By ALEXANDRA ODUBER, June 2019
Between the months of February and May of this year, Panama’s Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC Panamá) with the support of Panama’s National Institute of Culture (INAC), created a mobile exhibition that traveled across the country, visiting all major cities in the Panamanian countryside. “El Contenedor MAC” consisted of two shipping containers that were repurposed into two different sections of the exhibition. One was a workshop space with didactic materials about the history of contemporary art and some of its most relevant themes, while the other served as an exhibition space for seven pieces from MAC’s permanent collection. The purpose of this was to bring contemporary art to those who unfortunately are not able to benefit from these activities as frequently as some and to truly reinforce MAC's role in our society as a place for community building.
El Contenedor MAC’s tour started in David, Chiriquí (March 19th-30th). Following this first stop, the containers continued to move closer to the country’s capital, stopping at Santiago, Veraguas (April 2nd-13th), followed by a stop in Chitré, Herrera (April 16th-May 1st), and lastly La Chorrera, Panama Oeste (May 13th-25th). El Contenedor MAC was free and open to everyone from Tuesday to Sunday from 9AM to 7PM, with an extended schedule on Thursday to continue the #JuevesDeMac, where the museum offers cultural activities, such dialog sessions, open mic nights, art workshops, and exclusive documentaries and short films showings. All which were also free to the residents and visitors of the hosting cities.
MAC’s permanent collection consists of around 700 art pieces of more than 100 years of Panamanian and Latin American art. The collection includes photographs, sculptures, videos, installation pieces, paintings, and screenprints created between 1913-2018, including works from the 20th century -- one of the most pivotal centuries in Latinamerican history and artistic expression. For El Contenedor MAC’s temporary exhibition, only 5 of these 700 pieces were carefully selected. Among the works were those of acclaimed national and regional artists such as Brooke Alfaro, Sandra Eleta, Mónica Mayer, Julio Zachrisson, and Iraida Icaza. Although not featured inside one of the containers, Francisco “Cisco” Merel is the Panamanian artist responsible for the greatest piece in El Contenedor MAC, the containers themselves. Merel's series, Portales, is seen on both of the 20ft long containers that have traveled the country. MAC stated that Merel selected this name to reflect how each container is a window that allows the viewer, through education and art, to be transported to a different dimension.
According to MAC, these are artists whose artworks have led the conversation towards themes that are relevant to critically analyzing local idiosyncrasies. By touching on cultural topics and behaviors as racial and gender equality, sociopolitical reflection, environmental awareness, freedom of speech, tolerance and increase acceptance towards diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, etc… These artists are using their work to establish a conversation surrounding many of the contemporary issues that are imperative for the Panamanian public to think about.
In Panama, one of the countries with the worst income distributions in Latin America, many institutions have tailored their recent actions to fight this and shed a light to the issue. With this initiative, MAC, Panama’s only art museum, is looking to bring artworks by acclaimed artists to those who might have otherwise never been exposed to them. By bringing contemporary art to a wider public from less developed and more heavily populated areas than the country’s capital, the museum is taking action against the country’s classicism and polarization of cultural resources. All of which results in the active promotion of inclusion, education, tolerance, and community engagement.
In other words, El Contenedor MAC provided different communities a space where they could not only engage visually with the art, but also reflect on the themes related to the exhibition. Through educational and hands-on initiatives, El Contenedor MAC was able to provide equal access to everyone and adapt its cultural contributions and programs to match Panama’s diverse public. It successfully created an innovative space for communities to unify and come together in order to engage in conversations about the work of local artists and relevant topics surrounding their art.
Serving as a model for other contemporary art museums, MAC Panamá is now continuing to look for more ways to increase community engagement and diversify the range of inclusion. WM
Alexandra Oduber is an undergraduate student at Fordham University interested in contemporary art and its intersection with culture, technology, and digital trends. Alexandra splits her time between New York City and Panama City.view all articles from this author