BUENOS AIRES — In the fall of 2017, the exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960–1985 opened at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, to great acclaim. It then crossed the country to the Brooklyn Museum, and finally landed in August at São Paulo’s Pinacoteca museum, where the show just closed. The Pinacoteca was the only venue on the continent to show the powerful and poetic show, which clearly filled a lacuna in the history of art, creating space for women artists.
Andrea Giunta curated the show together with Cecilia Fajardo-Hill. Giunta, a researcher at academic institute CONICET in Argentina, author of the recently published book Feminismo y arte latinoamericano, and professor of art history at the University of Buenos Aires, was most recently appointed the curator of the 2020 Mercosur Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Curious as to how she would approach the biennial in Brazil, where the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was just elected, I met with Giunta between her travels in her kitchen in Buenos Aires. While preparing a chicken meal, she talked about feminism in the arts, the closing of Radical Women, and her plans to foster dialogue at the Mercosur Biennial.
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Silvia Rottenberg: Radical Women just closed in São Paulo. The show opened before the presidential elections in Brazil and ended thereafter. Did you notice a political shift in response to the show?
Andrea Giunta: The entire process of Radical Women was crossed by political circumstances in different ways. When we [Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and I] started in 2010, feminist or women shows were considered outdated. Irrelevant. We encountered opposition from colleagues, both men and women, but particularly men. We went along with the exhibition anyway, as we believed it to be important and urgent. But it was difficult at the beginning. With the support of the Getty and the Hammer Museum, it changed a bit. Having institutions behind you helps. The context changed dramatically, though, when the US chose their misogynist president and the feminist uprisings increased.
The aim was to show amazing, experimental artworks — surprise everyone, show art that we were forgetting. I don’t want to diminish the value of the works of art in the exhibition. I believe that the massive support for the exhibition was also and predominantly due to its quality, but undoubtedly, the exhibition turned into a triumph, opposing official discourse.
The amount of visitors also proved its success with 75,000 at the Hammer to 150,000 at the Pinacoteca.
SR: Given the show’s success at the Pinacoteca, why was it the only venue in Latin America?
AG: There was interest from other spaces, but MUAC in Mexico cancelled at the last moment. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Argentina wasn’t flexible with timing. After the success at the Hammer, everyone wanted it, but you can’t wait for it to be a success and then plan. There should be trust in the project from the start.
SR: Did response to the show shift before and after the presidential election in Brazil?
AG: Yes, there was a change after the election of Bolsonaro. The day after election day, the exhibition was completely full. It had turned into a place for people to be together. A place to identify with the other. From that day on, it was full every day. Incredible, really.
The exhibition is not provocative per se. There are some confronting works, but they are political in a poetic way. This also has to do with the time frame: 1960 to 1985, which was an era of military dictatorships in Latin America. Issues needed to be addressed in an elusive way, through details and symbols, evading censorship, but recognized by a community of understanding.
SR: No anti-feminist voices opposing Radical Women?
AG: No. Nothing like that. We saw a great diversity of people going to the exhibition, who treated the works with the utmost respect.
SR: So, Bolsonaro supporters likely didn’t go?
AG: I think we are in a time where we should stop thinking in classifications, and think about what is happening. Because, apparently something went wrong, if we feel so far away from half of the population in the country. That is something I want to work on in the biennial now.
SR: Will you continue being nonconfrontational?
AG: I have to. I will work as hard as I can to create a similar climate at the Biennial and turn it into a place of knowledge and respect, providing dialogue and creating community. The dialogue has been completely interrupted. Society is divided. People don’t talk to each other anymore. I think it is my responsibility to create a beautiful biennial, which is strong, and can endure the time of the exhibit. If it would be censored on the first day, what would be the sense of making a biennial? We already know they censor. There is no need to prove that.
SR: But you will make a clear political point.
AG: Of course. The title of the exhibition is not decided yet, but the topic is feminisms, emancipations, and art. This is and will remain the topic. To deal with these themes and surpass censorship will be an achievement in itself.
Another thing I noticed on my last trip to post-election Brazil was that social hate has been liberated. It’s not just the government. It’s the people. I think it is very important to create or recreate social tissue, connection, between people in and through the exhibition. To get the audience involved, not just placing art in front of them, but making them part of it. I am therefore considering including many participatory works. To create an exhibition that can rearticulate social relationships.
As with Radical Women, I want to diversify the world of art. In Brazil there has been an underrepresentation of Afro-Brazilian artists, for example, while many make amazing work. The world of art is too white, and I hope to change the white canon of art by proposing a biennial based on diversification.
SR: Have you thought about what could happen, in case there is opposition?
AG: Well, if you are working within the limits of the law, you are protected by the law. If the country is heading towards a dictatorship, we just don’t know what will happen. I will go as far as I can. I have a responsibility doing this biennial. It is an opportunity to bring out more voices and enrich the world of art, not reduce it.
For me it is not just another show. Art can change things. Look at Radical Women. The underrepresentation of women artists has just been unfair. Thankfully, it made people realize the wealth of what we have been missing out on: these different perspectives and sensibilities.