MultipleCity, Panama 2003 (Fundacion Arte Panama)
Excerpted from ArtNexus.com
Timed to coincide with the nation?s centennial, MultipleCity presented a radical new vision of art as social praxis. The exhibition featured fourteen local and international artists, all of whom tailored new works to the physical and cultural realities of Panama City.
Local artists and intellectuals have struggled for years against a lack of forward-looking institutions in Panama. The inspiration of MultipleCity curators Adrienne Samos and Gerardo Mosquera was to treat this lack not as an obstacle but as an advantage. Their de-centralized curatorial method made use of the local scene?s open-endedness: instead of being directed from above, international artists worked alongside local artists, capitalizing on this pool of specialized knowledge to tailor their work to the city?s unique micro-politics. In return, many locals ? engineers, architects, bus painters ? received a first-hand course in groundbreaking art.
Construction on the canal ? originally started by the French, who brought in Chinese laborers in the mid-19th century, and continued later by the Americans, who imported Jamaicans and other West Indians ? contributed to Panama?s astonishingly diverse cultural mosaic. These immigrants? multivalent identity is the subject of Chinese-Canadian artist Gu Xiong?s mixed media installation, I Am Who I Am.
Xiong interviewed members of the local Chinese community, some of whose families have resided in Panama for over a century, and ultimately hung photos of these interviewees, overlaid with their quotes, on brightly colored banners above a main thoroughfare running through the city?s Chinatown. It was a potent reminder of the multiplicity that gave MultipleCity its inspiration, a reminder that nothing is simple in the city of the twenty-first century.
The artist worked closely with the Chinese-Panamanian community in an installation that fused personal experiences with public art. Near Chinatown, the big banners and multicolored ribbons hung from one side to the other of a populous street, recalling the Chinese festival tradition. Each one of these banners displayed a photograph of a person, accompanied by words that spoke about an aspect of his or her identity, repeated in Spanish, Chinese and English.
I am Who I am, mixed media installation, Panama City