Ana Bilbao: Can Museums Learn from Small Visual Arts Organisations (SVAOs)? Transregional Curating in the Global South

Small Visual Arts Organisations (SVAOs) are structurally small, non-profit spaces that are dedicated to the production and the dissemination of contemporary art. They mostly emerged after the 1990s in various parts of the world. On the one hand, they are characterised by an interest in their local communities and in urban issues ranging from new technologies to social art practices in their cities. On the other hand, they belong to international networks, such as Arts Collaboratory, comprised of 23 like-minded spaces in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

By building trust with local communities that often have little or no previous exposure to the arts and by investing in tailor-made projects, SVAOs work under the logic of ‘creating publics’ rather than ‘attracting audiences’. There is significant room for museums to learn from SVAOs, such as Casco (Netherlands), lugar a dudas (Colombia), Raw Material Company (Senegal), ruangrupa (Indonesia) or The Showroom (UK), and their interests in process-based cultural practices, in research-oriented activities, in supporting young and underexposed artists, in alternative pedagogies, and in fostering strong levels of engagement with their publics.

In the course of my investigation, it has become clear that Latin America is the region where the least research has been produced on the emergence and proliferation of these spaces, despite their presence in almost every country of the region. In this context, they emerged out of the necessity to experiment with distinct media and from the desire to have a platform where regional socio-political concerns could inform artistic practice.

My project investigates the recent activity of some of these spaces in Latin America, mainly in Colombia, Mexico and Costa Rica, and to trace their international collaborations.  By borrowing the concept of ‘transmodernity’ from Mexican-Argentinian philosopher Enrique Dussel, I will explore if, and how, the transcultural museum of today can learn from tailor-made forms of artistic mediation articulated in these SVAOs. Circulations and processes of artistic exchanges generated through their translocal networks with other like-minded spaces in various parts of the world will be explored.

Ana Bilbao is a Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of York. Her research explores histories of exhibition-making and art institutions, as well as contemporary art from the Global South. Prior to joining the University of York, she was editor of Afterall Journal and research fellow at Afterall Research Centre at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. In 2017 she was a Visiting Scholar in the Art History Department at KU Leuven, Belgium. Ana has worked in various areas of the cultural sector, including arts education, curating, and art fairs


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