Whitehot Magazine

The Real Integration: Art from the Global South at Mexico City’s ZONAMACO 2024

Ariamna Contino & Alex Hernández-Dueñas, Holding the Breeze, Installation, NUNU Fine Art, ZONAMACO 2024, Image courtesy of the gallery


By KAREN MOE February 29, 2024

I didn’t have to go far to find my story about Mexico City’s ZONA MACO this year. Latin America’s largest international art fair, ZONAMACO is organized into sections of North, South, East and West. I started in the south, ZONAMACO SUR, and I stepped into an epicentre of art that evoked empathy, works that narrate what we really are and what we can be.

This year, Luiza Teixeira de Freitas (Río de Janeiro, 1984) curated ZONAMACOSUR. She challenged galleries to exhibit works of empathy, community, and integration. Tellingly, the 23 galleries that comprised Freitas’ curatorial project exhibited the work of artists from the Global South, those who live in the lands that are exploited in order to feed the insatiable greed of the North. It should go without saying that the South is the most in need of empathy; however, at the same time, those who reside there are most able to communicate the necessity for empathy and community, a way of being that is in absolute contrast to the individualism of the self-interest-wielding north that is crucial for the health of not only the planet, but for all of us. As demonstrated by the artists featured in ZONAMACOSUR, the most productive criticisms and acts of resistance come from those who are intimately acquainted with neglected spaces and the wisdom that is found there.

NUNU Fine Art featured the work of Cuban social practice artists Ariamna Contino and Alex Hernández-Dueñas with their installation Holding the Breeze. The project originated with air quality and was generated through the site-specific installation of air sampling stations that had been placed in Havana, Miami, New York City, and Mexico City. With the data collected, Contino and Hernández-Dueñas created stylized maps and grids pin-pointing the hot spots of air quality deterioration. On the surface, these artworks can be seen as acts of objective documentation; however, built with the intricate layering of Contino’s hand-cut cardboard, a depth is achieved that serves to flesh out objectification while narrating the painstaking care the artists took when creating this information for us.

Barely discernable upon first entering the exhibition space, two 49 1/2-inch square white artworks beckoned, their emptiness from a distance activating the neglect of the subject matter of the work. As one approached, we beheld the forest, phantasmic, intricate layers of hand-cut paper, the delineation of the images discernable only through Contino’s building of depth. Her three-dimensionalized artworks are miraculous in their intricacy and detail as they etch back into the world what needs to be noticed, empathized with, and re-integrated into the human community. “Natural Filters White Eucalyptus” and “Pino Carrasco” are as lace, both elegant and urgent, the depths the artist has built mesmerize as they call to us. Despite the brutal reality the installation represents, the title is telling in that it is ‘holding’ the ‘breeze’—softness is evoked in this act of awareness, empathy and possibility. 

Cisco Merel, Cantina la Radio, 164 x 130 cm, mud, synthetic polymer and automotive paint, 2023, Image courtesy of the gallery

At Galeria Alfredo Ginicchio, Cisco Merel’s “Cantina la Radio” stunned with its collision of colour and dirt. Reminiscent of the primary hues and cubed abstraction of Piet Mondrian, Merel’s abstracted incisions that separate surfaces of synthetic polymer and automotive paint and crumbling soil express the normalized brutality of the urban disparity in the Global South. There is no overlap, no integration, no empathy; economic polarization butts up against each other in the artworks along with in the non-communities of third-world cities where shanties are shoved up against concrete walls topped by spirals of barbed wire protecting the opulence that lies behind. However, unlike Mondrian’s more consistent linearity, Merel’s abstractions are more puzzle than grid. His cubes do not obey the uniformity and flow of the line. Indeed, despite the minimalism, there is an unruliness as the piece juts out over its lack of frame and documents third-world city planning as a ramshackle of opportunism. “Cantina la Radio” is a work of random complexity where the inherent lack of empathy and community divides an increasingly disparate world. 

If Merel’s abstraction bespeaks estrangement in Galeria Alfredo Ginicchio’s exhibit this year, the two works by Bárbara Cartier offer re-connection. As feminist revolutionary writer Rebecca Solinit wrote in 2016: “What we dream of is already present in the world” and, like with forests, so are Cartier’s mixed media paintings of motherhood. The palette is minimal, the artist’s hand is loose, energized by the moment of mark-making. “Metamorfosis” is joy. All is open. The abstracted female form is a revived goddess, a metamorphosis into what is already present. 

Ariamna Contino, Natural Filters, Pino Carrasco, hand-cut paper, strathmore 300 grm cold press acid free, 125 x 125 cm, 20, image courtesy of the gallery

In “Amamantando(s)” (Breast Feeding), two amorphous bodies joyfully fuse and, like with so much art, if it weren’t for the title, I would have had no idea that breastfeeding is the subject matter. And it doesn’t matter why the bodies are connected; it only matters that they are. Drawn with two lines in inexact overlap, the artist has outlined the original blue with red. Like when using a red pen, this duplication emphasizes the necessity of being bodies together, always in flux, and the need to get out of our heads, eradicate the still-prioritization of the Cartesian mind, and return to the flesh. As with Ariamna Contino’s forests, Cartier’s paintings vitalize the fact that Solinit’s revolutionary dreams already exist. The flow and play of the paintings appear effortless and, as the energy of the artist enlivens her art, we feel the ease with which we can be brought back to our interconnected nature. 

Community is literal in the work of Ghanese artist Serge Attukwei. Featured by Copenhagen’s Brigade Gallery, Attukwei hails from a small fishing village near Accra. His two artworks “Patient Needs” and “Interacting with Residents” are composed of pieces of plastic from cooking oil containers that the locals use to store drinking water or fuel when they are empty. The villagers help the artist source the materials, cut the plastic and weave the pieces together with wire. Attukwei has become the biggest employer in the community providing jobs through his art practice.

Serge Attukwei Clottey, Patient Needs, Plastic, wire, and oil paint, 147 x 130 cm, 2018. Image courtesy of the gallery

The artist doesn’t clean the pieces of plastic and the dirt integrates the lives of the villagers into the art material along with raising awareness about the toxicity of storing drinking water in plastic. Gallery Director Kristoffer Saxild told me how one of the things he loves about this work is the analogy of the processes of fishing, community, and art creation: “When fishing, the nets are cast from the shore and then everybody helps pull them in and everyone who touches the net when it reaches shore gets some fish.” The artworks composed of woven plastic are made with the same communal care as the fishing nets that feed the villagers. In his work, Attukwei creates art as community. The people of the fishing village are the art as the pieces of plastic they weave together tell the story of the infiltration of toxicity into their communities along with, perhaps most importantly, the survival of a traditional way of being as a people who exist together. Attukwei’s work is hope embodied. Defiant. Real. Regardless. 

Metaphysics, with its branches of ontology (the nature of being) and epistemology (how we learn our nature of being), was brought down to earth at São Paulos Galeria Lume. Formerly a bookmaker, Brazilian artist Lucas Dupin used discarded encyclopedias to create his series, Bibliomorphic. The artist cut up the pages into squares to create tiny books that he then bound onto strips of leather as coils. These diminutized sources of knowledge wrap around one another as intestinal forms, their loops reminiscent of the rings of a tree, fusing the natural world with the Western epistemological tradition of containing and fixing knowledge. With the Internet and the onslaught of AI, we are losing these books, and now, through such applications as Chat GPT, an increasing number of us are no longer writing our own thoughts, expressing our own lives and, as algorythms become increasingly intelligent, we are losing touch with and control over our nature of being. 

Lucas Dupin, Library to come #25, Watercolor, gunpowder and gliding on fragments of books, 60 x 70 x 5 cm, 2023. Image courtesy of the gallery.

However, as AI represses and erases the knowledge contained in books, so too did the written word repress and erase the oral history of Indigenous peoples. Associate Gallery Director Paulo Kassab, Jr. explained how, especially in the aftermath of the genocide waged against the Indigenous peoples of Brazil during the government of Jair Bolsonaro, Dupin is interested in the knowledge of oral history. In A Library to Come, the artist has re-built books with their fragments, some returning to wood. Gunpowder has been used to sully and scorch the once authoritative volumes. Residue of bullet holes and slashes have been inflicted upon them, the same way Western culture continues to wipe out Indigenous peoples along with their knowledge.

At the same time, these scorched and gunshot books are being encroached upon by hallucinogenic plants used by Indigenous shamans to express their oral histories. And yet, through his circuitous play, the artist has also painted this encroachment as an embrace. Choosing non-intrusive watercolour, he has maintained the edges of the books so that they are still present even as their dominance is being delegitimized. As Rebecca Solnit comments: “full engagement requires the ability to see both.” There are no separations between oppositions, the oppressor and the oppressed. In Lupin’s work, full engagement comes from the ability to see the cycle of creation and erasure of knowledge in order to revive the neglected spaces that will always inform the present. 

In ZONAMACOSUR 2024, curator Luiza Teixeira de Freitas’ project to challenge galleries to exhibit works of empathy, community and integration didn’t appear to be much of a challenge after all. The wisdom available in the artwork communicates what has always been and is still here, accessible if we are willing to look and learn. And what do these artworks—as a whole—proclaim as the ultimate integration? As an inversion of the doctrine of developed/developing where it is the designated third world that is instructed to integrate into the wisdom of the self-proclaimed first, these artists of the Global South show us how it is, paradoxically, the North that can not only learn from, but also integrate into theirs. This is the real challenge.  WM


Karen Moe

Karen Moe is an art critic, visual and performance artist, author and feminist activist. Her work focuses on systemic violence in patriarchy: be it gender, race, the environment or speciesism. Her art criticism has been published internationally in magazines, anthologies and artist catalogues in English and Spanish and she has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico. She is the founder of the Vigilance Fierce Feminisms Magazine and the blog The Logical Feminist. She is the author of  Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor  2022. Karen lives in Mexico City and British Columbia, Canada.




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