Curation as Research and Resistance
Laura Belik on Curation as Research | Contemporary Art in Central America: Miguel López and Emiliano Valdés in conversation with Julia Bryan-Wilson, September 19, 2017
The work of a curator is one of great responsibility, but often in different ways. Not only does the curator construct stories and introduce different topics to the audience through creative approaches, but also, and mainly, they start a conversation. Julia Bryan-Wilson, Director of the Arts Research Center and Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at UC Berkeley, introduced the Arts + Research 2017/2018 lecture series by inviting curators Miguel López and Emiliano Valdés to share some of their experiences with Latin American Art, from deconstructing pre-conceptions to incentivizing political engagement, always understanding that research can also be a provocation.
From Miguel López’s experience with politicized queer and feminist art in Costa Rica, we can understand the importance of Archives to the curator not only as a space for research, but also as a tool for political engagement. As López explained, various countries in Latin America had an intense period of dictatorships, and as a result many artists looked for asylum elsewhere. Amongst other consequences, a great part of those artists’ works was either produced or kept outside of their home-countries. Today many countries of the global north are in possession of global south art. In light of this, there is an intense debate and movement towards keeping national archives alive within Latin American countries, as a national recognition of the local productions. The collective Red Conceptualismo, one of the groups that López is part of, incentivizes this movement, perceiving it as a way of empowering local institutions and artists, thus empowering national art.
From another perspective on the importance of Archival works, López talks about his work with the visual organization TEOR/éTica, in Costa Rica, a platform that wants to contextualize historical art as well as new narratives and investigations putting Central America and the Caribbean in conversation with global discussions of our times. TEOR/éTica archival significance became an important source for research and consultation, as well as a space to present their materials through exhibitions and publications, thinking about the archival practice integrated with curatorial works and community engagement.
Curator Emiliano Valdés also builds from the discussions around historicity and art. His recent work with the exhibition “Guatemala from 33.000 km: Contemporary Art, 1660-present” currently on view in Los Angeles is the first attempt to trace contemporary art practices in Guatemala, as well as it is the first survey of Guatemalan Art in the U.S. The exhibition attempts to show how the country’s art practices, although very much influenced by western practices, also have an important national side, with naïve/primitive pieces. Valdés emphasizes that those works coexist, and that there is a binary, but also mutual contact and influence amongst them, and this is what creates a historical and national identity more cohesively. The curatorial team worked towards breaking a pre-conceived ideal of Latin American tradition and their imaginaries. “Guatemala had a hard dictatorship and repression period”, explained Valdés when talking about how many artists and art works didn’t get to be shown for a long period of time because of that. On the same lines as López’s discussions on the need for empowerment of Latin American Art and artistic practices, Valdez explains how “Guatemala from 33.000 km” does that as well by breaking with the pre-conceived ideals of what Guatemalan Art is.
The work of a curator, thus, gains an important position of revealing the untold stories – and histories- that are many times lost in translation or kept in the dark for various reasons. This investigatory practice has a strong political engagement in many times, and just by choosing the way the narrative will be told, one is already making a statement.
Laura Belik (PhD Student, Architecture) reviewed the September 19, 2017 presentation and conversation, Curation as Research | Contemporary Art in Central America, the first program in a series of events this academic year focusing on arts practice as research. To learn more about Movement as Research on October 18, and Making as Research on November 2 & 3, please visit arts.berkeley.edu.