Back in June I found myself wandering the halls of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Although the riches there are endless, one exhibition, now closed, really enraptured me. "Permission to be Global/Prácticas Globales" showed a collection of Modern Latin American artists grouped together into four thematic categories. Latin American art is nothing unusual around Houston and Texas, but, naively, I was surprised to learn that this was the first exhibition at the MFA in Boston. Even my mother, mildly interested in art, European mostly, was entertained and thrilled by some of the works. I swear she spent more time in those galleries than anywhere else in the museum. I was certainly not complaining. One of the artists I was introduced to was Oscar Munoz, from Colombia. The clip below is from a longer black and white video piece entitled Sedimentaciones (Sedimentations), from 2011. Projected onto three tables, the video loops a simple act.
Oscar Munoz, Sedimentaciones
What we presume to be looking at is a darkroom, laid out with identification pictures in various states of development and a sink on either side. A disembodied arm reaches in from off camera, to lift a photo into or out of the fix solution. These arms move the photos to the sink where they either reveal a portrait or erase it, born or washed away by the liquid. That the video is projected onto a physical table, exactly like the one holding the photos, is very effective. It's almost as if you're complicit somehow in this terrible, gentle act of erasing identities.
I might not have understood what the artist was referring to if I hadn't encountered two things over my Houston tenure. First was a book given to me by a new friend, Great House by Nicole Krauss (2010) and second, the Antonio Berni show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2014). Although I only read some of Great House, it is so hypnotic and complex that I had to reread it several times, it was enough to plant a new piece of historical information. One of the first characters, a poet from Chile, is thought to have been kidnapped and made to "disappear." I didn't know if this was part of the novel or part of history really, until I saw the Berni show. An Argentinean artist, also working in the 20th century, makes visual references to social issues like these disappearances (desaparecidos) in his masterful works in many media. Truly one of my favorite artists.
Antonio Berni at the MFAH
In Chile and Argentina, and other countries, forced disappearances, when political dissidents are kidnapped and murdered without a trace, have claimed tens of thousands of lives. One nasty detail that I remember reading was that many of these people were pushed out of airplanes, while still alive.
Now Munoz's video makes total sense.
Although there may be connections to the political history of Colombia, where disappearances have happened much more recently, Munoz is also interested in concepts of memory, time, and optical illusions.
I'm so taken by this artist that I'm translating parts of his book, Documentos de la Amnesia, from Spanish to English. This process, however challenging, is truly rewarding in that the thoughts, his ideas, have burrowed much more deeply into my psyche.