La Escuela del Sur was a major new commission by Venezuelan-born artist Sol Calero, and her largest exhibition until this time. Stemming from her South American heritage and migration to Europe, Calero constructs social spaces that use sensory engagement as a democratic entry point for audiences to investigate socio-political themes of cultural representation and national identity. Calero’s playful installations and carefully selected palette conjure ‘tropical’ environments, which invite the audience to reconsider notions of cultural appropriation. Her distinctive visual language is loaded with references based on imported ideas and categories. She adopts stereotypical imagery, such as exotic fruit and sensuous salsa dresses, which simultaneously represent and investigate how we conceive of a culturally homogenous Latin America.
For her commission at Studio Voltaire, Calero worked in residency in the gallery for six weeks, creating a large-scale installation based on the Caribbean community of Los Roques, a Venezuelan National Park situated in the Caribbean Sea. The archipelago bears the legacies of colonialism, and the picturesque houses on the main island, a combination of European, indigenous South American and Afro-Caribbean in influences, demonstrate this. Calero used the hybrid architecture of Los Roques to recreate a vision of paradise but also to problematize the carnavalized identity of the Other.
In the late 1800s, Studio Voltaire’s main gallery functioned as a Mission Hall and Sunday School. Calero used this as an initial point of departure to create an interior centered around a school. Working with the gallery’s vernacular architecture, she assimilated its Victorian features into her own visual iconography. As part of the commission Calero created customized school furniture and changeable blackboard paintings, which double-up as tools for classes. The installation is lined with her façade paintings, the scale of which recall theatre sets. Calero is interested in the illusion of Latin America as a utopia; however, her constructed spaces could be considered more a heterotopia, a place of otherness with more layers of meaning than immediately apparent.
Calero’s spatial interventions are both formal and functional and are designed to allow the space to be fully realised as a social setting. Her Caribbean style school later hosted art classes for local groups as well as workshops with a neighboring school. A series of lectures was held on issues surrounding the cultural appropriation of Latin American art and its reception in Europe.
La Escuela del Sur (The School of the South) takes its title from Uruguayan artist and art theorist Joaquin Torres Garcia’s text of the same name. Torres Garcia is considered the father of Latin American Constructivism. In 1935 Torres Garcia published La Escuela del Sur, in which he proposed an autonomous art movement in Latin America that would invert the traditional hierarchy of art by placing Latin America before Europe. Later he established Taller Torres Garcia, a progressive educational art community that could be considered in the tradition of Bauhaus. Its fundamental aim was to develop a distinctive Latin American artistic language based on constructivist theories.
“I have called this ‘The School of the South’ because in reality, our north is the south. There must not be north for us, except in opposition to our south. Therefore we now turn the map upside down, and then we have a true idea of our position, and not as the rest of the world wishes”. – Joaquin Torres Garcia, The School of the South.
The artist would like to thank Ana Alenso, Angus Braithwaite, Flo Brooks, William Evans, Dave Hanger, Valentina Jager, Christopher Kline, Richard Prest, Lorenzo Sandoval, Hendrik Simons & Callum Whitley.
All photos by Andy Keate