Interview with Chantal Fabres, Voces: Latin American Photography, Michael Hoppen

Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, addresses the wealth of individual expression in Latin American photography with Voces: Latin American Photography 1980-2015. The featured artists challenge the popular acceptance of what has been codified as photography, proposing a search for new meanings informed by their cultural identity. We interview curator Chantal Fabres.

A: Curator and critic Gerardo Mosquera reflected that Latin American art has ceased to be ‘of’, and instead become art ‘from’ Latin America.  Did this realisation spark inspiration for curating Voces?
CF: Yes absolutely. The participating artists are not here to ‘represent’ their countries in a stereotypical way in order to adhere to a European understanding of art from Latin America. Perhaps unconsciously, when we talk about ‘Latin America’ there is this idea of polarisation between ‘there’ and ‘here’, between ‘they’ and ‘we’, which is not only influenced by the distance that separates us, but also by the vision we have of  ‘Latin America’, which is largely influenced by the media. The term ‘Latin America’ is reductionist and the result of such a polarisation tends to oversimplify the important and complex internal distinctions of class and race, religion and culture, social, economic and political, that exist in each country.

A: When putting together Voces, was it vital that the selection was as varied as possible to showcase the diverse identity of Latin America?
CF: Voces is not intended to be a survey, which by definition implies a comprehensive diversity.  The seven participating artists come from four different countries in Latin America (Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico). To say they come from ‘Latin America’ is an over-simplification and a homogenisation because it inevitably refers to the continent as one place, one reality. In this context, Art Historian and Curator Guy Brett said that, “no European artists are asked that their work give proof of their ‘European identity’, but this is always the first thing expected of a Latin American.” Taking this into account, the genesis of this exhibition has been to listen to the voices and artistic journeys of each artist. It is through their individual trajectories that we were able to address a broader panorama of creative expressions, transitions and mutations in Latin American photography during the period 1980-2015.

A: Do you feel that the medium of photography is the best way to convey the individuality of each artist, and Latin America’s history and culture, being a form of precise documentation?
CF: Michael Hoppen is a gallery that deals in the photographic medium. The idea for the show happened because we were interested in Latin American artists that used the photographic medium, during the decades outlined, who explored new aesthetic and conceptual grounds. Photography in Latin America, as Nathalie Goffard pointed out in the exhibition catalogue, has been defined by a multiplicity of factors –historical and geographical, economic, social and political – which became the coordinates along which to analyse, as well as interpret the role of photography in documenting a Latin American reality. However, in the 90s Latin American photography underwent a mutation that distanced it from its purely documentary role and led it to morph with new techniques of representations, such as collages, installations, video works, digital manipulations, painting, sculpture, the use of archives, etc. It is during that time that artists in the plastic arts embraced photography in their practices to bypass a rigid and often politicised institutional discourse and explore new searches for individual expressions, often taking their culture and heritage as sources of inspiration.

A: Can you talk about how viewers should approach and understand the unique voices in the exhibition, perhaps abandoning their preconceptions before arriving?
CF: We hope that viewers will approach this exhibition not from a European standpoint. Instead, we hope that people will observe and assess the show by concentrating on the artists and their practice, gaining a broader understanding of art from Latin America.

Voces: Latin American Photography 1980-2015, 10 October 2015 – 9 January 2016, Michael Hoppen Gallery, 3 Jubilee Place, London SW3 3TD.

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1. Rosângela Rennó, Apagamento #4, 2004 – 2005, © Rosângela Rennó. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery.