Claudia Coca: The Landscapes of Desire and Oblivion
Ethan Cohen Gallery, New York
September 9 through October 11, 2021
By LARA PAN, September 2021
Recently my attention has been caught by an exhibition of Claudia Coca’s at the Ethan Cohen Gallery. There is a strong relationship between nature, people, and the human condition, which few artists have the ability to articulate. In Claudia Coca’s deeply political work we encounter a challenge to the colonial epistemology that is still prevalent in our societal structures, and to the unreflected-upon categories that we retain on a fundamental level, which occupy even the most intimate spaces of our imaginations, bodies, and conceptions of ourselves and others.
In her attempt to shed light on indigenous ways of being and knowing, Coca critically addresses an Enlightenment mode of understanding and interfacing with the Other, where the latter is understood primarily as a difference that cannot be easily integrated to the conceptual landscape of Occidental thought, and has therefore to be governed. Moreover, in Coca’s work we encounter not a liberal appeal for plurality, but more importantly, a cosmological critique and demand for a new kind of framework, through which to understand the human and different ways of life in general. In this way, her artistic practice sits firmly within the ontological movement of anthropology, where thinkers like Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro have argued that it’s not so much about people interpreting the same things differently, but about seeing different things altogether.
Coca’s practice is therefore radical in a new way. It channels not only a post-colonial critique that highlights historical injustices, but a developed understanding of the (fully provincial) Occidental notions of the epistemological and ontological realms, and is therefore fully and rigorously philosophical.
LARA PAN: It seems that you are, in a manner of speaking, writing a new language in your artwork, one that could help improve our understanding of the damages that colonialism has caused in the past centuries.
CLAUDIA COCA: Indeed, we are not involved with the traces that colonialism has left. For many it is alien or anecdotal. That is why I think it is important to make colonial history visible and how it affected and affects our peoples and our way to see the world and act in it.
LP: Colonized women appear to be a central subject in your work. Can you tell me more about your vision of women in the past in the Americas, and the importance of women’s empowerment today in all the countries of Latin America?
CC: When I started to work, at the end of 1990’s, with the concepts of race and gender, my art pieces answered to the political context of those years. While I was getting more mature on the concepts and deepen my research, I found in my inquiry the yarn of the skein; and I found many answers in our colonial history. I firmly believe that colonial domain gets stronger in its gender and race exclusion.
LP: You are originally from Lima, which has a very rich literary scene. After seeing your exhibition at the Ethan Cohen Gallery, I keep thinking that Latin literature must have an important impact on your work. Tell me more to about your relationship to literature.
CC: I’m continuously searching for knowledge from many fields. I’m very interested in philosophical, sociological and anthropological essays; I also have a special interest for indigenous, and feminine, poetry. Jose Maria Arguedas, an indigenist fiction writer, compiled and translated anonymous Quichua poetry. I also read Arguedas’ poetry. In the feminine and feminist side are poets like Gloria Mendoza Borda, from Puno; Esther Castaneda; Blanca Varela; and, Victoria Guerrero, the most contemporary of them all.
I started working many years ago with Guaman Poma’s texts, a 16th century indigenous writer. I read and quoted him many times. I found in his texts answers of how we are acting today; how we are so dominated with colonialism and, at the same time, how we want to break free of it, how do we live in a constant delirium.
LP: You explore how the structures of power can be subtle, insidious, and imperceptible, ranging from historic colonization dynamics to their legacies. How do you see the contemporary mode of colonisation as it relates to technology?
CC: For us Latin-Americans, and in general, for the colonized countries, we have interiorized the idea that science and knowledge come from the western world. Thus, knowledge that comes from other latitudes will always be questioned and belittled.
LP: You’ve exhibited work in most of the countries of Latin America. Is your perception of the public there different than in NYC or Europe?
CC: This is my first solo show in New York. Right now there are so many artists in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are saying things with their own voice, moving away from an eurocentrist point of view, that I’m sure my work and theirs will impact in new publics in an unpredictable way.
LP: I noticed that you seem oftentimes to take nature as a source of inspiration, and to translate some of the laws of nature into schemas that could be applied to human existence, like in the Carabela video. Does this video bear any significant relationship to our global situation with the Covid-19 pandemic?
CC: A respectful coexistence with nature is vital to produce changes. Today, that coexistence doesn’t exist. We can see the results of this clash every day; and this is evident with the surge of COVID-19.
I think that knowledge is circular; that we cannot change the state of certain things. WM
Lara Pan is an independent curator,writer and researcher based in New York. Her research focuses on the intersection between art, science, technology and paranormal phenomena.view all articles from this author