March 16 - April 22, 2007
Canciones del mundo al revés sings in printed and cut-out paper and cardboard about the ever-growing divide between rich and poor, between power and powerlessness, between the US and Mexico. Paper-cut artist Swoon, whose home base is Brooklyn, New York, and stencil artist Poncho from the insurgent region of Chiapas and neighbouring Oaxaca in the southeast of Mexico, have joined forces to bring these issues to attention. Together they create a world of powerful survival, a world in which Western street art and Mexican murals have fused together to reveal the true face of one of the hotbeds of 21st century political activism.
Swoon and Poncho will especially for MU build a reversed world in which the people, poor though they may be, have not lost their human dignity. Their inspirational source is the satirical combativeness of the Latin-American writer Eduardo Galeano, whose book ‘Patas Arribas, la escuela del mundo al revés’ (translated in Dutch as ‘Ondersteboven. De school van de omgekeerde wereld’) appeared in the late nineties. Both the book, which is illustrated by the Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, and the installation by Swoon and Poncho, take a stand against the exploitation and inequality that are largely due to globalization and its concomitant, labour migration.
We in Europe know about the desperate attempts of African citizens to make it to ‘fort Europe’, but similar tragedies are taking place in the borderland between Mexico and the USA. Looking for work, large groups of people, particularly from the south of Mexico and mostly male, try to make their way to their wealthy neighbour, the US. They leave their wives and daughters behind in a desolate and destitute landscape.
As the women can hardly survive on what their families send them, they are forced to work hard themselves, slaving away in miserable, underpaid jobs. Many of these women make hand-stitched leather footballs. It takes a woman one full day to finish one football, for which she is paid less than one US dollar. The fastest-working women can do as many as twelve footballs a week, but even then, their wages do not exceed twelve US dollars. These women used to work on their own, which made them all the more vulnerable, so now they have united in a collective.
Supported by activist teachers, artists like Poncho, and Zapatistas, who would gladly replace the present conservative Mexican government by a more socialist-oriented political system, these women-collectives have recently been involved in a fierce struggle the impact of which reverberated in the Mexican parliament and reached the Dutch news bulletins.
Swoon, who owes her fame mainly to the person-sized, cutout paste-ups that she has since 2001 introduced in the streets of New York, learned about the severe hardship these Mexican women suffer in Chiapas during a long trek in the thick of the action. Tired of the busy New York art life – Swoon exhibited in Deitch Projects, PS1, Miami Art Basel, MOMA and other exhibition spaces– she went to Mexico to find new energy and real life. And real life she found, brutal and explicit. She also found an artistic tradition that showed affinity with her own working method, and a young artist she was enthusiastic to cooperate with.
When MU invited Swoon to make an installation, she grabbed the opportunity to tell the story of the women of Chiapas, to make their militant songs ring aloud and clear. She says that this project would be difficult to realize in both the US and Mexico. In Europe, however, the project would be successful in raising the reality to a higher level. Here, the portraits and songs of the women of Chiapas become metaphors for the increasingly distorted relationships occurring all over the world.
Canciones del mundo al revés thus promises to become Swoon’s most political work so far. A reversed world that is nonetheless inhabited by real people, people who dance and work, live and sing.