The Impact of the First International Biennial of Contemporary Art is felt throughout the city of Cartagena.

Anna y Jesús.Foto3

Translation by: Zoe Lukov – Photos: Ilana Spath and Andrea Eslava

We are only a few weeks into the first edition of the BIACI, and already the impact of the biennial is reverberating throughout the city. 120 works of art by international artists can be found throughout the city’s museums, colonial houses, fortifications and public spaces, and access to all exhibitions in addition to the performance, film, and conference program are free and open to the public.

Angely Rodríguez, who previously worked in the city’s tourism sector, tells us that her current job as the gallery manager at the Museum of Modern Art has been a profoundly enriching experience, and she has discovered that to appreciate the artists and works included in the biennial, it isn’t necessary to have studied to be an expert in contemporary art. Angely told us, “Art is universal—I had the incredible opportunity to interact with and get to know many of the artists as during the install of their works here in the museum, and I have learned that while sometimes the artist aims to transmit an idea or feeling that is different from what the audience perceives, all interpretations are valid. The biennial includes work of all kinds for the public of Cartagena and each of these produces different reactions—I have seen that people walk away from Miguel Ángel Rojas’s installation content and happy, while many visitors emerge from watching the video by Clemencia Echeverrí in a state of high anxiety, and after viewing Diego Mendoza’s work there is a palpable calm that I notice—all of these artworks generate different sensations.”

The gallery monitors all had the opportunity to research the artwork and participate in orientation seminars about each of the artists, their background, and the significance of and theory behind the works they created for the biennial.

Iliana Restrepo, one of the Directors of Production for the biennial, told us that in her opinion, one of the most important aspects of the biennial was that the production team worked closely with each of the artists to ensure that they were all satisfied with the production and installation of their work. Working on site generated close collaborations between the visiting artists and the local artisans, ceramicists, electricians, carpenters, blacksmiths, and metalworkers. Iliana explained, “The relationships that have now been established between the people of Cartagena and the rest of the world are much more than a simple working exchange of goods, materials, or labor —the most notable effects can be seen in the way that each of the many hands involved in this process has been able to learn and grow from the experience of working together. Our local artisans were not the only ones to find these relationships enriching—the international artists who came to Cartagena for the biennial came away with new life experiences that were previously foreign or unknown to them.”

These collaborations and experiences extended to many of the university students around Cartagena. Each of the artists was assigned an assistant to work with them during their installation and to help orient them to the city, many of whom are currently studying art or art history in their universities. In addition to receiving internship credits and daily wages, many of these assistants developed extremely close relationships with the artists, like in the case of the Egyptian artist Anna Boghiguian and her assistant, Jesús Oicatá, an art student from Cartagena. Not only did Jesús work on Anna’s entire installation which took three weeks, but he also accompanied Anna around the city—they shared meals, toured the exhibitions together, and eventually became close friends. Jesús, who is currently finishing his thesis project in Visual Arts told us “It was necessary for me to meet Anna—she spoke to me about my art and my projects, and in our conversations I have been able to gain clarity and think profoundly about many of the issues I am addressing with my own artwork.”

Overall the biennial has hired more than 150 people, across generations, as gallery monitors and managers, educational assistants and tour guides, and artists’ assistants, which we have seen does not only generate employment for many sectors of the city but also serves as yet another means of supporting a new generation of locals who are invested in and committed to contemporary art.