In what can sometimes feel paradoxically like a tourist-only zone or a place where you’re not super keen to be hanging out after dark, La Boca is pulling out all the stops to become the city’s go-to barrio for arts and culture. The area which is normally characterized by guidebook-worthy photos of colorfully corrugated iron houses along with tourist-oriented tango performances can sometimes unfairly be put in the category of “visit once and never again.” But La Boca has been changing and is gaining exposure for its association with the Distrito de las Artes; plenty of the city’s most prestigious exhibitions take place in the area.
Two recent art openings are cementing the barrio’s emerging reputation as the place to be for Buenos Aires’ most exciting art happenings for those in the know. At the Fundación Proa, which lies just meters from Caminito, an Argentine photography retrospective spanning 1850-2010 just opened. On loan from the J. Paul Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, the collection takes a look at key moments in Argentina’s history, from the arrival of European immigrants and their customs, through to city-wide violence in the 20th century.
Starting with the first room of the exhibition, the visitor is greeted with the beginning of a journey for many of Argentina’s immigrants. Featured in black and white portraits, the photographer’s subjects hoped to preserve their European dress and customs through capturing them on film. In contrast, the next sequence of images displays the many dances and other cultural traditions of Argentina’s indigenous people. The differences between the different groups of Argentina’s population are key in showcasing the diversity and richness of the country’s cultural heritage.
Continuing into the 20th century, a series of photos and magazine articles present the so-called two sides of Evita, each photo projecting Eva Perón’s elegance during the 1950s; however, they’re not always free from critique. For a look at a forgotten and seemingly deserted Buenos Aires (the photos definitely weren’t taken during hora pico); a few classic Coppola snaps images are also on display, capturing the golden years of the city’s glamour and sophistication.
By far the most poignant and moving section of the exhibition is Hijos, a series of portraits of the children of the desaparecidos. Pantoja asked that each of the children pose with a photograph of their disappeared parents, creating a heartbreaking connection between the separated generations. Each image, taken in the subject’s childhood home creates a powerful and painful realization of their parents’ absence.
Following on, a series of the madres de Plaza de Mayo captures the strength and force of the early days of the protests for the rights and justice of their disappeared children, taken during the last military dictatorship, 1976-1983.
Footsteps away from the Fundación’s main site you’ll find the newest addition to the Proa’s expanding cultural collection, Proa 21. This new space, experimental and flexible, is one to watch out for a fresher take on the art scene. With a corrugated iron front, Proa 21 blends easily into the surrounding area of conventillos. Fittingly, the new annex has been built near to the old workshops of La Boca’s best-loved artists like Benito Quinquela Martin and Fortunato Lacámera. Kicking off its first-ever season, the space presents porteño artist Leandro Katz and his project ‘El día que me quieras’ (the day that you love me), which deconstructs the notion of violence and the political use of it. More significantly, this is an exhibition that pays homage to Che Guevara, who was killed 50 years ago last year.
Detailing the events of Guevara’s iconic campaign in Bolivia from 1963 until his execution on October 7, 1967, this is the first time that Katz’s project has been brought together in one exhibition space. The artist was inspired back in 1987 when he first saw the photos of Guevara’s corpse laid out. Intrigued by the presentation of the images, he wanted to close what he called a rift in the imaginary. Noticing that Che was not the only one display for the journalists’ and army’s interest, he saw an arm from another body that had previously gone unnoticed. Katz continued his research and displayed its results throughout the nineties in a series of installations. Using photography as the main medium, the visitor is thrown into the lives and deaths of the guerrilla fighters.
A thought-provoking highlight of the collection is Bolivian photographer Freddy Alborta’s series of Guevara’s corpse. As the last person to capture a series of images of Guevara, Alborta’s shocking images have now been powerfully arranged next to paintings of the dead body of Christ. Through this provocative arrangement, the artist curates a clear and strong message surrounding the significance of Guevara’s capture and death in 1967. The contrast of Che’s lifeless corpse clothed in rags at the side of smartly dressed army officials pictured with the contrast of a dead Christ and his mourning followers provides a stark difference between the men’s demise. While Guevara could be interpreted as a comparison to the heroism of Christ, through this display it is clear that the artist laments Guevara’s treatment and death.
Downstairs, we are introduced to Tania and her many names and faces. A revolutionary during the 1960s, Tania fought relentlessly after meeting Guevara and later traveling to Cuba in 1961. Before being killed in 1967, she used up to five different disguises to protect herself from impending threats. Alongside these different views of her personality and life, her story is told through Katz’s multimedia selection of newspaper articles and videos. As a young female revolutionary, Tania was an unlikely heroine to join Che’s revolution.
Fotografía Argentina 1850–2010: Contradicción y Continuidad is on until July 9. Fundación Proa is located at Av. Don Pedro de Mendoza 1929. For more details see their website or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
The exhibition is open from 11 AM to 7 PM excluding Mondays. Proa 21 is located on Av. Don Pedro de Mendoza 2001 – 20099 and is open from 11 AM until 7 PM on Fridays through to Sundays.