Artes Mundi review – around the world in richly absorbing art

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] In her review of “Artes Mundi,” Laura Cumming (The Guardian) writes, “From lush Dominican political surrealism to black US history and a Japanese tragedy revisited, the Welsh biennial shortlist sweeps the globe – online and over three venues in Cardiff.” She also reminds us that on March 15, the ninth edition will open to the world online, and from May it is scheduled to open across three galleries to Cardiff visitors in person. The winner will be announced on April 14. [See our previous post Artes Mundi Prize Shortlist.]

Artes Mundi is a biennial exhibition crowned with an award (at £40,000 the largest art prize in Britain). It has brought international art to Wales since 2004 and has a reputation for pitch-perfect judgment. Previous winners have included the American art star Theaster Gates and the Ghanaian-born filmmaker John Akomfrah, whose beautiful two-screen elegy for migrants won the seventh edition. On 15 March the ninth edition will open to the world online, and from May it is scheduled to open across three galleries to Cardiff visitors in person. The winner will be announced on 14 April.

The global sweep this time reaches from Puerto Rico to India, and from South Africa to Japan. The best-known name by some way is the veteran African American photographer Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953), so famous she appears as herself in Spike Lee’s Netflix adaptation of She’s Gotta Have It. The younger artists include Prabhakar Pachpute, born in Maharashtra in 1986, and Firelei Báez from the Dominican Republic, barely 40 but already the recipient of several awards for her paintings. Indeed the six-strong shortlist arrives heavily pre-garlanded. [. . .]

This is the point of Repeating the Obvious, an installation that presents the same photograph – of an African American youth in a hoodie – 39 times over in different sizes. You can’t quite make him out, in the shadowy blue mugshot. But heck, runs the sardonic unspoken caption, aren’t they all the same in any case?

Firelei Báez is also concerned with black history, specifically that of the Caribbean. Her canvases, vast and small, operate a kind of prose-poetry double-take. She reproduces existing images – maps, floor plans, documentary photographs, the covers of controversial books on slavery and race – and overpaints them with wildly gestural visions.

So the black-and-white photograph of a sinister US institute for forced labour bursts into neon flames. An old imperial map showing the uncharted Atlantic, complete with antique ships and absolutely no sense of geography, is dominated by a magnificent quasi-mythological female creature of fur and feathers, palms and ferns, rearing up out of the waves.

The impulse is didactic, but the visions are gorgeous flights of fantasy: a kind of late-flowering political surrealism. Báez is an inventor of fictions to fell racists and bureaucrats. I look forward to seeing more of her work.

If you detect a theme, here, it certainly continues with the slow and mildly hypnotic films of the Puerto Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz (born 1972). But Muñoz is more tuned to melancholy. The sadness of the seas, the lone fisherman, the submerged history of oppressed islanders: all are fluidly connected in her film installation.

Artes Mundi’s digital presentation gives too little sense of the lush complexities of Muñoz’s work, with its ethno-eco-political interleafings. But so it is, alas, with configurations of objects, projectors and multiple screens in darkened rooms. [. . .]

For full review, see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/mar/14/artes-mundi-review-around-the-world-in-richly-absorbing-art

[Shown above: Firelei Báez, Untitled A Map of the British Empire in America, 2021. Photograph: Phoebe d’Heurle.]

The article mentions Firelei Báez (Dominican Republic) and Beatriz Santiago Muñoz (Puerto Rico). View their work and profiles at https://artesmundi.org/firelei-baez and https://artesmundi.org/beatriz-santiago-munoz.

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