Bringing out our artsy side

  • 11/09/2008 02:00
  • 11/09/2008 02:00
Yesterday I visited the Biennial’s focal point, “The Sweet Burnt Smell of History,” put together by Mexican curator Magali Arriola at th...

Yesterday I visited the Biennial’s focal point, “The Sweet Burnt Smell of History,” put together by Mexican curator Magali Arriola at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Word of notice to those considering attending: you won’t find paintings at the exhibit. What you will find, however, are 15 Panamanian and international artists exposing their views of the Canal Zone through varied and perhaps unconventional forms of art.

Mario Garcia Torres played with the idea of Panama as home of a constant flow of people, merchandise and money by sending off to the sea a series of white paintings in sealed bottles from different points of both oceans. He hopes that waves will guide these bottles to their final destination (which would ideally be the Contemporary Art Museum). At the Museum he has empty frames waiting for their respective paintings to appear. So far none have made it, but they still have weeks to make it home.

Sam Durant presents a series of maps of Panama, both in its entirety and specific areas, with emphasis on the Canal Zone and the U.S. military presence in Panama. The maps start with the initial contacts with Spaniards and the early periods of colonization and move to the Canal Zone. Some also cover diverse topics of interests of the current state of the former zone. My favorite is a peculiar British map of Panama that is upside down, denoting the south of the country on the top and the north on the bottom. I found it interesting that the map depicted the New World’s location relative to the Old World’s. Subliminal message, anyone?

Jonathan Harker initially wanted to work with grass, in order to portray the much heard claim nowadays that “the grass (in the Zone) was always well cut”, compared to the lack of care given by Panamanians today. Given a lack of funding and the museum’s spatial constraints he opted out of his initial plan, instead creating a conceptual mural on Avenida de los Martires (to the side of the Museum) where he wrote “Home Go Gringo” and then painted white over it. His work is located at what used to be one of the borders separating the Zone from Panama City, signaling that a geographical limit once existed; the content is a purposeful twist on the classic anti-imperialist saying “Gringo go home” and represents both the original message and the current sentiment towards Americans, who are now invited to set up home in Panama; and the white painting over it was conceived to allow the mural to evolve through time.

With the use of paints of different degrees of resistance to foreign elements , Harker has left the appearance of his text under the coat of white subject to time and luck.

Altogether, the 15 artists produce something to talk about. Their work succeeds in making you delve into the Zone’s history and significance. As a whole, they also make you ponder on art, on its role in Panama’s cultural enrichment, and on the lack of support, both financial and moral, it usually receives.

And, if at the end of the exhibit you still crave paintings, you can head over to the Biodiversity Museum to check out Brooke Alfaro’s works of art, another leg of the Biennial.

Lo Nuevo
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