Today I discovered the work of a truly fascinating Peruvian artist; GLORIA GOMEZ-SANCHEZ. She began her carrier as a painter in the 50s, but as she ventured into the Peruvian avant-garde of the 60s, she started to feel the irrelevance and almost defeat of the act of painting. In the 70s, she actually retired from the world of exhibitions with one of the first conceptual artworks in Peru. An empty room with a simple phrase that stated... The space of this exhibition is that of your mind. Make of your life the artwork
Even before her turn to conceptualism, Gomez Sanchez steered one of the biggest debates of the Peruvian art scene of the 20th century, by introducing waste and consumed materials to her work. In 1965, in an exhibition in the Gallery Solisol, the artist created assemblages of used fabrics and waste. Old shoes, frog skeletons, insects and wire merged with papier-maché, to establish a visual manifesto against the pictorial act of painting. A way of denying the contemporary relevance of the image and instead emphasising the power of the material itself. She named one of her works "El sublime Yllomomo del amor" (The sublime Yllomomo of love) using a native Bolivian word to designate a swamp where a flower blossoms over waste.
Along with other artists who were part of the Arte Nuevo group and the Mi-Muy collective, they introduced the concept of "installations", or how they used to call it at the time "environments", to a Peruvian audience reluctant to assimilate new ways of representation. Her installation consisted on multiple "muñecones" or "big dolls" made of wire, paper and plaster, creating creatures that surrounded a figure called "El Parto" (Labour), in a dimly lit room imbued with sound.
When I was looking at their work, it was impossible not to liken them with other artists of the 60s such as Rauschenberg, Piero Manzoni, Gilio Paolini and Nam Jun Paik, among many others (the so-called "neo-dadaists"). These artists were also trying to introduce used objects to their work, creating an anti-art, that diminished the importance of the image and introduced everyday life alongside with "poor materials" into the elitist realm of "high art". The Peruvian collective "Mi-Muy" even said, "we believe that existence poses an attitude that is committed to life, with all its defects and qualities, we are not interested in the difference because it does not exist."
Despite the fact that Gloria and her colleagues were creating their work at the same time as these neo-dadaists, they were never recognised as the same and their level of importance and visibility remained very limited compared to these "grandmasters" of the north. On the contrary, because of this inevitable comparison, Gloria and her colleagues became the center of one of the biggest polemics in the Peruvian art scene of the 60s. The two main actors of the debate were the art historian Juan Acha, who defended their work, and the poet Francisco Bendezu, who considered it a mediocre approach to Peruvian contemporary art.
Even though this debate happened over 50 years ago, I believe that it is still prevalent today. Beyond the superficial criticism of "Why did you go to art school if you ended up working with junk?" (that was the initial criticism), the question lies in the approach contemporary Latin-American art should have over what is happening in the rest of the world. Are we entitled to pose the same questions or should we limit ourselves to the ones that relate only to our Latin-American culture? In other words, should we, Latin Americans, limit ourselves to tell our own story? And what will happen if we do not? Should we continue to let others tell the story instead?
I'll leave you with the two perspectives so you can decide:
In an article called The neo-dadaist offensive, Bendezu said... "I do not doubt the honesty and faith of the exhibiting artists: I like Arias Vera's freshness and ingenuity, the constructive will of the "Mi-muy", the ardent expressionist line and the blunt drama of the restless "informalist" Gómez Sánchez, but I give, in short, my vote against (...) Don't they [the Peruvian artists] realise that "pop-art", "environments" and "happenings" are false and forced manifestations among us? (...) How can we let them give up their citizenship in a country that struggles with underdevelopment and still lives, unfortunately, in huts and slums? Don't they realise, that enlisting in the ranks of neo-dadaism, means the simple resignation of the refined indigenous and Latin spirit, the colonial submission to the "standardised" desideratum of the capitalist machinery the most flagrant proclamation of impotence? The guilty evasion of acceptance of our social problematics, the boredom, irremissible of loneliness and the most abject and servile complacency in the monstrous capitalist alienation?"
In turn, Acha in an article called Legitimate artistic attitude: the work of Gloria Gomez Sanchez in Solisol defended her work by stating that "if "pop art" leaves the surface to accentuate the object of daily use - its materiality - and the "dadaist" did it as a protest or taking the objects as plastic elements (Schwitters), here in Solisol- the object is enhanced, once consumed and deteriorated with an expressionist purpose. We are, in short, before another of the different manifestations of the current so-called consumer society " (...) "She wants to exalt the transforming effects of physical forces, either by channelling them towards an expressive-pictorial dimension or by framing objects that have suffered before with intensity. And she does so with the firm conviction that she is responding to her most intimate feelings; to such an extent that it is easy to perceive the sincerity with which she conceives and executes each one of her works. She is an artist who prefers to feel the world, in her own way, rather than thinking it."
He further defended them in another article stating that, "these young artists . . . renounce the idea of art as a work of genius or a charismatic product, and adopted an attitude that is not only rational and volitional but also driven by a desire to grasp reality; in other words, a desire to explore the artistic possibilities of the industrial world that we yearn for and that will—sooner or later—fulfil everyday life for Latin Americans."
Acha, Juan. Actitud legítimamente artística : Gloria Gómez Sánchez en "Solisol. El Comercio (Lima, Perú), November 15, 1965.
Lopez, Miguel Angel. Robar la historia. Contrarrelatos, prácticas artísticas de oposición. Ediciones Metales Pesados. Santiago: 2017
Rea, J. Alberto. Treinta mintuos de charla con la señora Gloria Benvenuto de Gómez Sánchez, nuevo valor de la Pintura Nacional. Cahuide: Revista nacional (Lima, Perú), no. 114-115 (December-January, 1951)