Carlos Garrido Castellano / Bruno Leitão (eds.): Curating and the Legacies of Colonialism in Contemporary Iberia, Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2022, XXII + 304 S., ISBN 978-1-7868-3873-5, GBP 65,00
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Curatorial practice in the context of the Iberian Peninsula and its colonial legacies involves examining and interpreting the historical and cultural legacies of colonialism in the region. In recent years, exhibition curators, artists, artist-curators and other agents of cultural mediation have been addressing themes related to post-colonialism, cultural identity, power dynamics, and the representation of marginalized communities. The larger public has been developing a growing interest in the role that colonialism played in shaping the cultural identity of the Iberian Peninsula and its former colonies and the impact that colonialism had in a more global context. Curators working in this area are increasingly looking at how colonialism has influenced the development of contemporary art and its impact on cultural production, dissemination, and reception.
Curating and the Legacies of Colonialism in Contemporary Iberia presents a collection of essays authored by scholars, curators, artists, philosophers, art historians, and museum professionals examining curatorial practices beyond the mere process of exhibition-making and a spectacularized cultural display. As the editors state in the introduction, the collection of essays aims to explore a heterogeneous range of practices, from curatorial explorations to artistic interventions and other forms of cultural mediation such as art education and cultural programming. The book also explores the notions and tensions between national and transnational identities in the expanded "Iberian societies" and the role of their cultural institutions in the configuration of modern and multicultural communities.
The volume examines curatorial practices in the context of colonial legacies in different ways and from multiple points of view, from the poetics of display and cultural/colonial representations to the politics of institutional discourses through cultural programming, and the empowering interventions of curatorial practices that bloom beyond the power of cultural institutions. In this framework, the book discusses curatorial practices as a process of socio-cultural inquiry into the role that cultural institutions, communities, artists, and curators assume not just in the understanding of colonial and post-colonial identities, but in the existing tensions between colonial history and the notions of territoriality in the sense that imperial, colonial, and metropolitan history integrate other geographies into an Iberian identity and consciousness.
The idea of decolonizing museums and cultural institutions and the integration of broader discourses on racial difference and postcolonial experiences is widely discussed in the volume and linked to the emergence of a new generation of curators and new art spaces particularly interested in exploring the relations between migrations and transcultural identities. Olga Fernández López's discussion on recent exhibitions shows that over the last two decades, the gradual influence of social movements, civil rights demonstrations, and the dissolution of boundaries between the citizen, the curator, the artist, and the public have led to more inclusive and participatory curatorial practices. Post-2000s' exhibitions such as Versiones del Sur (Reina Sofia, 2000) and Políticas de la diferencia. Arte Iberoamerica. Fin de siglo (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, 2000) have not only raised awareness of the forms of cultural domination and resistance that configured the colonial condition but have also encompassed implicit political and activist dimensions that have conditioned the evolution of later projects.
Another interesting conclusion that the volume proposes is that exhibitions are increasingly led by research groups of collective communities of thought and action, often self-instituted, flexible, horizontal, nomadic, and informal. Despite their "independent" and non-institutionalized actions, these groups often collaborate with museums and universities as a form of participatory and inclusive strategy to democratize and decolonize these institutions. This shows how cultural institutions are gradually recognizing the importance of decentralizing the role of curating and sharing the ownership of the exhibition space with communities, bringing the experience of curating and public engagement to the grassroots. This leads to the creation of opportunities for participation, integration, and social engagement that are expanded beyond exhibition practices into a broad programming of activities.
The increasing participation and social engagement of the public and communities in the activities of cultural institutions has turned museums and art galleries into spaces of contested histories through which traditional notions of cultural diversity, multiculturalism, mestizaje, and nationhood are rejected and reassessed to "distinguish between diversity and inequality as an unquestionable strategy for managing coexistence" (62). The book raises the issues and tensions between the agenda of cultural institutions and the autonomy of independent curators and collectives responsible for curating exhibitions, particularly when the exhibition or curatorial discourses contradict or challenge traditional views or are politically sensitive. This is the case for exhibitions dealing with colonial memory, the expanded perceptions of territory, language, cultural hegemony, and the impact colonial history has had in terms of inequality, discrimination, marginalization, racism, and segregation in modern societies.
The first two sections of the book mainly discuss curatorial practices, exhibition discourses, the expanded forms of social engagement beyond exhibition-making, and the tensions between curators, collectives, and cultural institutions in Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, and Argentina. However, the role of the artists and the artworks featured in the exhibitions discussed are barely mentioned and mostly relegated to the last section of the book, which is dedicated to the analysis of artistic discourses and strategies through which contemporary artists negotiate the historical legacies of colonialism in places like Colombia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile. This section of the book sheds light on the efforts of artists from former colonial territories to define an identity of coexistence or a new identity established on global discourses of creative activism typically focused on migration, social inclusion, and racial equality. The essays point out the power of collectives, collaborations, and the importance of digital media to project the cultural and curatorial dynamics of racial and migrant discourses in mainstream institutional spaces. The volume presents refreshing contributions to the understanding of the power of curating to change traditional views on cultural identity, cultural geography, and the tensions created by colonial legacies, and the heterogeneity of the subject matter and diverse professional backgrounds of the authors have created discussions and perspectives not only relevant to Iberian studies but also to the wider scope of cultural mediation and curatorial studies.
Rui Oliveira Lopes