southern panoramas | guest artists
Through myriad strategies, ranging from the revival of ancestral cultural traditions to iconoclasm, from reflections about the meaning of widely circulated images to the building of ruins, the Festival’s five guest artists attest to the power of voices that speak of and from the South. In different ways, the Brazilians Sônia Gomes and Rodrigo Matheus, the Portuguese Gabriel Abrantes, Mali’s Abdoulaye Konaté, and Morocco’s Yto Barrada deal with the frayed social fabric that composes the contemporary political scenario.
Five artists draw upon manifold strategies to demonstrate Southern artistic production’s capacity to speak to the wider world. Abdoulaye Konaté, from Mali, overreaches the bounds of painting to engender a new language that blends his rigorous artistic training with elements of traditional Malian culture, especially textiles. His extraordinary use of color and strict compositions maintain a clearly politicized vim, which exposes African issues, as well as universal ones. Inspired by his 2014 encounter with a Guarani Indian tribe in Ubatuba, on the São Paulo State coast, his tapestries speak of threatened cultures.
Sharing Konaté’s choice of textiles as an expressive domain is the Brazilian Sônia Gomes, born in Caetanópolis, Minas Gerais State, home to one of the country’s oldest textile companies. As a child, in a flash of revolt, she decided to run away from home; she gathered snippets of textiles into a truss. That truss would return to her years later in seminal form as an artistic procedure. Here, she experiments with a scale that challenges the intimacy of the body. Each bend or cavity, each fabric or skin seems to speak of a subject in its singularity or a collective with a shared history and culture.
Contrasting with this organicity, Rodrigo Matheus requires the support of heavy engineering to hang barrels and create structures out of scales, weights, and counterweights that lure the public into a zone of instability that echoes the provisional nature of contemporary economic and social relations. The work stems from the artist’s observation of the venue’s history and attempts to restore, physically, some of the legacy of “ruin” the city has endured over the last hundred years.
The dynamics of representation and the impact the circulation of images has on identity building are the themes of choice of Yto Barrada, a French artist of Moroccan descent. Her Wallpaper is paradigmatic. Daily contact with this sort of representation—wallpaper featuring far-off views is common in Moroccan stores and coffee shops—underlines the friction between real life and the desire to belong to another reality, between the reality and fiction of a comfortable life waiting to cross over to the other side.
The films of Gabriel Abrantes—who was born in the US to African parents yet lives in Lisbon and considers himself a Portuguese artist— explore the no less subtle conflict between traditional and emerging axes of power. With an iconoclastic vision of history, art, and cinema, his narrative speculations analyze the ways global culture is being transformed by the rise of new players, and the impacts emerging identities are having on cultures that were once hegemonic. Interested in “places where contemporary forms of life are being invented,” Abrantes has filmed in Angola, Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Brazil.
The weft of the crumpled, torn social fabric that makes up the political scene in these first years of the 21st century constitutes a critical mass of organic and industrial fibers, stress-testing the temporal and technological relations that articulate the collective poetics of these artists, and establishing a range of dialogues between voices speaking from the South.