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What stories should we tell? The controversial art of GLORIA GOMEZ-SANCHEZ

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

Gloria Gomez Sanchez, El sublime Yllomomo del amor, 1965

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.

Gloria Gomez Sanchez, Muñecones, 1965.

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."

Robert Rauschenberg's Untitled 1965

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?