In 2010, coinciding with the bicentennial of independence gained by countries in the Americas, the Museo Reina Sofía presented the exhibition Principio Potosí (The Potosí Principle) in its galleries. The show sought to analyse and take issue with the role art played in the origin and expansion of the process of accumulation that marked the start of capitalism after the Conquest of the Americas. At the dawn of the 17th century, Potosí was one of the biggest cities in the world, comparable to London and more densely populated than Rome or Paris. During Spanish colonial rule, vast quantities of Potosí silver were sent to Europe, making the site of this major Bolivian city one of the most far-reaching mining regions on the planet.
The Potosí mines, cited by some figures as the origin of the dynamics of globalised industrial exploitation, would lay the foundations for subsequent relations between modernity, colonialism, slavery and expropriation, akin to the Atlantic Ocean, the first freight corridor, acting as a sender-receiver not only of material wealth, but also colonial mechanisms of power that endure today.
Now, a decade on from the exhibition Principio Potosí in the Museo, we reconsider the places where and ways in which this principle of global exploitation is manifested. In addition to a selection of works that were part of the 2010 show, this room displays the archive that gathers the extensive research surrounding the project: a reading table with 18 of the 36 notebooks that revise the continued existence of colonial exploitation in the modern world’s economic centres of power — Moscow, Beijing, London, Dubai — through mechanisms of accumulation and dispossession and strategies of symbolic violence and cultural hegemony.
The pieces on view convey how the themes and different systems of representation, like silver and capital, circulate from one continent to another, adapting their meaning. Artist Sonia Abián’s Aparatoángel (Angel Apparatus, 2009-2010) re-examines the viceregal iconography of arquebusier angels armed like Spanish soldiers, bringing it into the present by incorporating the guises of journalistic texts, infographics and statistics on gender-based violence and historical memory. In a similar critical approach, Marcelo Expósito’s film studies the adaptation of Santiago Matamoros’s imagery to new political, military and religious interests, while the installation by Ines Doujak illuminates cult music as a “civilising” instrument in parallel to evangelisation. This new economic system based on the logic of accumulation and the role played by the Church in the Conquest are focused upon in the works of Harun Farocki and María Galindo/Mujeres Creando and the inspiration they draw from Cerro Rico de Potosí, the richest source of silver in the history of humanity and mines through which extractivism became the main structural base in the modern world.