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Book Review: Gerardo Mosquera's Walking with the Devil. Notes on art, internationalism and cultures
by Magaly Espinosa

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Has the devil been useful? Or have we sold our souls?*
Notes on Gerardo Mosquera’s book on art, internationalism and cultures.

Delving into Caminar con el diablo. Textos sobre arte, internacionalismo y culturas, (Walking with the Devil: Essays on Art, Internationalism and Cultures), art critic, essayist and curator Gerardo Mosquera’s latest book, brings up a variety of emotions, not just due to our friendship, but above all because having had the opportunity to share his ideas on art practice and on curatorship for a long time, I learnt how important it is to be able to extract some certainties from the uncertain world of art through the active link between art theory and art practice.

I remember an occasion at the end of the eighties when we ran into each other at the Ministry of Culture and he showed me a book he was reading, the Polish philosopher Stefan Morawski’s “The Fundamentals of Aesthetics”, which he referenced with great enthusiasm. We subsequently photocopied it and it became one of the most widely used texts in classes at Havana’s Instituto Superior del Arte’s Department of Aesthetics and Philosophy.

That may just seem an anecdote about something that often happens in chance encounters between colleagues, but for us it was an extraordinary occasion because the book was not any old bibliography: it was important to choose wisely how to mediate in artists’ training in that cultural quandary we were all experiencing, a combination of socialist, third-world and Western components.

We must not forget that Mosquera was one of the most important promoters of the consolidation of the Cuban art movement of that time, which was characterized by a sense of renewal, since his essays and conferences highlighted the values that were to mark that renewal. The texts in this book were written from the beginning of the nineties to the current decade. They bear his manner of experiencing art and the seal of someone who has distilled theory and international practice based on the real conditions facing the Latin American art environment. Hence from the outset he closely examines the various meanings of globalization and its implications in the internationalization of art, the tensions created by the dialectics between the global and the local, intermeshed with intercultural processes, and those of transculturation, assimilation, appropriation, recycling, re-semantization, “the consequences of the ever-increasing interaction between cultures”.

The depth and systematic approach with which he analyzes issues such as cultural transfers and exchanges make Mosquera one of the most important researchers of contemporary Latin American thought. This is evident in two basic qualities: the continuous exemplification of the social and cultural issues that act on the world of art, stemming from appraisals of art practices themselves, and the thoroughness with which they are tackled.

Mosquera has managed to strike the difficult balance between that cultural dialectic of the global and the local by taking into account the roles played by each actor in the process: the curators or commissioners, the part played by museums as trans-cultural commissioners, and the languages and aesthetics of the artistic process itself.

Developing a category-based apparatus with which to implement a cultural theory and discover the most common tensions and trends that unequal exchanges foster has been one of the ongoing purposes of his reflections. This compilation of texts therefore refers as much to identity as to the issue of globalization we have mentioned. Both are viewed as an unequal axis around which the intense unfolding of Latin American art hinges, although it is never a case of returning to the oft-resorted topic of essences: instead the idea is to see from the inside, based on what is already there and how it is transformed by new forces, which “…seem to be leading us gradually toward a more fluid cultural interaction…”

In that sense, although the analyses of interpretations of things Latin American are at the heart of the discussions of theory outlined in the book, this is really an incentive to draw closer both to the topic of cultural transfers and ways of legitimizing them, and to the aesthetic possibilities of forms of art that seek to express the social and cultural processes taking place within.

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