Uncovering El Museo’s Bienal: The (S) Files 007

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Staying committed to the support of Latino and Latin American emerging artists, El Museo del Barrio opened its doors to the public on July 25, 2007 to present the work of the 51 artists included in The (S) Files. Now in its fifth edition, El Museo del Barrio’s bienial has aided in the advancement of many artists’ careers, exposing them to the market and allowing them to become key players in the somewhat capricious, and certainly competitive, contemporary art circuit. The exhibition is a collaboration between Elvis Fuentes (associate curator at El Museo del Barrio), E. Carmen Ramos (assistant curator for cultural engagement at The Newark Museum), and Rodolfo Knolfe (independent curator from Guayaquil, Ecuador), and remains on view throughout January 6, 2008.
Similar to many biennials, the artists included in The (S) Files work in various media. Despite this assortment, several themes do successfully emerge. Increased awareness about our environment prompted several artists to derive their inspiration from nature. Manuela Ribadeniera, one of the five artists invited from this year’s guest country, Ecuador, created a transportable sculpture of broccoli floret-like trees on wheels entitled, Tiwintza Mon Amour. The piece is a reference to a square kilometer of jungle given to Ecuador from Peru as a token of good faith. The distributing of nature as property demonstrates the artificiality of borders and claimed spaces. The jungle cannot move the way Ribadeniera’s sculpture can; we impose the lines that lead to conflict, and nature gets caught in the crossfire.
Several artists found innovative ways to address the more familiar subject matters of gender and sexual roles of Latina women, as well as the hypermasculinity of Latino men. In the video work Para besarte major (The Better to Kiss You With), Jessica Lagunas applies bright red lipstick over her lips for an exaggerated amount of time. Watching Lagunas perform such a ritual is a reminder of the unfair standards of beauty that continue to apply to women in contemporary society.
Along the more pensive and introspective themes of impermanence, vulnerability, and solitude was Cecilia Mandrile’s OneOther (unOtro). Two figures made of white cloth face each other on opposite sides of the gallery wall. On a national level, the figures represent interactions between Argentina’s “Gauchos” and “Bedouins.” The piece also signifies the general mistrust and skepticism felt towards wanderers; the wooden spear pointed at the backs of each figure challenges their desire to keep moving, and the light emphasizes their stasis. One begins to wonder what is it about movement that entices these figures, and why so many people fear change.
Many of the artists in The (S) Files create their work around different human relationships – whether it be to our natural surroundings, sexuality, or our own psyche. Informed by their personal experiences and diverse cultural backgrounds, the artists make each work unique and worth visiting. With the exhibition on view for such a generous amount of time, there is no excuse for missing it.
This year The (S) Files has expanded to the Instituto Cervantes New York, who will display works that investigate language and its permeability. This extension of El Museo’s Bienial will be on view from September 13 through January 6, 2008.