Lugar a dudas is a contemporary art space based in Santiago de Cali, Colombia. The term loosely translates to “place to doubt”. The ethos of the space contests existing paradigms and encourages questioning as the ideal posture to uncover new ideas. Furnished with an accommodation facility (This Is Not A Hotel), a gallery and library, it positions itself as a hub for developing ideas and critical thinking through exchange and research.
While on my month-long residency last year I met artists who espouse the desire for understanding the constitution of one’s cultural identity through a collective past – some of whom I established collaborative relationships undergirded by respect and appreciation of each other’s cultural diversity. Engaging my country’s history as a first step to understanding my own national identity was a shared sentiment and a subject I found young and older artists actively working on. The wealth of archival resources I encountered provided an entrée into how local artists were re-presenting and re-imagining their own cultural history[ies] through their work.
Untitled (3) … [Letter to the Sky] is the third work in the Prison Anxieties series I begun in 2011. This project looks at the emotional stories of violence, death, escape, transition and will for freedom through Ghana’s colonial past. San Antonio (where the residency was based) had an aura that reminded me of Ga Mashie — specifically Ussher town and James town in Accra. The towns, about 500m apart, share compounded narratives of invasion, violence, trade and are now haunted by those memories.
The work addresses the perception of my own identity as a state in crisis – a construction that needed to be broken down and re-constructed. My intention was to make work that signified remembrance of Santiago de Cali’s colonial beginning – the year 1536 – by dealing with the Iglesia La Merced as the oldest existing architecture exacerbated by also being the site where the city was founded.
The “La Merced” complex is constituted of the Museo Arqueológico “La Merced” (Archaeological Museum), Museo Arte Colonial “La Merced” (the Museum of Colonial and Religious Art) and the Iglesia La Merced (Our Lady of Mercy convent church). This creates a fascinating juxtaposition of institutions constantly engaging history and contextualizing it for contemporary consumption.
The histories present within the “La Merced” complex made it a compelling beginning point into my study of Colombia’s cultural past – Santiago de Cali specifically. The installation when perceived in relation to the physical content within the museums’ walls became the symbolic gesture that initiates a concrete encounter with history for the observer.