Work by the Guatemalan artist. Photo: Disclosure

It is difficult to measure the influence of Aníbal López on contemporary Guatemalan art. López proposes interferences and investigations placing the relations of politics and economy in the ethical plane. With this, he creates disruptions within the art produced so far.

by Alexia Tala*

A stranger in the nest

He robbed a person and with that money he paid the cocktail of your exhibition"El Préstamo”, 2000 – currently on display at the 33rda Bienal de São Paulo, spread coal on the streets before the Guatemalan Army's anniversary parade (June 30st, 2001), turned the institution that exposed his work into an accomplice of smuggling activity (500 contraband boxes, 2007). Among other interventions.

In 2014, it surprised Documenta in Kassel by taking a “sicario” (assassin for hire) hired by him in order to answer questions from visitors. Between them, "How much do you charge to kill a person?”, “How do you murder children?”, “Have you developed a style of murder?”, “What was the bond with the police that covered it up?”.

testimony, 2014, exemplarily represents its impulse. The potency of his work, one might say, consists in “producing accomplices”. Thus, to bring to the art plane the radicality of reality itself through sophisticated strategies due to its simplicity. López incriminates us, involves us and stains us in the crimes he calculates.

The Aníbal Lopez effect

His creative reasoning is to produce real facts by eliminating the plane of representation, displaying the paradoxical in the field of art. The paradox of their ethical fragility or the violence of their legal immunity.

The effect is often disorienting, as it provokes great questions: what are the limits between good and evil as crude concepts related to Latin America? This rawness is demonstrated in the displacement that his work produces at Documenta and at the Venice Biennale.

Thus, the emphasis received in the 33rda Sao Paulo Biennale, Affective Affinities. Not only because the regional scene is indebted to its recognition, but also because of the similarity of conflicts between Guatemala, Brazil and their recent past.

References such as Aníbal, for whom it was crucial to have lived in violent and divided Guatemala, collaborate more than ever in thinking about the situation of social division. Be it between the extreme right and the radical left, the elites and vulnerable and segregated groups. I see it as a tribute to the curatorial resolution and, knowing the work, I would like to point out two issues.

Ladino series, all images courtesy of the Hugo Quinto and Juan Pablo Lojo collection, Guatemala.

One specific: the lack of works in the series rogue, a group of graphic works and installations in which López works around the anatomical similarities of the human body. From the fragmentation of bodies and faces that he paints without skin, he states that economic, social and racial differences are on the surface.

It marks a crucial moment in its trajectory, prior to the actions that we will see, where a dialogue with Santiago Sierra is recognized. This error of emphasis can also be seen in the museographic form in which it is presented. Testimony.

On the other hand, a general comment. At the Bienal, his work represents the highest “context coefficient”, given the country's situation. Regarding the content of the edition, López's work is the only one to be involved with the surrounding issues. He is part of the group of artists sensitized to local and global violence. Potential catalyst for contemporary artists of a more political cut.

His artistic legacy has not yet been properly valued by international art. I dare to say that within Latin America there is no other artist who uses this type of resource so sagaciously and firmly in time. I insist: López's influence is fundamental for the current generation of artists in Central America, in Guatemala. And, with the right rescue, the expansion of his work to other latitudes.

*Alexia Tala is a researcher and curator. Currently chief curator of the Paiz Guatemala Art Biennial 2020, curator of Projeto Solo em SP-Arte 2019 in Brazil and artistic director of Plataforma Atacama. She was co-curator of the 8th Mercosur Biennial in 2011.


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