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Más Allá, el Mar Canta (Beyond, the Sea Sings)

Sep 16–Dec 19, 2021

Diasporic Intimacies and Labor

Curated by Pablo José Ramírez

Artists: Esvin Alarcón Lam, Sybil Atteck, Nicole Awai, Mercedes Azpilicueta, Andrea Chung, Christopher Cozier, Colectivo Hapa, Richard Fung, Mimian Hsu, Peng Zuqiang, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Humberto Vélez, David Zink Yi

Christopher Cozier, Home/Portal, Berlin version, 2021, Christopher Cozier in collaboration with Haishu Chen, mixed media, dimensions variable, courtesy of the artist, photograph: Haishu Chen.

Diasporic intimacies are seeds growing amid the contingency of pain and emancipation. They are the dialectical side of colonial labor, concealing places of healing, care, and love from colonial technologies of alienation. Within historical accounts of colonialism, narratives of encounter and interracial intimacy register as minor, as non-political, or as private conundrums. However, alongside the utter violence of diasporic labor, people first found one another and lived together. Interracial encounters worked as systems of resistance and forces of cross-cultural creation.

By the late 19th century, thousands of Chinese workers had immigrated to the recently discovered gold mines in California (1848–49). From there, many moved to Mexico in search of better opportunities, working on banana plantations, agricultural plots, mills, and in the construction of massive railroad systems. At the turn of the 20th century, facing extreme exploitation, discrimination, poverty, and the Mexican Revolution’s (1910) establishment of new migratory policies, many Chinese workers continued south to Central America and the Caribbean, where they met other independent workers from the ports of Hong Kong, Amoy, Fuzhou, Macao, and Shanghai who had arrived in Latin America via Japan and California.

Chinese labor was instrumental in constructing the Panama Canal, a colossal engineering project that dramatically altered maritime trade across the Atlantic. Chinese workers also helped develop the logging industry in Belize and worked alongside African and Indigenous workers on CIA interventionist company UFCO’s (United Fruit Company) banana plantations in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. The modernization venture of the 20th century was only possible through colonial labor exploitation and cross-oceanic South-South diasporas. 

Mercedes Azpilicueta, Molecular Love (Mestizo) Act 3, 2016-ongoing, installation and performance, commissioned by Times Art Center Berlin, courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jens Ziehe

Mercedes Azpilicueta, Molecular Love (Mestizo) Act 3, 2016-ongoing, installation and performance, commissioned by Times Art Center Berlin, courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jens Ziehe

Richard Fung, installation view of Islands, 2002, single-channel video, 8:45 min., distributor Vtape, courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jens Ziehe

Humberto Vélez, The Last Builder, 2008, Super 8, black-and-white, transferred to video, music by Nikola Kodjabashia, courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jens Ziehe

David Zink Yi, All My Colours, 2021, ceramics, courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jens Ziehe

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Chiperrec, 2021, sculpture, bronze and resin, 110 x 180 cm, 65 kg, commissioned by Times Art Center Berlin

Chiperrec, 2021, sculpture, bronze and resin, detail

Andrea Chung, May Day, 2007-08, photo cutouts with plexiglass frame, variable dimensions, courtesy of the artist and Tyler Park Presents, Los Angeles

Colectivo Hapa, 女书 (nǚ shū), 2021, installation, dimensions variable

Mimian Hsu, No. 1674, Sección Administrativa, Version 1 & 2, 2007, embroidered Chinese bedspread and a copy of a document from the National Archive of Costa Rica, dimensions variable

Mercedes Azpilicueta, Molecular Love (Mestizo) Act 3, 2016-ongoing, installation and performance, commissioned by Times Art Center Berlin, courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jens Ziehe

Peng Zuqiang, keep in touch (part 1), 2020–21, three-channel video installation, 8:10 min., dimensions variable, courtesy of the artist

Más Allá, el Mar Canta borrows its name and takes inspiration from the book by the Afro-Chinese Cuban writer Regino Pedroso. With this work, Pedroso won the Cuban Poetry Prize in 1939, earning him acclaim as a truly unique voice of Latin American literature. His renowned contemporary, Nicolás Guillén, once described his friend’s work as “flowing like a wide and slow river through Asia and Africa before arriving in Cuba.” Teeming with passion and pain, Pedroso’s work blends the intricacies of colonial labor and modernity through a unique non-Western aesthetic imprint.

This exhibition aims to explore narratives of migration from China to Central America and the Caribbean as a starting point to consider systems of kinship and ontologies of intimacy. The artists’ work in the exhibition speaks from the conundrum of diasporic subjectivities, powered by either personal explorations or by collective motifs whose common ground is the always poignant reminder that there is no political imagination without community. The artworks in the exhibition are a unique testimony of an alchemic procedure that invokes agency from within the ruins of coloniality. 

Centuries of anxiety

against the high walls;

shooting stars

towards deep skies;

against feudal towers,

dream, pupil, fist;

against slave chain,

the wrath of the many;

impure throat opening

for bare edges;

setting the seas on fire

with the flame of the muscle …

Centuries of standing in the night

waking up to the future!

Regino Pedroso

(extract from “Y fue el tumultu”, free translation)

Exhibition Video

Previous Exhibition:

Angst, Keine Angst / 畏无所畏 / Fear, No Fear

Apr 7–Jul 17, 2021

Next Exhibition

Wong Ping: Earwax 耳屎

March 4–Jun 27, 2022