Accepted Paper:

Latin American Art: Between Contemporary Art and Anthropology  


Camila Maroja (Colgate University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines artworks presented at the last Venice Biennial in order to analyze how Latin American artists have employed art history's and anthropology's theories as an insertion strategy to be included in the mainstream contemporary art world.

Paper long abstract:

The 2017 Venice Biennale showcased ritual forms of art. According to its curator, Christiane Macel, the Biennale would highlight artists "who are dealing with anthropological approaches." She did so, in part, by including Chilean artist Juan Downey's video sculpture "The Circle of Fires Vive" (1979) in the opening space of the Biennale itself. By inviting the Yanomami to make and watch videos of themselves, Downey inverted anthropology's conventional roles of observer and observed; by setting the monitors in a circle that reenacted a "shabono" or a gathering place, the artist created a hybrid artwork that was simultaneously viewed as contemporary art and ethnography.

Macel continued to openly entangle art and anthropology in the section dubbed "Pavilion of Shamans." The space opened with Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto's "A Sacred Place" (2017). Despite being inspired by the Huni Kuin Indians site of a sacred ayahuasca ceremony, the installation nevertheless could be directly inserted in the Western artistic tradition of "relational aesthetics," a term coined by Nicolas Bourriaud in 1998.

This presentation examines how artists such as Downey and Neto have adapted contemporaneous art historical debates and appropriated indigenous matter. It argues that by exploring Latin America's interstitial position between West and non-West, the productions of such artists can be included in mainstream "contemporary art" institutions while remaining distinctly local.

Panel P069
Confluences of Art History and Anthropology