The territories in the southern part of the world that are united by the Pacific Ocean share many historical and natural characteristics: the colonisation of indigenous people by Europeans, the influence of North American and European neo-liberal economics, and geographies rich in natural beauty. However South American art has had little visibility in the South and the aim of this project is to increase its visibility.
Through art it is possible, closely and deeply, to bring forth aspects of life experiences, cultures and historical processes. In 2013, we began to research and share views on the importance of fostering a spirit of connection in the South and how this could unfold in New Zealand through the visual arts, where audiences have had little exposure to the art from South America. This exercise required constant interchange, first to identify the underlying drives in the production of visual arts in South America, and second to understand how they might be perceived in a context foreign to their place of production.
We defined the curatorial scope as focusing on the art production of seven countries in South America — Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Uruguay — and sought to enhance understanding of this part of the continent as an immeasurable region well beyond any concept of ‘nation’. This large area comprises a conglomeration of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, each with its distinct history, peoples, and political, cultural and social conditions. A hybrid, mestizo territory that despite its established borders and strong cultural ties remains in a continuous state of change and movement, a flux of contexts and uncontained situations.
We have identified in the recent art from this region the presence of a certain sensibility – the ability to create a poetic space – that operates in different ways across the work of artists, places and times, and which offers ways to deflect hierarchies, chronologies, sequences and assumptions. We are aware that exhibitions are constructs, spaces in which public experience is organised according to the curatorial intent and the context in which each work of art is placed. However, we hope the exhibition offers a space where possible narratives are articulated in a manner that enables new ways of thinking; allowing the viewer to experience what is found in the everyday life and culture of South America. The artists’ works can be understood, within the multiplicity of South American culture, to be forces of memory, resistance and introspection that convey dreams, renewal and the ability to visualise new horizons.
Within this hybrid we thought it was important to include and juxtapose the production of two generations, the former for the significance of their influence. The viewer can, then, experience in a non-hierarchical manner influential artists from the 1970s and 1980s, alongside a younger generation of artist. Other thinkers, poets, musicians or film directors also appear.
While art is based on the artist’s personal strategies and modes of production, the local is also mediated by communication networks, systems of circulation and the connectivity brought about by globalisation, which makes the local inseparable from the global. Travel is also a means and a necessity for bridging difference and fostering opportunity. In the interests of cross-cultural conversations we included artistic residencies in our curatorial method, allowing for artists to investigate and develop their thinking in a very different context to their places of origin.
An extensive visitor programme offers an expanded experience of art through artist and panel discussions, lectures, a film programme chosen in relation to the selected works, music and performance. Overall, the exhibition and events are opportunities to explore the recent art of the diverse cultures in South America, to gain a sense of people’s histories, traditions and memories, and to be immersed in the distinct stories, dreams and spaces created by artists from South America and those who have inspired them.