Not Keys but the Rights to the City

Last week I heard, by way of Annet Gelink gallery in Amsterdam, about a new exhibition by 7 Latin American artists at SMBA ( Stedelijk Museum Bureau of Amsterdam) gallery exploring issues of urban development and all questions on matters urban.  Called appropriately “Right to the City” it derives its name from French philosopher Henri Lefebvre who, in 1968,  proposed the concept of “Le droit a la Ville”, and the artists consider themselves a voice for the marginalized and a means by which they can show the mix of cultures within the urban landscape. According to the exhibition notes,  some 70 or 80% of the population in Latin American countries now live in a city, so Latin America was considered a perfect area to look at the issues of not only land use but the mix of cultures between the “elite” and indigenous populations.  There is an excellent downloadable newsletter at the site  (written in English and Nederland, but not curiously Spanish) which better elucidates the idea of the show Curated by Latin American specialist Madelon Van Schie, the artists specially chosen are: Jonathas de Andrade, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Alfredo Marquez, Leticia El Halli Obeid, Oscar Abraham Pabon, Wilfredo Prieto, and Laercio Redondo each representing a different country and of course a different take on the theme. If you happen to be going to Amsterdam, the show runs till June 23.
Interestingly, one week later I got a note that Sicardi gallery in Houston is having an opening this Thursday( May 16) for Brazilan born artist Clarissa Tossin who is calling her show “Study for a Landscape” in which she explores the manmade landscape of her native Brasilia and relates it to the human body. Among her explorations includes the idea that each site in the city contains its own history contained within the geography. The show will be on until the end of the month.
Tossin is going to be this year’s  international artist in residence at Artpace in San Antonio.
I hesitate to generalize about any of this, but it does seem that artists in Latin America do tend to be more inclined to put their art in sevice to the community at large, and do tend to use their art to explore the economic, social and political environment somewhat more than those in other parts of the world. There are of course huge exceptions to this, but I’ve been noticing this tendency over the years. I think it has to do with the fact that in the States, for example, beginning in about the 50’s, there was a general feeling among many that an artist’s concern should be to focus on purely artistic concerns, while in Latin America artists have always been politically involved, or at least involved in using art to explore local culture. The result are shows such as the two above where artists meld personal concerns with the larger society, or perhaps where the personal concerns are precisely those larger societal concerns. -david sokolec

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