Sending out an 'SOS' to the art world

arts / Article

Edwin Villasmil, "Libertad de Expresion," Ink on Paper.

There is a strain in North American art practices to shy away from overtly political commentary – that, of course, is a sweeping statement, but European, African and Latin American artists seem to wade into that territory more often. Miami, sitting on the edge of several worlds, can slide to either side.

“SOS Venezuela,” opening at the Bakehouse Art Complex tonight, leaves no doubt about its intended statement through art. In this hemisphere at least, Venezuela is experience the most political turmoil; two natives of that country who are now residents at the Bakehouse, Edwin Villasmil and Elba Martinez, are addressing that turbulence straight on. The exhibit incorporates drawing, video and sound pieces for a site-and-topic-specific show. After a trip back home recently, they wanted to make us all focus on the protests, the oppression and the precarious state of Venezuela at this very moment with “socially relevant, impactful works.”

The duo has been making collaborative works for over two decades. In “SOS,” the “pair explore their personal experiences and stories of their fellow countrymen as a matter of human rights that demands attention, as it affects us all.”

An SOS from Villasmil: La Mente de Chavez, Ink on Paper An SOS from Villasmil: "La Mente de Chavez," Ink on Paper.

In fact, the Bakehouse is reshaping its Swenson Gallery into a project space that will continually address topical, political issues through art, as a way to show that it is all entwined. We do not live on individual islands unaffected by the experiences of those around us. And while artists rightly don’t want to be used to make unsubtle political points, with a bludgeon rather than an X-acto knife as can happen in authoritarian regimes, the struggles all around can’t be artistically ignored, from over-development and ecological destruction to the stripping of rights and freedoms. Art that says nothing at all is too self-indulgent for our global world, and the Swenson Gallery wants to have a say.

“SOS Venezuela” opens April 11 and runs through May 2, with an artists’ (an activists’) talk on May 1 at 6 p.m., 561 N.W. 32 St., Miami;

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