Sumac Space

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Almacén المخزن Armazém [volume 1]

+ Exhibition text

24.04.2022 - 05.06.2022

Curated by

Daniel H. Rey

Almacén de pequeñas interacciones entre grandes regiones y sus personas
 المخزن التفاعلات الصغيرة بين  المناطق  الكبيرة وشعبها
Armazém de pequenas interações entre grandes regiões e suas pessoas

As a child in Paraguay, I grew up going to two almacenes for sweets. One was around the corner from home. The other one was three flights away. My first contact with the Arabic-speaking world was in the early 2000s in Levant, where I learned that sweets, no matter the ingredients or the distance, are still sweets. This formative period of two worlds connected by a child interacting with their sugar/azúcar/as-sukkar is what brings us here today.

Almacén المخزن Armazém is a multimedia research project storing and amplifying the archives and current explorations of artists, craft makers, chefs, musicians, and creatives at large who have ties to both Latin America* and the Arabic-speaking world. Playing on the Spanish word “almacén” and Portuguese “armazém” inherited from the Arabic “المخزنal-makhzen”, meaning “storage or warehouse”, this first volume focuses on micro and powerful interactions between the two regions by way of their peoples.

‘akhi huna present their album Aleluiá, which shares subtle references to a Brazilian family history with Lebanese roots. Honduras-born Adrian Pepe introduces Entangled Matters, in which he works with Awassi wool and its millenary history in Lebanon. Ana Escobar Saavedra draws parallels between rings and marriage alliances in Dubai’s gold souq and pre-Columbian alloys. Andrea Salerno finds in Dubai the accidental culmination of her Migratory Birds cuisine project once initiated in Rosario, Argentina. Cristina Serrano revisits her college years in Abu Dhabi with a street food menu cooked in her kitchen in Bogotá. Enrique Yidi restages the arrival of Arab migrants to Puerto Colombia with his mastery of mother-of-pearl crafts in Barranquilla-based Taller Palestina. Sofia Basto Riousse visualizes her growing relationship with the Khaleeji desert as a painter longing for Colombia’s green lands of Huila. 

Almacén المخزن Armazém seeks to situate itself historically, tracing heritages, genealogies, and contemporary migratory paths by way of the creative resources presented. Equally, it responds to a history of cultural exchange that, tracing back to colonial times and their European mediators, has had modern and contemporary manifestations too. 

Over the past century and a half, the Arabic-speaking world and Latin America have come into progressively closer contact. Periodic waves of Arab, mainly Shami/Levantine, migration to the Americas have led to São Paulo, Santiago de Chile, and Barranquilla having some of the most established Arab diaspora communities in the world. With them, cities like Asunción and Mexico City have been shaped by bearers of Arab last names to the extent of lomito árabe becoming Paraguay’s de facto street food and tacos al pastor revolutionizing Mexican cuisine forever. Parallel to this, West Asia and North Africa have developed a fan base of Latin telenovelas, embraced Messi and Ronaldinho football jerseys across cities, and began listening to reggaeton and its nuances from radios to clubs. Until recently, my Arabic teacher from Sweida and I logged into our Zoom calls with the Paraguayan and Druze versions of mate, mine with boldo, hers with bits of cardamom.

With two regions in contact come their events and icons. Wikipedia has dedicated a full page to unpacking the “cultural impact of Shakira”, a performer and singer-songwriter who, singing Fairuz songs at ‘90s family events, went on to conquer the world with her mentions of Bahrain-to-Beirut and the idea that hips don’t, and perhaps won’t ever, lie. Randomly, probably as Shakira Isabel Mebarak was performing for her family, the UAE had its first FIFA World Cup match against Colombia in June of 1990.  

Before and after Shakira’s pop hits and massive football competitions, a few other voices have existed who experimented with these two seemingly distant but almost identical worlds: artists. Among them stands Bibi Zogbé “La Pintora de las Flores”, an artist of the world, who existed between Lebanon, Argentina, and also Uruguay, and Senegal – maybe she became all these places too. Her paintings, and a chance encounter with her work in Art Dubai, serve as reminders that even with months-long boat trips, the Arab world and Latin America have indeed interacted visually, materially, and humanly. 

Today, the Latin–Arab arts landscape has gained more layers. To name a few recent examples, Curator Amanda Abi Khalil and the Temporary Art Platform organized in 2020 ‘Make Yourself at Home’: Tropical Escape for Lebanese Artists, a relief residency in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, following the Beirut blast. Lawrence Abu Hamdan has recently exhibited in Guatemala City (NuMu) and Bogotá (Mor Charpentier), being joined in the latter by Kader Attia and Bouchra Khalili. Argentina-based BIENALSUR took place in two Saudi cities before and after Covid, the Jameel Prize is currently in Chile, and Colombia comes with three potent voices to the next Sharjah Biennial. Today, Barranquilla is home to Instituto de Cultura Árabe de Colombia, a grassroots platform that has joined this research project as a curatorial mentor to study and identify past, current, and foreseeable interactions between both the Arab world and Latin America. All of these cross-pollinations have happened in less than five years, mostly at an institutional level. Therefore, hoping to multiply these encounters and document them, this research project shares an intimate perspective of artists in the Arab and Latin worlds who are seeking to preserve, test, and communicate their explorations by their own means.

Overall, Almacén المخزن Armazém is a living storage space and does not have all the answers or conclusive statements. Rather, it frames its archival intention by juxtaposing large regions (and their fluid linguistic, territorial, and diasporic boundaries) with the small, curious, and deeply personal explorations of people who have physically or imaginatively experienced both places. This first volume begins with artists born in Latin America who have roots in the Arab world and/or who have been part of contemporary migratory paths that have consolidated Dubai and Beirut as creative hubs in the Arab world. With these artists, their interactions, and what they have in store, the first premise of Almacén المخزن Armazém is one and the same: that Arab–Latin and Latin–Arab are not just hyphens or “identities” but, rather, lifestyles produced, recreated, and amplified by people. By consequence, we are moving towards a shapeshifting worldview that we could baptize Lárabe, but more fittingly so: Lعtin.

_Daniel H. Rey

* Latin America is a colonial term that limits access to the layers and fluidity of a vast region and its histories.

Daniel H. Rey b. 1998, San Juan de Pasto, Colombia. Lives and works in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, UAE. Daniel is an independent curator advocating for #YouthCuratingYouth and Latin-Arab cross-pollinations. His work balances institutional and grassroots presence via Art Jameel, Dirwaza Curatorial Lab, and Global Art Daily, among others. An emerging writer, arts educator and public programmer, he has participated in cultural projects in South America, the Arab Gulf, Scandinavia, and the USA. Daniel feels at home in Paraguay, Norway, the UAE, and hopefully in Mars. curator@danielhrey.com; @danihrey

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