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Subversive Practices: Art under Conditions of Political Repression

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Wí¼rttembergischer Kunstverein,
May 30, 2009 - Jul 02, 2009
Stuttgart, Germany

Subversive Practices
by Sol Henaro

Many of the works in the show deal with (read suffered) censorship, a well-known means of approving/disapproving applied by the status quo to any production that posed a threat to “order”, and that led many artists to produce docile works. This was not the case with the Catalonian Grup de Treball, which carried out the risky (8) project Champ d’attraction. Document. Travail d’information sur la presse illégale des Pays Catalans (Field of Attraction. Document. Information work on the illegal press in Catalonia) during the final days of Franco’s dictatorship; shown at the Ninth Paris Biennial (1975) and then at the Venice Biennial (1976), it was a study of the situation of the illegal press; of Catalan publications of a clandestine, anti-establishment nature.

Unfortunately, the history of humanity is far from being the collective story of a liberty shared by men and women over time. Man has not been able to say what he loves, or what he sincerely thinks, much less put it in writing to enable others to read about his ideas, complaints or passions without being harassed or persecuted for doing so. The written history of culture features writers and clerks, but it also features censors […] The main victims of this attack on intelligence were not a few thousand, but millions of Spaniards that were what they did not read, because if they had been allowed to read it, who knows what they would have been. (9) (Ruí­z Bautista, 2008: 12: 13).

Efforts have been made not to remove the works and documents shown in Subversive Practices from their socio-political context or to shape a historiography that cancels out the conditions under which they were produced, as otherwise they would merely act as a formal narrative of the history of the objects and representations, as solipsist assessments that ignore the very issues that gave rise to their existence. The number of disparate documents gathered, the social, cultural and political realities of each context and the artistic subjectivities exercised through civil disobedience of a system that oppressed them, ensure that the exhibition is not a closed book. On the contrary, it prompts queries and reflections in viewers that necessarily go beyond the museum space and foster critical attitudes towards issues that the system would have us believe are closed chapters in history. In the exhibition we relive history as a continuous spasm which, when placed in contrast with other geographic realities, allows us to broaden our critical overview of a past that is not so distant and over which indifference holds no place. Tumultuous times have existed and continue to exist in other contexts, but the type of investigation in Subversive Practices: Art in Conditions of Political Oppression 60s-80s/South America/Europe (10) is necessarily delimited; there is a further need for other readings and voices providing reflections from other realities. We cannot deny the past: José Martí­ once said that once the truth awakens, it doesn’t fall asleep again…It is our responsibility to exercise awareness.


(1) Traba, Marta. Arte Latinoamericano actual. Universidad Central de Venezuela, Editorial de la Biblioteca. Venezuela, 1972. P. 51.

(2) See [online] (consulted on 7/17/09)

(3) Mercader, Antoni. Vivid Radical Memory. In: Papers d’art. Fundació Espais d’Art Contemporani, Núm. 93. 2n semestre 2007, Girona. P. 137

(4) Other recent projects in this regard include: Los desaparecidos (The Disappeared), a traveling show organized by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional on “kidnapped-disappeared persons during the military regimes in power in Central and South America between the 1960s and the first half of the 1990s”. See [online] (consulted on 27/07/09); the Dictadura, Arte y Archivo open conversations organized by Casa Amí¨rica Catalunya and Proyecto Culturas de Archivo. See the online program (consulted on 30/07/09); the historiographic countermodel “Desacuerdos” (Disagreements) in the Spanish State and also the “Red de Conceptualismos del Sur” (Conceptualism Network of the South).

(5) The catalogue of the exhibition sponsored by the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart, "Subversive Practices: Art under Conditions of Political Repression”, is due to be published at the end of 2009.

(6) The Public and the Private Body in Contemporary Romanian Art, in Art Margins, contemporary Central & East European visual culture. Available at

(7) Taken from one of the testimonies of the video register shown at Subversive Practices.

(8) In 1975 during Franco’s time an anti-terrorist law was enacted, together with a state of emergency.

(9) Ruí­z Bautista, Eduardo (coordinator). Tiempo de censura. La represión editorial durante el franquismo. Ed. Trea, Gijón 2008. Pages 12 and 13.

(10) For a virtual visit of the show, curators’ texts and audio versions of the conferences at the symposium, see (online) (consulted on 13/08/09).

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