Malba’s latest exhibition brings together an array of artworks that seem at odds with one another. Photographs of bloodshed and social disorder confront the Zen cartoons of Alejandro Jodorowsky, while the meditative permanence of Vicente Rojo’s geometrical paintings contrast with the filmed remnants of Salon Independiente’s ephemeral mural.
Yet you might expect nothing less than eclecticism from an exhibition entitled ‘La Era de la Discrepancia’, (The Age of Discrepancy), a phrase inspired by Javier Barros Sierra, rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), in his denouncement of all hegemonic visions of culture in 1968.
‘La Era de la Discrepancia’ examines the trajectory of Mexican art between the 1968 student movement and the 1994 Zapatista uprising in the state of Chiapas. During this crucial time in Mexican history, artists began to question traditional media and transform the way they engaged with society.
The Tlatelolco massacre in 1968 launched this restless period and is the propulsive force of the exhibition. The massacre, in which 400 students and workers protesting in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas were killed by the police, was one of the seminal moments in modern Mexico. Barros Sierra’s proclamation, ‘long live discrepancy’, was made after the massacre, as he defended the right to democratic protest during the conflicts. He put forward the idea of a new republic which, instead of fearing disagreement, made it an inherent part of the functioning of an autonomous university.
Artists’ collective Salon Independiente’s political calls to action give visual form to Barros Sierra’s sentiment, and include posters denouncing state violence, and the making of an ephemeral mural at the National University. They had been inspired by the rallying cries of the student movements as they had began to form in July 1968 against a backdrop of the Vietnam War, sexual liberation, feminism and the hippie movement.
This growing expression of dissatisfaction with a society they considered repressive and unjust, coincided with the Olympic games in Mexico which the movement saw as irrelevant, chanting “No queremos Olimpiadas, queremos revolución” (We don’t want Olympic Games, we want a revolution). In response to the need for artistic freedom, Salon Independiente established themselves as an association of artists without official ties, as opposed to the Salon Solar, which had been set up by the national fine arts agency in conjunction with the games.
Whilst the initial part of the exhibition at Malba is tied together by the emergence of the political thought of the student movement, works such as the ‘Fábulas Pánicas’ series of comics by Chilean playwright Alejandro Jodorowsky, exploring philosophical and spiritual questions, begin to take it in other, more varied directions.
The colourful geometric art movement of the 1970s privileged the use of aesthetic systems over overt political engagement or the expression of the personality of the author. Some of these were created from collaborations with musicians, poets and writers. Kazuya Sakai’s ‘Renga’ for example, is part of a series in homage to John Cage, whose notions of chance were a strong influence on his work.
In contrast to their strict systematic approach, the new art practice emerging from the 1980s was inspired by a conceptual art and, in particular, the European branch of the Fluxus movement. This era produced much performance-based works such as Ulises Carrión’s ‘Death of an Art Dealer’, that consisted in Carrión holding a TV monitor showing parts of a movie whose camera movements he imitated with his own movements.
Moving on further, the section of the exhibition entitled ‘Expulsion from Paradise’ deals with the time in the late 1980s and early 1990s in which writers such as James Clifford and Homi J. Bhabha began to question the universality of Western culture. The influences of such thought can be seen in Gerardo Suter’s work that draws together pre-Columbian images, human figures and primal themes. ‘Tonalámatl’, for instance, is a huge photographic print of an indigenous figure in the position of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian man, surrounded by Mayan symbols.
Despite all these artists representing a challenge to the status quo and a restless sense of exploration, it is virtually impossible to see one coherent line of thought that links the chronology.
One of the strongest sections of the show however highlights documentary photography’s engagement in social and political opposition, and perhaps goes some way to linking together the political movement which kicks off the show, with the theme of social struggles in subsequent years. Photographers such as Pedro Meyer, Andres Garay and Graciela Itubide, documented society in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and later turned their gaze to political movements in Mexico.
Towards the end of this section they begin to focus on narratives of the EZLN in the mid 1990s, whose uprising in the state of Chiapas forms the end point of the exhibition. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) is an armed revolutionary group based in Chiapas, one of the poorest states of Mexico. Since 1994, have been engaged in a struggle against the Mexican state. The support for this anti-globalisation, anti-neoliberalism social movement, fighting for control over their own resources, mainly consists of indigenous people, although they also have support in urban areas and international networks.
Whilst the exhibition might provoke a heightened consciousness of such political struggles in Mexican society, its brave attempt to form a cohesive timeline through the art of the late 60s to mid 90s, encounters problems. Although beginning in a coherent manner, it somewhat loses its thread along the way, since the works have so many varied lines of thought and influence. This should not take away from the fact that the majority of the artworks are incredibly rich and enjoyable in their own right however, even if they display a little too much discrepancy.
‘La Era de la Discrepancia’ runs until 11th August at Malba, 3415 Av. Figueroa Alcorta. Open Thursdays to Mondays from midday to 8pm, Wednesdays until 9pm. Tuesdays closed. Entrance $15. www.malba.org.ar