8th Panama Art Biennial
PANAMA.Eight years after Panama was finally able to enjoy sovereignty over its entire territory, the 8th Panama Art Biennial is set to c...
PANAMA.Eight years after Panama was finally able to enjoy sovereignty over its entire territory, the 8th Panama Art Biennial is set to capture through contemporary visual arts the essence and historical significance of the former Canal Zone in order to reflect its place in Panama’s social and political history.
From September 10 to October 21, the Panama Art Biennial will promote contemporary visual arts in the country by offering creative individuals a non-commercial space within which to produce and exhibit their art, providing an outlet where artists can interact with the general public and with critics.
The Biennial will be held in Panama’s Museum of Contemporary Art for the 8th time since 1992, when it was founded by Irene Escoffery and Monica Kupfer.
The biennial started as a painting competition. Today, it has transformed into a contemporary art exhibition that includes all forms of artistic media.
For the first time in the Biennial’s history, participating projects will embrace the theme of the former Canal Zone, a territorial enclave within Panama under the administration of the United States Federal Government from the time of the construction of the Canal until its return to Panama.
This year’s main exhibit will be “The Sweet Burnt Smell of History”, conceived by the Mexican curator Magali Arriola.
According to Magali Arriola, “what used to be known as the Canal Zone—an area that was simultaneously a military reservation, a company town and a colony—seems to exist today as an apocryphal memory nourished by the nostalgia of those who occupied its lands, and by others as a geographical ghost that embodies Panama’s colonial and post-colonial history.”
The works she has chosen for the exhibit address the conditions under which Panama’s political history and cultural imaginary are slowly taking over this land.
The artists are expected to generate works of art that reflect upon the fluidity of state borders, with the creation and transformation of territorial denominations and to consider the way in which every individual negotiates and constructs his or her own concept of identity or belonging to a group or society through border delineations.
Interestingly, the biennial will cover two different points of view.
Visitors will be able to experience the Canal Zone through the eyes of artists familiar with the area, who have been invited to hold on site tours to compare and discuss the past and present history of this territory. They will also obtain the point of view of artists less acquainted with the Zone, who have been invited to create works from distant perspectives through what they conceive of the political and cultural significance of the place and of this kind of geographical transaction from one country to another.
This year’s biennial will host a diverse program of activities, that will cater to different interests and tastes.
“The Sweet Burnt Smell of History”, curated by Magali Arriola, will be displayed at the Contemporary Art Museum throughout the biennial.
The exhibit will present works by local and international artists, some Panamanians with dual nationalities and some hailing from far away countries like Belgium, France and New Zealand.
On opening day at 10:00 a.m. visitors will have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the artists and the organizers of the Biennial, who will exchange ideas about their work, analyzing how the exhibition as a whole fits in with the theme.
Alongside the exhibition, the Panama Art Biennial has organized conferences at the University of Panama on September 11, 17, and 18 for those interested in learning more about the old Canal Zone.
The Academic Conferences will analyze the patrimonial values of the urban and regional design in the Panama Canal area, currently considered an endangered cultural heritage site.
Some of the topics covered will include: Face to Face, Panama city and the Canal Zone: 1904-1999; Conference on the now defunct neighborhood of El Marañon, planned and built during the construction of the Panama Canal for Afro-Antillean immigrant workers; Garden City: Progressive Planning and the Panama Canal; The role of Summit Gardens in Canal Zone Landscaping; The Planning Process for the Use of Properties and Assets in the Reverted Areas during the 1990s; Initiatives in Conservation and Evaluation of the Panama Canal Area sponsored by the World Monuments Fund; and many more. A complete schedule can be found at: http://www.bienalpanama.org.
The Contemporary Museum of Art will also be screening a documentary by Frederic Wiseman on the Canal Zone on September 13 and 22 at 3:00 p.m. The documentary portrays U.S. citizens who lived and worked in the Canal Zone, and sheds light on their lifestyle and on the civilian government and social structure of the “Zonians”.
The Contemporary Art Museum is located on Calle San Blas and Avenida de los Martires in Ancon. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, contact the museum at 262-3380.
As we can see from the diversity of programs, the Biennial is not just a showcase.
Instead of simply showing contemporary art in Panama, the exhibition attempts to contribute to its constant renewal. And with the former Canal Zone as a theme, delving into the area’s past, present, and future meaning, it might also contribute to our historical renewal.