the intellectual field. I think about Editorial Catafixia’s publication El futuro empezó ayer, for instance. Or the work done by historians and anthropologists such as Aura Cumes or Edgar Squit.
esQuisses: What themes do you see in this exhibit that didn’t exist in the creative discourse of the past?
Anabella: Both the migration and the search for alternatives to read and rewrite the history are two themes that, somehow, seem to be a novelty. However, one of the most important exhibitions during the past decades was Mirando al sur (Looking south) that addressed the migration subject. I don’t think that there are new themes; there might new perspectives with the disciplines that convey.
esQuisses: What sort of exchange – creative and educational – you get from working with The New School?
Pablo José: The possibility of working with a university such as The New School gave us resources and interesting networks for the visual arts. It pushed us as well into have to structure and an agenda around the exposition with the Ciudad de la Imaginación’s resources and those of The New School. New York City with a place such as Parsons with its Sheila Johnson Design Center gallery placed us among a young audience very much interested in exploring and investigating.
Anabella: To Ciudad de la Imaginación the chance to work with an American university was quite a challenge; it also gave us the opportunities to face curatorial practices and to see Guatemala from an outsider’s point of view, which sparked interesting dialogues. On the other hand it was an interesting trial to the Guatemala Después’ pieces to face an audience who wasn’t acquainted with the country’s history.
esQuisses: Will there a follow-up to the exhibit? With different authors, in a different time maybe?
Anabella: In a way it will. For the moment we’re working on a virtual archive that will not only try to follow the project but also make it grow. The pieces of some of the artists were thought to be constantly changing, so they’ll surely continue working on them. On the other hand, if the opportunity of taking this exhibit to other places, with other artists, it would be great.
Photos taken by Ciudad de la Imaginación
Interview to Nitin Sawhey, The New School representative
esQuisses: Where does the initial interest in working in Guatemala came from?
Nitin: Since early 2013, I began working closely with Colectivo Andén, a group of artists, dancers, writers, poets and musicians based in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. The work that we did was captured in a documentary called Zona Intervenida, still in development (http://www.zonaintervenida.org). That’s how my relationship with Guatemala came to happen.
An essay by Guatemalan curator Anabella Acevedo, “Art and the Postwar Generation”, described how young artists in Guatemala had been developing exciting new spaces, collectives and practices despite the history of repression and violence in the country. Anabella’s writing inspired me to frame a media-based investigation of contemporary art and socially engaged practices in Guatemala with my graduate student Julian de Mayo Rodriguez in late 2013.
Julian worked with me over the coming months (2013-2014) to conduct a series of interviews with nearly 25 artists, filmmakers, journalists, social scientists, and community-based practitioners examining the nature of their creative and political engagement across diverse social and institutional contexts in Guatemala. While these interviews informed our understanding of the emerging landscape in Guatemala, our conversations with curators Anabella Acevedo and Pablo Jose Ramirez led us to consider a collaboration that merged this media-based inquiry with a critical discourse emerging from a joint curatorial investigation of such themes. Anabella and Pablo were co-curating the upcoming Guatemala Biennial opening in June 2014, and they were actively engaged with the works of a wide range of Guatemalan and international artists, while actively seeking to infuse the biennial with issues of indigeniety, periphery and community-based social practices, expanding the vocabulary of contemporary art often witnessed in such venues.
I invited my colleague Radhika Subramanian, who lead the Sheila Johnson Design Center (SJDC) and teaches at The New School, to join me a the Biennial in Guatemala and meet with the curators and artists involved, to consider how we may devise a particular curatorial platform and exhibition within The New School over the coming year. The Guatemala Después project unfolded through our ongoing conversations and deliberations with Ciudad de la Imaginación, a contemporary arts institution in Quetzaltenango, led by Anabella and Pablo.
When Nitin was asked about his opinion about the artistic scene in Guatemala, not only did he showed interest and admiration, but a broad knowledge about the artists, collectives and creative happenings that take place in the country. He calls the nineties “crucial” for the Guatemalan artists.
esQuisses: How did people react to the exhibit?
Nitin: There were wide-ranging responses to the exhibition in New York City; while most people had little or no familiarity with the political and historical context in Guatemala, the exhibit managed to provoke an intense curiosity for some to learn and delve deeper into its complex past, while others found the visual and playful themes evoked by the artists interesting in itself. For many the exhibit left many unanswered questions about Guatemala, which I hope they will engage more critically in the future.
esQuisses: Was there any special interest from the Latino community in New York?
Yes indeed, we had a great outreach to the Latino community in New York through our social media and public programming. They attended many of our events regularly and were quite pleased to see this distinct focus on Central America through this exhibition. In particular our events on documentary film (with Pamela Yates and Izabel Acevedo), the Afro-Latino event/performance, exhibit opening events and panels were all well attended by the Latino community.
esQuisses: Does “Guatemala después” changed your mind regarding Guatemala’s art scene and specially its culture and society?
Well I would say my research and collaboration with Guatemalan artists and curators over the past 2-3 years has surely moved my thinking deeply about the role of contemporary Guatemalan art in the context of conflict and historical memory. I hope our exhibitions will influence many others to think more deeply about this and how it relates to their own interests and concerns.
esQuisses: You mentioned that now is a time when Guatemalan artists are reappearing in the international scene, what are some of the obvious differences and similarities too you find in the work done in the past with the current?
Younger artists today are not just dealing with the obvious themes of violence, conflict and historical memory, but charting new aesthetic directions (and techniques) that are free of deep ideological concerns, while addressing less well known issues of concern among marginalized communities including LGBT and transsexual, but also working in an international context on broader / global concerns.
esQuisses: How was the curatorial process for you and The New School regarding this exhibit?
With Ciudad de la Imaginación, we devised a series of public workshops in July 2014 to invite both artists as well as creative and socially engaged practitioners to help us frame the key themes and questions we would pose in an open call for Guatemala Después.
The purpose was to support site-specific artistic investigations that may reveal, activate, provoke or transform the ways in which we understand historic memory, repression, healing and forms of utopia or dystopia emerging in Guatemala in the past 30 years, and what is happening in response to that in Guatemala today.
We also looke to examine the political, cultural and economical influences between the United States and Guatemala.
The curatorial team, comprised of members of The New School and Ciudad de la Imaginación, selected 12 compelling artistic projects. The curatorial team at Ciudad worked closely with artists in helping refine their project concepts as they began collaborative production over the fall and spring, leading up to the exhibits. In parallel, I began teaching a series of graduate courses at The New School examining the historical and contemporary contexts within which artistic practitioners have been navigating and producing critical creative responses.
esQuisses: Which creative assets do you think Guatemalan artists possess?
Guatemalan artists today are thinking beyond binary dialectics and engage in much more complex and nuanced ways of approaching socio-political concerns and aesthetic strategies. Not being tied to major contemporary art institutions and funding, allows them to have a more free way of developing distinct aesthetic approaches and concerns that are not usually recognized or well-understood in the international art context. In particular, the work of indigenous artists in Guatemala and also the younger generation of urban artists are all breaking boundaries between social practice and art in a way we all have a great deal to learn from. Its an exciting set of visions that are emerging which I hope the international art world will come to understand better, but most importantly be influential within Guatemalan society itself.
esQuisses: Do you see any similarities between the work done in Guatemala and other contemporary artists around the world?
I would note that many artistic movements in contexts such as Cuban, Iranian, and Palestinian artists who have confronted similar challenges of conflict and marginalization are notable.