Until November 1 of 2020, the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende will take part in the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, one of the most significant artistic events in the world. Overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic, a series of works traveled to Germany to represent the history of the museum as an institution based on solidarity and resistance.
Twenty patrimonial works from the collection of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, mostly created by female artists during the 1970s, made their way to Germany from Santiago de Chile to be part of the 11. Berlin Biennale für zeitgenössische Kunst (11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art) an artistic event that, in its eleventh version, has a distinct South American and feminine accent.
Unlike other years, this version has been conceived as a process of four sequential experiences, which have been developing since September 2019 under the curatorship of María Berríos (Chile), Renata Cervetto (Argentina), Lisette Lagnado (Brazil) and Agustín Pérez Rubio (Spain). This intergenerational team has aimed at building sustainable relationships with artists, projects and the city of Berlin, developing exhibitions, performances, residencies, conferences, presentations and workshops in four Berlin institutions.
Although other Chilean and Mapuche artists will be present in the event (along with over 70 artists from different parts of the world,), the MSSA is the only Chilean institution invited as such. The Museum was already part of the initial «experience,», entitled exp.1 The Bones of the World between September and November of 2019, and is now part of the epilogue opened on September 5 at Gropius Bau, the largest of the four exhibition venues.
For the curatorial team, inviting the museum not only allows them to showcase certain works for the exhibition: they can also pull from the past the story of «an artistic institution whose revolutionary proposal, still very much alive, has a lot to teach in a context where how we structure museums is being criticized for being based on situations that the MSSA raised as fundamental questions, whose problematization has been developing critically since then”, they say.
«The participation of the MSSA in the 11th Berlin Biennale is a recognition to the MSSA and their unique museological model, conceived outside the hegemonic canons and based on the utopia of forming a museum through donations from artists socially committed to the Chilean People. Thanks to collaborative work through national and international networks, this event highlights our history through works from the Museum’s collection”, says Claudia Zaldívar, director of the MSSA.
The first participation of the MSSA in the 11BB was between September and November of 2019, in the exp. 1: The Bones of the World, where the audience was invited to see more than 25 artistic proposals in various formats under the concept of a «house opening». The curatorship was in tune with the space where it was held, the ExRotaprint, a place with community commitment in the migrant neighborhood of Wedding. On that occasion, the museum was represented through Luis Poirot’s photograph «The People Have Art with Allende», exhibited through a poster included in the book «To the artists of the world… Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Mexico / Chile 1971-1977” (Editorial RM/MUAC), alluding to the gestation of the museum.
This experience, which the curators have described as «an exercise of mutual exposure» aimed to invite the public to listen «the stories that sustain us and that we share», alluding to the processes and experiences of search and exchange. The title of this curatorship comes from a travel diary written by the Brazilian artist Flávio de Carvalho (1899-1973,) Os ossos do mundo, during his stay in Europe in the mid-1930s. According to the curators, «it is a recognition of the life that happens against, despite and in the midst of the general states of undoing that surround us», as they told Berlin Art Link magazine.
The MSSA’s second participation is taking place in the epilogue, entitled The Crack Begins Within, which seeks to spark different perspectives and modes of articulating solidarity, vulnerability and resistance. Following the wish of the organizers, the works and experiences should rise to «materialize the complicated beauty of life amidst the turbulent times we inhabit».
The phrase that gives rise to the title are the words of the Egyptian poet Iman Mersal who, in the curators’ interpretation, «explores the many ghosts of motherhood, tearing apart its contemporary morals,», where women refuse to become the sacrificed. By adopting it for the Biennial, the phrase becomes a gesture of denunciation of «the fallacy of claiming for oneself the destruction of the old and the birthing of the new, refloated so many times by the white fathers as a new scaffolding to secure the continuity of their decaying structures. This is the violence that surrounds us, and that we are a part of», state the curatorial team.
