A poem and a song intertwine and resonate here. Chilean singersongwriter Violeta Parra’s popular song “Volver a los diecisiete,” which is once again being heard in the throats of young protesters, suggests the image of graphic art growing and spreading over the walls, like life itself. In the midst of the Pinochet dictatorship, the feminist poet’s words transmit the abiding and singular desire to break out of confinement and become many.
Graphic art is an important medium for the tactical deployment of subaltern culture, insofar as it goes against a social order built upon processes of erasure and policies of death. Graphic action makes it possible to shape and bring to light territories that challenge this order, paying attention to the most vulnerable bodies and lives.
Graphic Turn denotes a recurrent political matrix whereby artists and activists transform their work and their modus operandi to influence reality using the elemental force of the graphic gesture, direct involvement of the bodies that produce it, and the potential for dissemination and insertion in public space that is inherent to multiple originals.
This project is the result of a process involving more than thirty researchers working together over the last five years under the coordination of the Sothern Conceptualisms Network, which describes itself as an affective and activist network that has carried out various research, archival, discussion, and position-taking projects in Latin America since 2007 (https://redcsur.net).
The exhibition is not intended as a comprehensive or panoramic mapping of political graphic art in Latin America but rather as a way of connecting scattered and fragmentary episodes and practices. It aspires to be a sounding board for what is happening on the streets and to offer a tool kit for graphic action—in the multiple or “exploded” sense of the term—that encompasses different time frames and includes a range of practices, from collective embroidery to cartography.
Although the show includes examples from the 1960s, the emphasis of the project is on the present, connecting stories large and small, secret and major, from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, the United States, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay, as well as specific cases from other contexts.
The exhibition brings together know-how and stories that are interconnected by affinity but also by contagion, appropriation, restoration, and other kinds of bonds. It assembles local and internationalist solidarities and alliances between artists, groups, and social movements: a multiple collective effort that affects those who are creating and taking action to transform the conditions of existence.
The idea of Graphic Turn was a powerful trigger for thinking about the singularity of the works and documents in question, making it possible to highlight common tactics, means of production, techniques, and issues. The research process gave rise to a series of concepts that were useful for grouping the material in an exercise in “diagrammatic thinking” and for naming the core areas or zones of the exhibition: untimely graphics, arseñal, graphic bodies, the delay, persistences of memory, in secret, pasafronteras (border crossing), insubordinate territories, counter-cartographies. Each of these concepts is the result of an intensive joint exercise to establish notions capable of bringing together and interconnecting disparate episodes, without imposing a linear narrative limited to disconnected geographies or flattening specific historical contexts. This polyphonic process also introduced the possibility of making room for disagreement and dissonance in the team.
In addition, two areas focus specifically on the many actions organized inside and outside Mexico to denounce and expose the disappearance of the forty-three students from Ayotzinapa in 2014 and on the persistence of posters and graphic art in the streets of Nicaragua, from the 1979 Sandinista revolution to the harshly suppressed protests of recent times. With the intention of introducing other ways of inhabiting the museum, two separate spaces were developed within the exhibition—Agora of the Present and Cuir Library—in which visitors are invited to transform their experience of time, listening, exchange, the position of bodies, and the interactions between them. The Agora of the Present offers a space that is permeable to current events and can potentially host assembly-like activities. The Cuir Library is conceived as a temporary autonomous zone or “counterspace” that, by deactivating the normativity governing bodies in the museum, encourages contact and unregulated encounters between materials and bodies.
I sometimes think of memory as a vine that grows and spreads over other surfaces: trees, walls, barbed wire fences. From one branch grows another, which in turn gives rise to another, rhizomes reach out like fingers, clinging like monkey tails. Their roots are no longer visible, their power is expressed in the vigor of the stems, the volume of the nodes, the corolla of the flowers. There are vines (Buenos Aires is full of them) that turn red at this time of the year, a deep red like the red mark on the calendar on 24 March. A red wounded by the end of summer, by the perennial signal—no matter how many years go by—of the beginning of the season of blood.
Marta Dillon, “Un organismo vivo” (A living organism), 2021
As Marta Dillon notes, time is not linear but cyclical and spiraling. The life growing on the walls changes color as a sign that things did not happen at some point in the past: they continue to happen now, affecting and touching us, and the leaves that turn the color of blood remind us of this each autumn.
Graphic Turn does not investigate or describe a particular historical period but rather interrogates the present as a temporality, as an inopportune, disjointed, reversible dimension: a present that awaits the past and reconfigures the very idea of future(s).
The streets emptied at the beginning of the pandemic, disrupting systems of care and forms of political action. But in many places antiestablishment movements returned to public space to protest against police violence and the colonial legacy, for basic social rights, and in defense of the earth. Movements capable of transforming grief, loss, and fear into collective action, rebuilding networks of hope, power, and counter-power.