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Latin American Art and its Multiplicity. A review of the exhibition Conscientia by Rafaela Mendes Ferreira

‘Conscientia: Latin American Consciousness’ takes over the entirety of the Lloyds Club, a Grade II listed building with artworks that range from the 18th century to contemporary production. Curators Lavínia Freitas and Alicia Bastos embraced the challenge of displaying pieces within a wide time-frame in an accordingly emblematic building, with a selection that is underpinned by three main realms: spiritual, rational and emotional. These conceptual strands occupy the three floors of the Georgian townhouse that, until the end of the 18th century, was the French ambassador’s residence.

Oscar Santillan

The journey through the proposed spheres of conscience begins on the ground floor, where we enter the spiritual level. There, ‘The Annunciation’, an 18th century religious baroque painting faces ‘Finale’, a video performance from 2012 by Oscar Santillan, where he demanded that a psychic revealed the death of a curator. Through this meaningful opposition, an understanding of the vast spiritual diversity that operates within the Latin American imaginary is possible. Other highlights are Yara Tupynambá, Hen Colleman and Emilia Sunyer, all female artists that depict a high level of spirituality through feminine poetics.

On the stairway, connecting spirituality and rationality Santiago Montoya’s paintings depict how human belief may lead to change, in the series ‘Faces of the Revolution’.

Carlos Cruz-Diez

The rational aspect may be seen as tackled in two strands, both very representative of Latin American contemporary art. Cruz-Diez, one of the most important kinetic artists, and who has been influencing artistic generations since the 1960’s, can be seen with his ‘Days of the Week’ series beside younger artists like Cipriano Martinez, Ricardo Rendón and Maria de Lima. On the other hand, a more political approach can be seen in the works of Rivane Neueschwander, Alberto Lamback and Jakeline Londono. Another essential aspect of Latin American art figures in this triad, where ecology, social equality and immigration are reflected upon.

Finally, on the last floor, the emotional artworks tackle multiple possibilities embedded in the exploration of dreams, relationships, patterns or portraiture. Artists as Raquel Schembri and Pato Bosich reach pictorial refinement with expressive paintings, respectively framing the human figure in unique expressions and colours, or dreamlike landscapes. Beatriz Milhazes with her mandala shaped compositions also brings forward the colour explosion so characteristic of the tropics. In the touching video ‘Ao encontro de…’, Laura Belém enacts the relationships negotiations with traces it leaves behind.

Laura Belém

‘Conscientia’ embodies the multitude of concepts explored by Latin American artists throughout history, while grasping in a single exhibition key aspects of its art. Here, spirituality, rationality and the emotional serve as metaphors, or starting points, engaged by the curators in order to propose an understanding of how these artists work in the domain of fluidity, appropriation and history; but, above all, how Latin American culture art is essentially syncretic. In a remarkable display, that brings together the architectural strength of a typically English historical building, with the myriad of languages from Latin American countries, the richness of unforeseen cultural intermix becomes visible, becomes conscious.

Written by: Rafaela Mendes Ferreira

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