Cuenca Biennial: Art Reflects on Democracy and Conflict

The 16th edition of the Cuenca Biennial, led by Hispano-Argentinian curator Ferran Barenblit, showcases thought-provoking art that contemplates democracy’s crisis and contemporary conflicts, particularly in Latin America, attracting global attention.

Ping-pong tables made with confiscated drugs, cages with balloons that represent children in migration processes, a constitution for nature, or an immense school blackboard from yesteryear, are some of the works that make up the Cuenca Biennial (Ecuador), one of the most important in Latin America.

The sixteenth edition titled ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, by the Spanish-Argentine curator Ferran Barenblit, brings together 34 artists from Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, the United Kingdom, Paraguay, and Brazil, among other countries.

‘Maybe tomorrow’ is a biennial that reflects on the crisis of democracy and the conflicts of the present, with a special emphasis on Latin America, Hernán Pacurucu, director of the Cuenca Biennial, told EFE.

“We are not looking for an improvement of democracy from politics, but rather, from the utopia of art, from that idea of constructing metaphors (…) to believe that something is going to change and something is going to be better,” he explained.

This edition of the Cuenca Biennial was structured in two parts: the official exhibition, with the participation of 29 projects from 18 countries; and the parallel exhibitions, in which 17 Ecuadorian artists participated, who are displayed in various museums and galleries in the historic center of Cuenca, declared a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO.

With eight venues and inaugurated on December 8, the Biennial will offer until March 8 video arts, drawings, installations, murals, performances, art objects, and pieces that open dynamics of playful art, in which the public interacts, draws, and plays.

Drug made ping-pong

“Art is in a process, no longer of observation, of analysis, but rather of intervention,” said Pacurucu, commenting that the public plays on ping-pong tables built with confiscated drugs.

When the Mexican artist Teresa Margolles (Sinaloa) learned that the Ecuadorian authorities decided to make cement blocks with confiscated cocaine, she presented a project to use that material in an artistic expression and thus built ping-pong tables, which Later they left in parks.

For the visitors, Pacurucu said, what has caught their attention the most is the fact that “they can play on something that could have been causing deaths,” which establishes a different dialogue “between violence and happiness, between death and life,” he reflected.

The Biennial, which has received 30,000 people in its first month, also has among its works a giant cage inside which there are gray heart-shaped balloons that float, in what is a metaphor “for children locked in borders,” he narrated.

She highlighted the ingenuity with which the artist deals with such a “hard” subject and she “makes it so sublimely poetic, seeing hearts locked up that don’t know where to go.” It’s moving and a “form of denunciation of what’s happening and how we all turn a blind eye,” she said.

Among the interactive works, there is an installation painted in the green characteristic of the blackboards of yesteryear, as an “exercise in imposing an educational format”, and with the work, the visitor is invited to write his own story with chalk.

A more inspiring world

The Cuenca Biennial, the second most important in Latin America after that of Sao Paulo (Brazil) according to Pacurucu, takes place at a time when the president of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, has declared the existence of an “internal armed conflict” against the organized crime mafias, which he classifies as “terrorists.”

For Pacurucu, the project fits well at this moment because, instead of accentuating this violence, it takes the visitor “to a more inspiring world, it takes away that harsh reality to tell them: ‘there is hope, there is utopia, another world is possible’.”

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The Biennial includes a discussion about hope and bicycle rides through the venues so that the citizen’s routine is calmed by other ways of perceiving the world under the terms of art.

“We all need more art to create better human beings. And the world of art in its metaphors, in its metonymies, in its utopias, generates those great worlds of creativity that find another way for us to escape from this world,” he concluded.

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