by Jill Glessing
Despite their great diversity in culture and geography, the countries of Latin America share inextricable ties with Europe forged by the Iberian incursion. Columbus’s navigational confusion instigated centuries of bloodletting that passed through what Eduardo Galeano has called “the open veins of Latin America.” After these countries gained political independence, the relations between colonizer and colonized began to change. Today, as Latin American economies continue to ascend relative to crisis-crippled Europe, immigration and cultural exchange are becoming mutual.
Emblematic of this intertwined history was this year’s Latin American focus for PHotoEspaña, the Madrid-based international festival of photography and visual arts. In 2014, the festival’s curatorial format shifted to a regional focus, inaugurated with a program of Spanish photography; next year, the spotlight will be on Europe.
PHotoEspaña’s increased presence in Latin America – particularly through its Transatlántica program, which offers portfolio reviews and exhibitions for emerging artists – makes its commitment this year a natural development. Forty-eight of the sixty-nine exhibitions spread across Madrid’s public and private art spaces, in addition to fifteen international venues in places such as Bogotá and Paris, reflected the complex, and often difficult, history and conditions of Latin America.
The “New World.” Photographic technology came too late to capture Columbus’s first glimpses of America; only through the imaginary can that fateful voyage be represented. Polish photographer Janek Zamoyski, in his exhibition Heave Away at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, sailed the sea steps that moved the navigator toward his second encounter with what Europeans considered a new world. The empty and open sublimity expressed in Zamoyski’s twenty-one seascapes, each of them representing one day of the conquistador’s voyage, both belie and forecast the intense and churning history that would follow.
Desire for control of the trade with Asia prompted the Europeans’ exploration. But what was discovered proved far more profitable: rich resources extracted by indigenous labour and new souls for their Christian god…
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