Camila Maroja: Global Art: From Les Magicies de la Terre to the São Paulo Biennial

Global Art: From Les Magicies de la Terre (Paris, 1989) to the São Paulo Biennial (1998)

In her presentation, Camila Maroja takes as a point of departure the celebrated exhibition Les Magiciens de la Terre (Centres Pompidou/La Villette, 1989) to reveal the importance of more horizontal exchanges in the art world to generate paradigmatic shifts in art history. Despite heavy criticism by artists and intellectuals, Magiciens was canonized by modern art narratives as an exemplar of contemporary global circulation of artists and artworks. Magiciens ultimately helped to establish 1989 as the foundational year for “global contemporary art.” Starting as a biennial, the exhibition intended to display together and in equal terms the work of 50 Western and 50 non-Western artists in Paris. Yet, merely juxtaposing diverse bodies and artworks was insufficient to create a paradigmatic shift in art history. To reveal how the exhibition maintained a Eurocentric methodology, she traces the material history of some non-Western artworks in the show. Specifically, she examines the destiny of two artworks after the exhibition closed: a mandala constructed by Nepalese monks and Yam Dreaming, made by the aboriginal Yuemndumu community with sacred earth. She, then, explores if the 24th São Paulo Biennial (1998) successfully decentered Western art history by its attack on key notions such as purity and nationality. The show employed the Brazilian concept of antropofagia, or cultural cannibalism – a concept now synonymous with Latin America. Maroja focuses on two segments of the show: (1) the Historical Nucleus (which used a non-chronological time to challenge the teleological temporality of Western Art History); and (2) Roteiros (which operated transnationally, promoting peripheral, horizontal exchanges). She proposes that these two exhibitions wanted to demonstrate how anthropophagy served as a method of envisaging alternative ways of creating an art narrative. As a counterexample to Magiciens, anthropophagy allowed Latin American intellectuals to underline the necessity to actively include local histories and traditions into the predominant discourse, thereby avoiding an apolitical global art narrative.

Camila Maroja is an art historian and visual culture theorist specializing in modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on Latin America. Her work has been published internationally in magazines like Art Journal, ArtMargins, and Carte Semiotiche. Originally from Brazil, she completed her PhD in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University in 2015. Her current book project, “Framing Latin American Art,” investigates how artists, curators, and institutions constructed strategies to create something they could name Latin American art. To that end, her work surveys key exhibitions held in the Americas to examine how concepts of anthropophagy, geometric abstraction, and the political came to characterize the art of the region. Her research offers a Southern history that focuses on horizontal exchanges rather than the vertically oriented pattern of the North dictating to the South through mechanisms inherited from colonialism. Her other research interests include exhibition histories, cultural interchanges between South and North, ways in which artists negotiate and localize their production, visual latinamericanismo, and conceptual and performance art.


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