States of Exception: Contemporary Art and Politics in Guatemala

Leslie Martinez

In 2012, Ciudad de la Imaginación, a contemporary art space in Quetzaltenango, took on the challenge to conduct a multifaceted artistic research project that sought to map different Guatemalan realities through art. The project’s focus was to mainly work with artists who lived and that developed their art in places located outside of the capital city; in order to map out Guate-mala’s similarities and differences, the project needed to reflect the regional and ethnic variety that the country has to offer. The selected artists come from urban and rural spaces, an array of artistic disciplines, indigenous and mestizo cultures.

The project’s name is also a reference to the readings and reflections that were conducted with the artists, curators, academics and staf f. Estados de Excepción or States of Exception alludes to the idea of the instability of countries like Guatemala where “states of siege” or “states of emergency” are no longer exceptional circumstances, but they happen so often that they be-come the norm. The name also invites us to reflect on the ideas related to the State and the micro-states surrounding it: state of mind, state of being.

In a country where the majority of the population lives in a rural area, the larger part of artistic production happens mainly in the capital city. States of Exception attempts to produce work and knowledge outside of this dominant matrix. This includes spaces like San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango where Fernando Poyón and Edgar Calel live and work.They both self-identify as indigenous people. The goal of featuring them within the project is not to create an exotic view of them as “indigenous artists”, but instead it is to explore the concerns and realities that they are a part of. Reyes Josué Morales is another featured artist, whose work is tied to his community in Totonicapán, their comunal spaces, their resistance and his experience as an activist.

Central America, and Guatemala specifi­cally, has had a long history of war and genocide, linked to different forms of violence, social disruption, territorial struggles, and repressive governments. The idea of States of Exception was not to have each artist reflect the concerns of an entire country, but instead to have them generate concerns from their micro-spaces. These specific concerns can be seen in Reyes’ work and even in the contrasting work created by Nora Pérez, a young female “capitalina” whose work invites the public to reflect on the contradictions of the mestizo population in the metropolitan city.

Ciudad de la Imaginación’s mission is to promote research, dialogue and critical thinking through contemporary art and States of Exception does this through the different phases of the project: research and artistic production, a traveling exhibition, a documentary and a print publication. This educa­tional focus is what differentiates Ciudad de la Imaginación, which attempts to construct new forms of citizenry that appreciates and understands the political and cultural differences in a country like Guatemala. In this sense, Ciudad de la Imaginación intersects art, politics and other social concerns going beyond a pamphleteer discourse reduced by the traditional idea of The Left and The Right, posing a more complex way of understanding the reality of the country, and with the intent to provoke new ideas and conversations.

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