Strange fruit

Beatrice Colin looks at an

exhibition of Latin American Art

at the Talbot Rice Gallery.

Savage self-portraits by Freida Karlo, huge murals by her husband. Diego Riveira and fat exaggerated figures by Botero are virtually the only well-known works ofart in Europe by artists from Latin America. For until recently most of Latin American art was regarded as an essentially derivative fusion of styles and traditions. Now an exhibition of work from the whole continent aims to enlighten with a selection of paintings by relatively unknown artists from each


At first glance there is nothing to unify the work. It switches in style front Expressionist, Abstract and Muralism to Op Art. But there is a certain energy which emerges and gives the whole exhibition an edge. Ecudorian artist, Jamie Zapata’s work Shuya layers the figure of a girl painted in a technique reminiscent of Karlo with a backdrop of Munch-like faces, gagged and gasping. It shows a fusion of cultures, ideas and concerns, lifted from the traditions of European and indigenous American

Indian art.

After Cortes and his Spanish army invaded in the 16th century, others, including African slaves, Jewish merchants, Chinese, Japanese and other Europeans followed him and interbred with the native American Indians. This cultural melting pot is now regarded as

Shuya by Jamie Zapata

a strength rather than a weakness. ‘It is now beginning to be realised,’ writes Edward Lucie-Smith in his book, Latin American Art (Thames and Hudson £6.95) ‘that it is precisely this hybridisation which accounts for one of the strengths of Latin American art and which lies at the root of its vitality, originality and constant power to surprise.‘

And while govemments fall, coups are staged and dictatorships rule, the volatility of the continent has been uniquely reflected in visual art. Artists, rather

5‘ I

captures a sense of the presence of ancrent cultures in

than politicians, are seen as the embodiment of the national consciousness and therefore the link between art and social and political circumstance is much stronger than in Europe or North America. ‘Because political structures have failed at times to support a sense of national identity,‘ writes Lucie- Smith, ‘Latin American audiences have consistently turned to literature and the visual arts to discover the real truths about themselves, truths for which they would have searched in vain elsewhere.‘

Other elements have set Latin American art apart. European Modernism freed artists from the restraints of subject matter and Surrealism, Constructivism and Expressionism subsequently had an vast impact. Also, the large-scale indigenous mural tradition in Mexico brought art into the public arena and artists used the medium to convey national identity and political ideology.

But the work in this show combines these diverse influences with varying success. Once the eyes become accustomed to the brilliant colour which shimmers from the work on the gallery walls, Chilean artist, Gracia Banios' paintings stand out. Large abstracts resolve themselves into magnificent, yet emotive. figurative studies. In Cantalae 2 a wounded man sits on horseback against a scrape of deep blue sea. Paint is applied in slabs like molten chocolate on to unprimed canvas to create a work in which the subject is as transient as a shadow.

Elsewhere, Femandos Montes from Bolivia

his work Cuidad del Silencio and El Salvadorian artist, Fernando Llort merges abstract with folk tradition in his citrus-coloured etching, Mi Alma Maya.

The Latin American Art Show raises more questions than it lays down answers. Like most group shows, the work is patchy; when it is bad, it is fourth rate but when it is good, it has a resonance seldom seen in contemporary art.

The Latin ANS/10w is at the Talbot Rice Gallery until 5 Mar.

:— Smoke without fire

In the summer oi 1995, Aerial will transionn Edinburgh into a vast exhibition of the visual arts. Good. This artist-led project aims to redress the under-representation oi new British art at the cultural apex oi the city’s year. Even better. The exhibition will locus on the work oi young artists, oiten denied a iair showing in the public domain. Again, an admirable idea.

(In all counts, Aerial seems to be an exciting innovation. So why do I ieel slightly uneasy about this project?

This could have much to do with Smoking Iioow. John Ayscougli’s installation at the 369 Gallery is the ilrst oi ilve Aerial Interventions designed to broadcast the oblectives oi the main event.


to see why Ayscough’s collusion with IIothmans is that touch more startling than the long-standing association of drinks and tobacco companies with major arts events and institutions.

It you missed the opening smoke-in, this installation is obtuse, and serves to exclude, rather than engage the public. And this is where my apprehension about Aerial lies. It you use the city as your gallery, then you must recognise that the public are 1 owners, as well as viewers. The i exhibition you hang In their space ! whethercltysquareorcarpark-must' involve, interest and sthulate them. it I

it doesn't, then it Is iair to assume that the response will not be delicate. “m "m h' m "m Having undertdren extensive market IIegretiully, I missed the live situation the alienation that it creates. mi. up warm of Aerial l which opened the installation. I iear Smoking, I suppose, is a habit that 9... mg m u. this ' that It was one oi those occasions has attracted increasing levels oi mum" o. no“, u they can do when you really had to be there. The moral disdain. But, unlike other so "caesium, it... there Is much to record oi social Interaction that targets oi the ac. police, this Is surely mg [mg to i. m summers’ time. remains comprises iive cigarette due to gruesome evidence oi its (3.3m "cum. Sum.) inacliines suple by ltotiunans, the harmiulness, rather than the pressure exhibition sponsor. The intention is to oi correctness. Smoking Boom, the iirst oi iive make an ironic attack on the ialse And while the identity at corporate consecutive Aerial Interventions is at idealism oi political correctness and sponsors is often surprising, it is hard the 369 Gallery until 11 June. ;

The List 1 1—24 Farms/1229.; 4'9