Jean-François Boclé Everything Must Go 2014 97,000 Blue plastic bags (HD polythlene, thickness 18/20 microns) 54 x 30 x 14 cm each. Photograph: Sophie Arni, 2015
Federico Herrero Zipacná 2014 Mixed media on canvas 270 x 290 x 5.5 cm
Right: Federico Herrero Untitled 2008 Mixed media on canvas 300 x 500 cm
Diego Mendoza Imbachi Graphis – Loggia 2014 Graphite and binder on canvas 300 x 600 cm
Jorge Mayet Entre Dos Aguas 2008 Electrical wire, paper, acrylics, fabric. 33 x 100 x 20 cm
Ephrem Solomon Untitled 2013 Woodcut and mixed media 90 x 95 cm
Alejandro Ospina, Greba Orokorra, 2013 Oil on canvas 200 x 300 cm
Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, Oil on Canvas, 3.5 m x 7.8 m, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
(Back painting): Alexandre da Cunha Nude II 2012 Linen, hats, gold thread 200 x 135 x 15 cm
Saatchi Gallery does not do things halfway. Instead of proposing an exhibition highlighting an under-represented continent of the art world, it ticks two boxes at the same time and proposes an exhibition of new art coming from two under-represented continents - under the flagship name 'Pangaea', the fantasy name given to the one big land that supposedly once joined Africa and Latin America.
The first thought I had about this exhibition is its post-colonial undertones. Latin America and Africa were once perhaps once under one same continent, but why bring it this dusty idea back to the surface under the umbrella of Contemporary Art? Isn't this just another attempt for Europeans to continue what they have done for a couple of centuries now: categorise to better rule the world?
First room. Jean François Boclé's Tout doit disparaître! Everything Must Go! (2014). An installation of not less than 97,000 blue plastic bags - no I did not count them should you be curious, this is what the label reads. A beautiful installation in my opinion that reminds me of my childhood spent in various parts of Africa. In big cities, one would find big fields filled with dumps of culmutative trash and blue plastic bags flying through the air amongst birds looking for leftover foods. The smell might have been horrific but the scene was quite dramatic and majestic. Boclé creates a more contained and organized version of the same feeling.
This work is powerful, impactful, deals with current societal issues. Boclé, originally from Martinique and based in Paris, also deals with postcolonialist issues in his work. As the exhibition pamphlet reads: "In Tout doit disparaître! Everything Must Go!, 2014, a sea of blue plastic bags forms an abyss, a quasi-memorial to lives lost at sea during the transatlantic slave trade."
Second room, and we enter into Latin America. We have big, colorful canvases of quite naive influence, by Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero. Very decorative, joyful, and well-crafted but for me unfortunately, nothing new is brought to the table.
So far, the curators have been pushing their Pangeae argument, but not to the fullest. There are no long wall texts forcing visitors to understand the connections between the two continents. 'The art should suffice' rings in the air. The exhibition raises questions and a sense of assimilation between the visual vocabulary of these two different continents. This is until the third room comes in. We have works dealing with trees.
The large, gorgeous canvases of detailed shaped trees were done by Diego Mendoza Imbachi. Other sculptural delights of trees are signed Jorge Mayet. This room must have been the crowd's favorite: aesthetic, alluring a sense of zen buddhism and a sense of grandeur: a relaxing sense that these trees weight heavier than cross-cultural issues. A walk in nature basically, recreated beautifully in a white cube.
Upstairs were more traditionally sized paintings, which do possess some decorative quality to them. I enjoyed some Picasso-esque Narrative Art collage/paintings by Alejandro Ospina. I particularly enjoyed a series of Dada absurd paintings and installation by artist Alexandre da Cunha. A ironical comment on Van Gogh’s sunflower was masterfully hinted at with a bright yellow canvas and sombrero hats.
We turn to the last room: a rundown of all the participating artists' biographies. A nice touch from the show's curators: in a world of story-telling branding, individual uniqueness, and personable products, the curators have included the life stories of the artists behind all the artworks.
Each bio came with a head shot. In an era when consumers want to hear the life story of their Starbucks barrista or the upbringing of Apple's CEO, the artists each have their own rectangular bio prints, hung on a large white wall. This was truly the piece that drew the most attention out of all the museum viewers I encountered that day. But is it legitimate to have artists bios exposed in such industrial manner, for a show of under-represented artists? Shouldn't the art speak for itself, as the curators previously suggested?
Some innovations in curatorial direction needs to be done on the level of cross-cultural exhibition: and I don't mean trying to merge two continents together. I want to see artists curate artists for example: I want to feel tourmented, alive, impressed and belittled by the art I'm seeing. And it's not really what I felt walking of the Saatchi Gallery this time.