It is for this epilogue that twenty works from the MSSA traveled in mid-August, circumventing pandemics and quarantines, between Santiago and Berlin.
Patrimonial and emblematic works from the MSSA traveled to Germany: the large-sized textile Multitud III that the artist Gracia Barrios (Chile, 1927-2020) sewed in 1972 for the Unctad III building and that was restored especially for this occasion, thanks to the support of the Chilean Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage. In addition, a set of 10 Chilean women’s arpilleras were sent, which were made in workshops to support victims of the dictatorship in Chile. These images narrate the conflicts and solidarity struggles that took place during those years in Chile. It is the first time this large textile, which spent nearly 40 years missing, leaves the country on loan; on the other hand, the arpilleras traveled clandestinely during the dictatorship to be exhibited and/or sold in various countries of the world.
The exhibition also features engravings by María Helena Vieira Da Silva (Portugal, 1908 – France, 1992), María Teresa Toral (Spain, 1911 – 1994), Clemencia Lucena (Colombia, 1945 – 1983), Teresa Gazitúa (Chile, 1941), Beatriz González (Colombia, 1938), Taller 4 Rojo [Diego Arango (Colombia, 1942 – 2017), Nirma Zárate (Colombia, 1936 – 1999)]; a drawing-collage by Teresa Montiel (Chile, 1942); and paintings by Claude Lazar (Egypt, 1947) and José Gamarra (Uruguay, 1934). With different themes, these works, produced mostly by women of Latin American origin, illustrate the power of united wills, the sense of community and different ways of resisting and transforming contexts of violence.
In the Biennale’s epilogue, the MSSA will take center stage in the Gropius Bau venue, where the work of Gracia Barrios will be «the grand finale» for the tour. One of the curators, María Berríos, commented in a letter addressed to the artist’s daughter that «Gracia’s piece is, in some way, the grand finale of this exhibition space, built on the notion of the anti-museum and greatly inspired in the very trajectory of the Museo de la Solidaridad.»
Gropius Bau is a space that was used regularly for archaeological and ethnographic exhibitions. Today, it is one of the most important exhibition centers in Europe. As one of the venues of the Biennale and hosting works from outside Europe, it questions the hegemonic ways of talking about history from a Western perspective. From here, a discourse arises recognizing that there is no modernity without coloniality, and proposes other ways of making a museum.
«Can a museum be a weapon?», wonders María Berríos in one of her essays exploring the notion of the anti-museum and reflects on the founding of this Museum as an act of politics of solidarity with the struggle of the Chilean people.
The difficulties of the pandemic
More than forty years after they were donated to the Museum the stories of social commitment of these works take on new meanings. Their trip to Europe, prepared and executed in the context of this pandemic, renewed this commitment, embodied in the workers of the museum and especially in the Collection Department.
In addition to the difficulties inherent in the transfer of patrimonial and large-scale works -in terms of preventive conservation-, the quarantine of the city of Santiago had to be overcome, with all its uncertainty. The efforts to carry out the restorations and framing that the works required to travel on loan had to conquer these obstacles and required a permit issued by the Chilean Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, which recognized the public relevance of complying with the invitation of the Berlin Biennale.
«The history of the museum cannot be conceived without its collection and its archive. Traveling during times of hardship is in our DNA as a museum,» highlights Claudia Zaldívar.
This history had already begun to be reviewed by international exhibitions such as Past Disquiet (2018) by Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti at MACBA in Barcelona, HKW in Berlin and Sursock Museum in Beirut; Southern Constellations: The Poetics of the Non-Aligned (2019) by Bojana Piškur at Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana; and Solidarity Spores (2020) at the Asia Culture Center (ACC) in Gwangju, South Korea.
Meanwhile in Chile, the MSSA remains closed to visitors, but is in permanent contact with the community through its website and social networks, as it prepares to open the exhibition Red that invites, through over 100 works from the Collection, to reflect on the renewing force of that color.
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