Curatorship is A Space To Create Thought: Proyectos La Usurpadora On The First Edition of "Jagüey: encuentros de arte en el Caribe"

The cultural journalist Ana Luisa González Pinzón interviews the Proyectos La Usurpadora collective about their exhibition “Jagüey: sobre un mismo horizonte” at the MAPUKA museum in Barranquilla, Colombia, as part of the program of art encounters in the Caribbean.

In the search for other galaxies, as if they were space engineers opening portals and inviting others to make the transition to unknown artistic dimensions, is where Proyectos La Usurpadora finds its creative engine. Formed by artist and curator María Isabel Rueda from Cartagena, and curator Mario Alberto Llanos from Barranquilla, this project was born more than ten years ago in Puerto Colombia (Atlantic) as a space to host independent contemporary art initiatives that create bridges between science fiction, quantum physics, and spirituality, exploring the work of artists from the Caribbean, unknown in the history of Colombian art. Likewise, its work of archiving and historiographic recovery of artists from the region has closed intergenerational gaps between emerging artists and those from the seventies to the early nineties.

The Museo Arqueológico de los pueblos Karib (MAPUKA) of the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla reopens what used to be the Salón de Arte Joven del Caribe to create an art space that looks at the insular region and includes the figure of the curator. For the first edition of Jagüey: encuentros de arte en el Caribe, Proyectos La Usurpadora was invited to curate an exhibition entitled Jagüey: sobre un mismo horizonte, featuring the work of Adalberto Calvo, Olga Huyke, Carlos Vergara, and Ricardo Ariel Toribío, four artists from Colombia and the Dominican Republic. The exhibition questions stereotypical visions of Caribbean identity, disrupts symbols and linear perceptions of time and reflects on colonial and decolonial views.
Ana Luisa González (ALG): In the exhibition Jagüey: Sobre un mismo horizonte at the MAPUKA in Barranquilla you were invited as curators of this space that was formerly the Salón de Arte Joven. How was this exhibition articulated and what led you to gather the artistic proposals?
Mario Alberto Llanos (MAL): When Toni Celia—the director of Centro Cultural de Arte y Cultura de la Universidad del Norte (Cayena)—invited us to do the inaugural project of what would become Jagüey, we never intended something definite. We were clear about some aspects: to link people from the Caribbean, not only from Colombia but from the whole Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

This was the first time that the public call format was used, which created a channel for a wide variety of proposals, artists, and thoughts. More than 100 people presented themselves, among artists and collectives. There were very interesting things; one could make hundreds of fusions where the selection could lead to multiple options. We try to direct that river towards a particular interest.

In the last six or seven years, we have worked with the crossovers between history, science fiction, and quantum physics. A strong interdisciplinarity in relation to science and spirituality. From our position in the Caribbean as readers and producers of what is happening socio-culturally, we consider that throughout its history the Caribbean has been a place of confluence between the US and Europe where people settled, bringing knowledge and thoughts from both places and collapsing into each other, as a great coalition.

ALG: For several years now, Proyectos La Usurpadora has been expanding the connections between artists from the Colombian Caribbean and the wider Caribbean. Where does this interest come from and how does it materialize in this exhibition?
María Isabel Rueda (MIR): It’s an interest we’ve been working on since the 16º Salón Regional de Artistas (SNA) in 2017 through the exhibition Dimensión Desconocida: Otros relatos del Caribe. As part of this program, we began a series of conversations in which we invited thinkers or directors of independent spaces in the expanded Caribbean. The dialogue allowed us to recognize that we vibrate much more with someone from Cuba or the Dominican Republic than with people from central Colombia. Relationships began to develop through the desire to recognize each other based on the Caribbean connections with which we are in tune.

MAL: As a continental country, unlike Venezuela and Panama, to mention one example, Colombia never declared itself as part of the Caribbean. Caracas is a Caribbean city but Bogota is high in the Andes. Historically, those of us who live closer to the Caribbean were required to relate to the center of the country, the places of political strength, and not to our peers. In that sense, we wanted to reestablish that type of communication and create projects to settle historical and family debts we have with our colleagues and comrades in the Caribbean.

ALG: We are at a time when museums are reopening after more than a year of closures of cultural spaces. What were the challenge and the stimulus to face the curatorship of Jagüey?

MAL: We had a long time without doing a project in the city. We use this space as a form of reading that revisits what we have done around the physical inabilities to capture thoughts or moments on a time-space level. The stimulus is related to the question: How can we contribute to the critical dialogue in relation to the growth of the city and the region? Through (non) history, science fiction, geography, and spirituality, to name a few ever-changing themes, the Jagüey project seeks to build bridges due to the fragility of these at the institutional level in the region. That is our challenge.

MIR: After the shutdown of cultural spaces, there is a certain power in declaring that in spite of everything we continue thinking and producing. Moments of crisis are very important. As we are going through a global crisis that destabilizes all systems, we should not cling to certainties in order to move forward.

Certainties keep us rigid in a single point, a moment in which we must try things, create new strategies, attempt what seems impossible in the midst of uncertainty and difficulty.

