I had the pleasure of talking to Alexis Fabry on the publication of the catalogue of Battered Latin America, the exhibition he co-curated earlier this year at the Fondation A Stichting in Brussels. The book compiles the work of twenty photographers, including lesser-known names (Jaime Villaseca, Agustín Martínez Castro) and many of the region’s luminaries (Paz Errázuriz, Paolo Gasparini, Graciela Iturbide). These images form a condensed yet revealing journey through some of Latin America’s most persistent subjects of the past fifty years, such as the modernization of cities, the consequences of economic and social immobility, the pushback against the cultural dominance of the United States, and the oppression and intolerance of its political regimes.
Arturo Soto: There seem to be many continuities between your previous curatorial project Urbes Mutantes and Battered Latin America. Do you see these projects as complementary?
Alexis Fabry: You are correct: they are twin projects, in a way! Because of the similar subject matter, but also in the selection of photographers as well… In Urbes Mutantes as well there was a chapter devoted to walls. The walls you see everywhere in Latin America, with peeling paint or posters and crumbling masonry: walls of ruined architectures, in Chile, in Argentina, in Colombia, in Peru, in Cuba, in Mexico, which bear the ravages of time and political struggles… But the aim in Urbes Mutantes was more demonstrative: to establish a list of those who, in my view, are the finest photographers in Latin America, as opposed to previous projects, such as Mapas Abiertos, which were over-indulgent, perhaps, to the sort of lyricism that creates legends…
AS: Can you talk about the process of translating the experience of an exhibition into a catalog? What would you like the viewer to take away from this book?
AF: It has become a cliché to say that the book is a particularly favorable medium for photographic expression, a privileged place. I belong to a generation that sincerely believed this: we greeted the appearance of the successive volumes of Martin Parr’s and Gerry Badger’s photobook project with great excitement. The book outlives the exhibition: it is the ideal place to defend, in the long run, a certain idea of photography as it has come out of an entire region…
AS: Do you think that projects like Battered Latin America play a role in establishing a canon for contemporary Latin American photography?
AF: As I was saying before, the desire to establish a sort of ideal roster was more present in Urbes Mutantes and in Pulsions Urbaines… But it is true that, as project follows project and I am given an opportunity to reaffirm my choices, a sort of a tableau necessarily forms… But from there to the idea of actually establishing a canon is to give me too much credit…
AS: The exhibition originated from a private collection and many of its works emphasize the urban experience. Why is that?
AF: The stones seized from ancient civilizations, stripped of their coloring, were used to construct the modernist utopia, but neither urban specters nor revolutions have saved Latin America from the abyss of violence.
AS: I sense an echo in the catalogue’s title of Eduardo Galeano’s work. Could you perhaps talk about the intention behind using such a charged title?
AF: The original title is in French. It was the name of the exhibition in Brussels, at the Fondation A, founded and directed by Astrid Ullens. But the translation of the French title ―l’Amérique Latine éraflée― poses problems in both Spanish and English. We were unable to find a word to translate the literal sense of éraflure, as in a surface that has been scratched (éraflé), while at the same time evoking the idea of a police roundup operation (une rafle)… The Spanish title (América Latina Golpeada) was arrived at by default, so to speak…
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Alexis Fabry and Arturo Soto. Images @ the artists courtesy of Alexis Fabry.)