Thoughts about Contemporary Art

I recently met a young woman by the name of Ana Maria Hernandez, with deep ties to Aruba, she describes herself as an art historian, but she is an artist in the broadest sense of the word.

She wants to change the world, and has already met with Aruba’s officials regarding her comprehensive plan to make art part of every school’s curriculum here.

But until then, she already developed a few grass roots initiatives that would grow into an art program, one of them at a youth facility in Dakota.

Ana Maria doesn’t believe in importing a ready-made program, she wants the curriculum to grow intrinsically.

Very cool and progressive chick with a solid academic background!

She writes passionately about art, especially Contemporary Art, and she gave me one of her written pieces, which she submitted to one of the newspapers, yet was never published.

I decided to publish on line, you may read it over coffee this morning.

She is right, obviously, it would be intellectually stimulating to have a museum of Contemporary Art. If you build it, they will come!


Three simple reasons why we should talk about Contemporary Art.

Ana Maria Hernandez

Contemporary Art is the lens through which I navigate life. As an art historian I write about it, read about, talk about it and think about it on a daily basis. Through my work, I have seen and understood how important art is and has been for our societies throughout history.

This is why I believe in fostering strong relationships between communities and art, especially art being made now and by local artists.

From the earliest remains of advanced cultures of ancient societies, we can find, it is clear that humanity has always found a way to express how they perceive their reality. Think for example of the Lascaux Caves paintings created around 20,000 years ago where this community depicted the animals they hunted and the nature in their surroundings. Art has always played a role in how we develop our communities. No society has ever developed without art, no society has ever functioned without it, no society has ever existed without it.

Creative expressions have helped develop and construct the systems, values, ideas, and concepts that defined the societies we live in today. In the time of the Roman Republic (509 BC – 27 BC) for example, busts and portraits would be used as the main visual form of propaganda for the Roman rulers and promoted their policies and authority. Later, in the medieval times, it was through visual representations such as fresco’s and beautiful stained glass windows that the Catholic church could communicate the messages of the bible to a folk mostly illiterate. Today, art still plays a major role in how we develop as communities through the work of contemporary artists.

When we talk about Contemporary Art we talk about art of our time. Contemporary artists create snapshots of what it’s like to live in the here and now and preserves who we are and what defines our culture for posterity. Artist Ai Weiwei, for example, illustrates the often unknown ‘side-effects’ of today’s obsession with social media in his work ‘Hansel and Gretel'(2017). In this immersive installation (a kind of work where the experience and space created, is the artwork), Weiwei creates an experience for the audience where the loss of privacy through our use of social media becomes visible. The viewer is led through dark halls and end up in a dark room filled with a network of infrared sensors and drones which track the viewers every movement. The live footage was then broadcasted to different locations in the gallery and also streamed online live. This simulation of constant surveillance mirrors the surrender to a large extent of our right to privacy. What the viewers do with this realization is up to them. The work documents the experience and constructs a reflection on a characteristic of our current society.

Contemporary Art can also reveal new ways to look at things you considered familiar or normal. Weiwei’s installation did this by brutally exposing the viewer to the realities of constantly putting ourselves out there on the internet.

Another approach is to draw links between the current and our histories. Artist Kara Walker, for example, addresses our complicated relationship with sugar in her work ‘A Subtlety’'(2014). The work consists of a large sculpture made out of white sugar; a mixture of an Egyptian Sphynx and the Southern Mammy archetype.

This large female figure with exaggerated, caricature-like features is surrounded by smaller molasses figurines of boys with baskets full of bananas and straw. Sugar, once so expensive it as a luxury reserved only for the wealthy few, became accessible to everyone in part largely due to slavery and colonialism. Nowadays, its heavy advertisement and promotion have brought upon an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that largely affects low income-households. It is clear that the cycle of abuse and exploitation has not been broken but transformed. Walker confronts us with the different parts of sugar’s history by bringing together symbols from the past and the present. It shows us that sugar is more than what sweetens your coffee in the morning.

With this ability to reveal new perspectives of the known comes Contemporary Art’s ability to highlight social issues and challenge people to think. Contemporary Art is not always political (comment on or address social issues to evoke change), but when it is it can be very powerful. Tania Bruguera’s performance ‘Tatlin’s Whisper #6’ (2009) for example, challenged censorship in Cuba by allowing the people to speak freely in a public space for the first time in years. In the performance, which took place in Havana during the 10th edition of the Havana Biennial in 2009, Bruguera invited the public to step on a podium and speak freely into a microphone for one minute. No topic was off limits. The speakers would get a white dove placed on their shoulder during their speech, which referred to the dove that stood on Castro’s shoulder during one of his first public addresses after he had won the revolution. In both cases, the dove stood as a symbol of freedom and makes us reflect on its fragility while at the same time being a reminder of courage. When the minute was over, two actors dressed as guards would kick off the speaker from the podium bringing us back to reality. By addressing the issues that affect us in the now, Contemporary Art has the ability to mobilize and unite: it allows us to see, reflect and encourages us to act.

Of course, Art alone cannot bring about change or defend values, but it is a powerful place to start.

In short: We should talk about Contemporary Art because it can preserve, expose and mobilize our cultures. At its most basic level, Contemporary Art is the soul of our societies. It’s a reflection of our desires, needs, emotions, and concerns. Contemporary Art should not be seen as something for the selected few because it is a reflection of all of us. It’s important to include ourselves in the discussions of Contemporary Art and support the voices in our communities. When we support our local Contemporary Art artists, we create a space in which our stories are told and preserved. We also create a space where WE are the ones telling those stories. This, of course, does not mean you will relate and be interested in every single piece of art you find along the way. It’s about engaging in the act of being aware of the different perspectives in life and ways of understanding it. It’s about looking, thinking and most important of all asking questions, any questions!

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April 13, 2019
Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster