Arts of Resistance: Politics and the Past in Latin America

Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Vancouver, BC

By Michael Turner
While the Vietnam War is among the defining moments of the North American baby boom generation, conflicts in Central and South America have remained a media constant for those born after 1945. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 is one such touchstone, the Chilean coup d’état of 1973 is another, the 1998 election of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez another, and so on. In this timely exhibition, guest curator Laura Osorio Sunnucks has assem-bled works that chronicle how injustice in Latin America is both registered and resisted through art.
Structured in five sections, the exhibition opens with a juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional forms: a colourful graffiti-inspired title wall and a display of Mayan textiles. As the exhibition proceeds, its energies compress. Its second section focuseson present-day political corruption and state intervention in Indigenous affairs, as ex-pressed in a call-to-arms print work in defiance of a Mexican government’s genetic modifi cation of Oaxacan corn.
But not all is tension and strife. Later sections highlight the role carnivals play in providing a site not only for celebration, but also for communication and exchange. Sometimes this communication is direct and geared at mobilizing resistance, other times it is allegorical, a place for connections to be made within the individual – again through art. The exhibition concludes with a Kené mural from the Shipibo people of Peru. Although Kené can appear as abstraction to some, it is closer to traditional nar-rative than it is to lyric poetry, functioning as a therapeutic device for those who know how to read it.

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