A Latin landscape

Latin American art is experiencing a renaissance, with major exhibitions from the continent being staged in the US, Dubai and the UK this year. Laura Egerton finds out more

Johanna Calle’s series of drawings Obra Negra (Black Opus, see box, right), made with uneven pieces of metallic mesh, portray the houses in slums that can take two or three generations to be completed because of a lack of engineers, architects or money – a common reality in Latin American urban sprawls such as the artist’s native Bogotá. Chambacú Albalá, another series, uses words and phrases to represent structures found in such neighbourhoods and references the high percentage of Spanish words that originate from Arabic. 

The medium of drawing is a specialism among contemporary Colombian artists, a trend curator Luiza Teixeira de Freitas discovered when travelling through South America as part of her research for this year’s Marker curated programme at Art Dubai. Also popular is “interventionist art” – art that interacts with its surroundings, inserting itself physically into its environment – such as works by the Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo, who made the crevice in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall floor (Shibboleth, 2007), which commented on conflict and racial divisions.

Valpairaso in Chile
A mural on the side of a house in the historic quarter of Valpairaso in Chile

In Argentina, there is a trend towards artworks related to cartography: Jorge Macchi from Buenos Aires works across many media, all connected to recording urban environments. Related to this are Marcelo Cidade’s investigations of street life in São Paulo. Teixeira de Freitas noted that artists in Brazil are being more influenced by trends in London and Berlin, for instance abstract sculpture made of cheap materials.

It’s difficult to make such sweeping statements about the landscape of art production across such a vast and diverse continent, as Teixeira de Freitas comments: “What you understand is that they are all very different countries with different practices.” She felt it was impossible to invite five or six art spaces to exhibit at Art Dubai, which has happened in the past, and instead is “master-curating” an ambitious, multidisciplinary programme, appointing other experts to curate specific sections at this year’s fair. 

The history of Latin art, like that of Arab art, has not been comprehensively docu-mented, so further study is welcome. Dubai is getting in early: September 2017 will see a major investigation of Latin American art, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, taking place across southern California, funded through US$5m grants from The Getty Foundation. 2015 is the Year of Mexico in the UK. The Guggenheim’s UBS MAP Global Art Initiative has appointed curators Pablo León de la Barra for Latin America and Sara Raza for the Middle East and North Africa to advise on purchases, undertake research and curate shows
“to reflect on non-Euro-American-centric ideas concerning contemporary and modern art collections”. 

Johanna Calle
Johanna Calle’s Obra Negra drawings depict the slums in the Colombian capital, reflecting their rapid, chaotic development since the 1950sImage: Johanna Calle

Teixeira de Freita’s group exhibition for the Marker area of the fair, Building Imaginary Bridges Over Hard Ground, seeks to bring together works that make connections between Latin America and the Arab world. These bridges are there for her personally: “I’m an independent curator, born in Rio, Brazil, but I grew up in Europe, in Portugal, so I have this displacement. In Brazil, they think I’m a Brazilian who left, and in Portugal I’m Brazilian, so I’m displaced – and it’s the same in London. My great-grandmother was Lebanese, and she went to Brazil early in the 20th century. My grandfather was the son of a Lebanese.”

Teixeira de Freita has worked in the region before, with Abdellah Karroum at the 2009 Marrakech Biennale. She is also familiar with the workings of an art fair, co-curating #Opening, the section at ARCOmadrid dedicated to new galleries, in 2014 and 2015. 

The platform at Art Dubai has allowed her to explore a theme using the stories of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, which feature parallel yet intertwined dream-like narratives of labyrinths, with multiple possible endings: “The aim is to understand a little more who we are, where we come from and how our cultures can find themselves through these metaphorical mirrors.” It is labelled a “salon-style” show and the 15 selected artists will give an encyclopedic overview of current trends in Latin art, across drawing, painting and sculpture.