Doubts, questions, and searches generate the framework, the network connections that lead us to new certainties irremediably bound to fall apart again. Visualizing this internal process reflected in the culture generates the necessary energy of transformation; it gives support to the community and reactivates spaces for thought through the visual arts.

ALG: What are the different visions of the Caribbean proposed by the four artists that are part of Jagüey and how are they articulated in this curatorship?
MAL: We wanted to bring together perspectives of what the Caribbean could be, not in a representational way, but, as the title indicates, in relation to the same horizon, that is, four points of view that meet on the same latitude. For example, Carlos Vergara, from his Caribbean vision located in Europe, questions the understanding of the Caribbean as an exotic place and the typical European reading of what they called “the West Indies.”

Aldalberto Calvo proposes a contemporary re-reading of histories, official and ancestral narratives in relation to the tension between the colonial and the decolonial. In this geographical region of the Colombian Caribbean, the area between Bolivar and Barranquilla (Atlantic), there is one of the few indigenous ethnic groups that until recently were recognized, the Mokaná. Through archaeological forgeries intervened with graffiti, Calvo problematizes the colonial annulment legitimized by institutional histories where falseness within a museum allows other kinds of languages.

MIR: The curatorship has several layers: the works and what they talk about; how they are placed in space and an analysis of how the work of these artists has developed in space and time. The latter can be recognized in Adalberto Calvo’s project mentioned by Mario. This began as drawings of archaeological pieces (shown at the Salón Regional and then at the Salón Nacional) which are now materialized in third dimension after the crossings between science fiction and ancestral stories.

It is also worth mentioning the work of the artist Olga Huyke, the exhibition is an opportunity to see in the same space all their works relating to each other; a sustained body of thought in which connections are found around the idea of the construction of time.

MAL: Multiple layers of reading is something that has always been of our interest. To finish off the project, the work of the Dominican artist Ricardo Ariel Toribío refers us, as people from the Caribbean, to all those family members who live abroad, creating an imaginary about spatio-temporal tensions in relation to the information that the Caribbean diaspora shares with us. His work reminds me of Rita Indiana’s records when she talks about the fluctuations of what the relatives brought and the relationships with idyllic places through the image. Likewise, Toribío’s work presents the reading of Frank Báez’s poem Llegó el fin del mundo a mi barrio [The End of The World Arrived At My Neighborhood], where the end of the world is an infinite return that portrays our curatorial intention in terms of non-linear forms of time.

ALG: What are the creative and thematic connections between the archival work of Caribbean artists that you have built from the 1970s to the early 1990s with younger artists from the Caribbean region? What crossings and bridges have you found?

MIR: In the 16º Salón Regional de Artistas (2017) we explored those bridges and connections at the generational level, the themes and interests between very young artists with those of the generations you mention. When we put together the nodes and the conceptual part of the exhibition, there was always a dialogue between an artist from a certain era and a contemporary creator from different regions of the Caribbean. The idea was to put them together and update the information between them. Generally, we work with young artists and we talk to them about artistic references of another era, very important in the Caribbean, which they usually don’t know. The objective was for them to start working on the basis of the contribution made by those artists.
This strategy recognizes a fundamental problem: in Colombia, the information on artists from the periods you mention in your question was not kept or published, a disconnection that was even reproduced by the universities. For this reason, La Usurpadora has worked to promote publications, disseminate them and organize talks. We did several talks in which Mario interviewed, for example, Rosa Navarro and different artists in order to inaugurate transgenerational conversations between artists. This work was done in the physical space of the exhibition, where we were able to settle this update. The documents that remain are freely accessible and can be consulted on the Internet. That is the contribution we were able to make with this project, which laid the foundations for young people to begin to do research and collaborate in a recovery of memory based on their own interests.

ALG: Do you find any bridges and intergenerational dialogues, between the artists and works in the Jagüey exhibition and the artists that are part of your archive?
MAL: The archive project and the exhibition projects have different purposes. Jagüey doesn’t have a long-term line of research; it seeks to create connections between the thoughts of young artists in the region. The historiographic or artistic recovery part contained in the archive has been put on hold for a while.
MIR: However, the Jagüey project includes a recognition offered by the Universidad del Norte: a residency fellowship for an artist in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. At the end of the exhibition, one of them will be there for a month, inevitably generating connections.

ALG: Finally, can you talk about the bridges between science fiction and art in your curatorial projects?

MAL: Science fiction is a free place where anything and everything can happen. For many years we had projects that were aimed at rewriting the official history of the arts in the Colombian Caribbean. From science fiction, as historians, we were able to allow ourselves to work on history without being tied to the linearity of time.

MIR: We are very interested in the crossover between literature, film, and other disciplines. At the Salón Regional, we proposed a wormhole where we connected with a generation of artists who had been forgotten. For us, this was not metaphorical. Once the Salón Regional culminated, we made that connection in space-time. Then we worked on narratives of the future in relation to Afrofuturism.

The Caribbean is a pioneer of science fiction in the history of Colombian literature. With this background, we wanted to open a space to unfold these imaginations in view of their potential in relation to the current apocalyptic and utopian stories about the pandemic. Science fiction allows us to make proposals that transform reality.


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