17 Feb — 1 Apr 2017 at the Galería José de la Fuente in Santander, Spain
Images create reality. The coloniality of knowledge and the Eurocentric hegemonic ideology that determined the structure of dominance and subordination in the system of the modern/colonial world based themselves on this indisputable premise. Outside of Europe, the production of images describing the anthropological contexts in which the ‘others’ lived became a fundamental pedagogic tool for the colonial enterprise, and it served to justify explicit violence against bodies, subjectivities and territories that had been identified as alterities. The barbarian, savage other that had to be domesticated and civilised was invented by white, bourgeois, heterosexual, male and Christian anthropocentrism, as expressed in literature, the arts and science. Some of these scientific disciplines created the first descriptions and images of America, and they reached Europe via the Atlantic in the form of postcards, chronicles or travel diaries, maps, etchings about the economy, the landscape, the flora, fauna, or the ethnic populations who inhabited the continent and were, in fact, transformed into an object by colonial imagination. Within the perimeter of New Spain, which extended between the 16th and 19th Century from North America to Central America, even a new genre, known as casta painting, was legitimised as a way to classify, taxonomify and name miscegenation as well as the racialisation and stratification processes of colonial societies.
Even though coloniality as a historical process that varies in periodicity and geopolitics draws to a close with the wars of independence and the national liberation movements in America, Asia and Africa throughout the 18th and 20th century, in terms of a structural and epistemic situation, coloniality moulds the economic, socio-politic and cultural reality of the post-colonial world. In the present global situation, the power relations previously in place or the conditions for accessing a state of wellbeing do not seem to have varied much, as they still depend on the position one occupies in the cartography determined by the old differences north-south and East-West. Class, race, gender and sexuality continue to be constructed categories and influenced by the politics of difference. Therefore, it is not surprising that the artists in this exhibition appropriate and intervene images and objects from different cultural traditions in order to create a game of intertextual transfers, staging the plurality and hybridism of more complex relations than the binarisms once affirmed by modernity and the borders of the state-nation. Perhaps, the diasporic biography of the creators themselves – Rachel Libeskind, born in Milan in 1989, spent her childhood in Berlin and currently lives in New York; Emilio Rojas (Mexico, 1984) lives in Chicago; and Marco Montiel-Soto (Venezuela, 1976) lives between Maracaibo and Berlin – defines the place of enunciation from which they critically analyse the references that feed the promiscuity of visual culture and its multicultural contexts.
The artists desacralise and deprive the dissimilar images that they appropriate of their aura, images extracted from the canonical repertoires of art history or different colonial archives, institutions responsible for the conservation and administration of a knowledge produced around colonial space and where fabricated stereotypes were built and carefully guarded. In Scenes of Territory (2015), Libeskind creates a series of critical and ironic comments on etchings and illustrations that served as a model to the scientific knowledge in Europe about colonised landscapes and subjects. With this, the artist questions the alleged objectivity of the registration methods that were used to create those images and the idealised or unsettling visions about those places regardless of modern logic and instrumental reason.
As for Marco Montiel-Soto, he designs warm environments or accessible installations that transform the spectator’s experience, allowing him/her to actively participate in the global mythologies. In these ephemeral environments, the artists accumulates the fragments of a story that, like a puzzle, reconstructs the imageries of coloniality through which Latin America became a fictional landscape, a promise of prosperity for the colonial expeditions and a renovated neo-colonial market. Montiel-Soto arranges evocative ‘tropicalised’ scenarios with fetishes and souvenirs, which recall the voracity of tourism as a reified form of colonialism. Nevertheless, the collages that are scattered and sharp in the middle of his installations, warn that in our times of low cost flights, the ‘exotic’ is a round-trip travel. Meanwhile, in The Lion’s Teeth (2014-2015), Emilio Rojas arranges a metaphor for the violence perpetrated by European colonialism on the American territory. This dramatic and distressing audio-visual narration deconstructs a history of subsequent dominations over the colonised bodies, landscapes and subjectivities, using as parallax the propagation of invasive botanic species that parasitise the land of others, stealing and asphyxiating, expropriating them from their natural habitat. The artist translates his usual performative practice to video, placing on the screen gender, ethno-racial and cultural concerns that lie at the intersection of an aesthetic decolonial proposal where the images and alleged realities they have represented are under suspicion.
Text by Suset Sánchez