Bureau Phi

#1 Cartagena Biennial. BIACI

Fundación BIACI, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. February 7–April 7, 2014

In conceiving this newest of biennials, the powerful presence of the past throughout Cartagena Old Town continually kept surfacing as a catalyst for the exhibition; not as a topic or theme per se, but a direction, an underlying driving force. Walking through Old Town, the historical resonance does not merely evoke the past; it is almost a direct encounter with it. But how could the past to mean more than the simple cliché of a "City-Monument"?

The purpose of #1 Cartagena Biennial was not to introduce a certain definite past but rather to emphasize its presence today – the fact that it is already here and open to a broad range of interpretation and even personal significance.This broad range of interpretation also has global implications, meaning there are many parallels to be found throughout the world. This historical presence forces the obvious question: How can contemporary art deal with the paradigm of the past as seen in the present? Pre-Colombian culture, conquistadors and a colonial foundation, a central role in the Caribbean slave trade, the Inquisition, a rich legacy of colonial architecture, 20th-century immigration and diversity, industrialization, a vibrant tourist industry reflecting the rise of a leisured middle class facilitated by air travel and enormous cruise ships – this kaleidoscope of history is readily visible in Cartagena, in its buildings and streets, public monuments and statues, museums and fortifications, millennia-old musical and craft traditions, distinct neighborhoods founded centuries ago by escaped slaves, and a population that is a rich ethnic mix. The question is, however, What does this historical presence mean to us today? And what are the different ways we have to deal with the past?

The # 1 Cartagena Biennial is structured as four core exhibitions, each containing an average of 20 artists and addressing a network of history, facts, and imagination that is connected both to local history and to its multi-faceted manifestations, many of which are global. One core concept deals with loss, trauma, and the intangible, and is largely centered on the Museo Histórico Palacio de la Inquisición. The second deals with crafts, largely spurred by the ancient crafts traditions of Cartagena; its center is the Museo Naval del Caribe. The third core focuses on colonialism and its manifestations, and is found principally in the Casa 1573, the number reflecting what is believed to be the year of its construction. And the final exhibition core deals with arts, culture, and ecology and is based mainly in the Colegio de la Presentación. But discussed, these "exhibitions" spill out into the street and are located throughout the city.

Images: © Oscar Monsalve, BIACI.