Re:View

‘Cities have a lot to say’ so we listened

with Carlos Garaicoa

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Developed over the last thirty-four years, Carlos Garaicoa’s practice is two fold. Whether working in photography, painting, installation, architectural model making, occupation or a combination of the above, his practice seeks to interrogate utopian urban imageries while representing the historical threads linking Latin America to the African continent. Featured in this week’s Re:View, we examine his process and its findings.

With an acute understanding of spatial violence and an awareness of cities as anything but neutral witnesses to their occupants’ lives, Carlos Garaicoa recently spent some time in Johannesburg on a research trip that resulted in his upcoming solo exhibition at Goodman Gallery. “That’s after more than twenty years,” he sighs before recalling his time in South Africa for the Johannesburg Biennale (1995) followed by two subsequent trips between 1996 and 1999. 

Inhaling deeply, Garaicoa explains how following Memorias Intimas Marcas (1997–2008), a body of work dealing with Cuba and South Africa’s involvement in Angola’s war, he felt ready to come back to “at least use my practice as a way to connect with the public.”

Titled Goqa, the upcoming show sees Garaicoa’s new and existing bodies of work coming together with the intention of composing a telling portrait of the city. “I was very young when I first came to Johannesburg but I believe that bringing several photos from the 90s into the exhibition will show the consistency of the way I look at things.”

Although Garaicoa’s practice spans across an array of mediums and disciplines, with Goqa, the artist’s thoughts, lessons and assertions rely on photography while other interventions work as auxiliaries. “I did this because my understanding of South Africa’s recent history is very much connected to photography as a social language.  I wanted to pay tribute to that. I wanted to dialogue with this history and with this genre of visual art.”

Explaining his decision to study the objects of architecture, urbanism and history instead of the people they affect, Garaicoa says, “I think cities have a lot of things to say.” Using the spatial to examine the lived realities, Garaicoa points to the inability of inanimate objects to perform. “The degradation. The decay. The occupation of buildings. The way that people use the city says a lot. Cities cannot lie so they are an important diagram to consider.” 

During the conversation, Garaicoa seems to pick up on an air of hesitation. The assertions of a visiting lens are often weird and hard to accept as a native occupying the very city he sought to study. Noting how limited his perception of Johannesburg is and shying away from his practice being perceived as a parachute hot-take, Garaicoa positions his practice as a type of speculative fiction. “I do believe that when you don’t live in a place, many of the things you get from it are superficial. But from that superficial approach I can develop questions and start conversations that unintentionally bring the public to the heart of problems. Art is a thread that you follow and that is what I intend to do with this new body of work,” says Garaicoa. 

Goodman Gallery Johannesburg will exhibit Goqa from 28 January to 4 March.

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Ruth Ige. Don't hide your glory, 2022.
Acrylic on canvas. 122 x 122cm. (© Copyright 2022, STEVENSON. All rights reserved)