In the late 1980s, Juan Carlos Alom studied photography in the Department of Semiotics at the Instituto Internacional de Periodismo in Havana, then rapidly began working as a press photographer. From the 1990s onwards, his experimental photos and films have presented what amount to symbols of Cuban culture, its conventions and social mores. For instance, Alom investigates the role of group belonging and rituals in everyday Cuban life. Authentic street pictures and portraits of young people involved in their existential search, family groups and elderly musicians, convey the impression of a country that oscillates between reality and poetic artificiality.
Back in the late 1980s, Guillermo Kuitca developed a penchant for highly complex constructions, which he translated in alienated form in his painting. By means of considered overpainting and blurring he produced dense configurations, all based on architectural and room plans, elevations and maps. Kuitca created series and groups of painstakingly painted systems – including Untitled, 1994-98, and L'Encyclopédie, 1999-2001 – which appear abstract when viewed from a distance but reveal a real place when seen from close up. Based on this codified vocabulary, the Argentine artist succeeded in translating his motifs into new contexts and investigating the interface between private and public space. These relations were then heightened by the use of mattresses instead of the conventional canvas support, thus shifting private territory into the public sphere.
This painterly translation of architectural space attracted attention on the international art scene as early as the 1980s, so that Kuitca was invited to present his work to a broad public in important exhibitions such as Documenta IX (1992) and the Venice Biennale (2007).
Macchi studied visual art at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “Prilidiano Pueyrredónin” in Buenos Aires. He employs a variety of media and moves playfully between the various art genres, from sculpture and installation to drawing, video and photography. The artist's lasting interest in links between art and music becomes apparent again and again. For example, Macchi frequently uses music boxes as metaphors in his video works, superimposing mundane phenomena, such as the sounds of traffic, on their mechanisms. This results in brief lyrical episodes which nonetheless can represent sociocritical or poetic statements.
Since the end of the 1960s, Cildo Meireles’ performances, objects and installations have made direct critical statements about the agitated political and social history of his country. A further frequent theme in the artist's work is the mechanisms of economic systems, which he often profoundly questions. For example, Meireles manipulated the appearance of Coca-Cola bottles and put them back in circulation, an attack on one of the most highly symbolic products of American “imperialism”. The artist's works invariably have a strong conceptual aspect, distilling complex ideas from Brazilian history, politics and folklore into environments with a narrative but also poetical character. The viewer is drawn into the art and encouraged to identify its interwoven symbols and decode their relationships step by step.
As a girl, the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta was taken to the U.S. without her parents in 1961, as part of “Operation Peter Pan.” She grew up in refugee camps and with various foster parents until being reunited with her family a few years later. The experiences of exile and homelessness have profoundly shaped her art, in which she investigates her own identity and transience with reference to mythology and ritual. In the early 1970s, Mendieta studied painting and intermedia at the University of Iowa, which at the time provided an environment receptive to experiments with innovative forms of expression. In radical performances revolving around her own body, she employed various natural materials, thus anticipating strategies of today's established performative arts. Until her tragic death in 1985, Mendieta created works including the conceptual Silueta series, in which she addressed the presence of the body in the context of landscape space.
In the early 1970s, Oscar Muñoz began to study art at the Instituto Departamental de Bellas Artes in Cali. The focus at this art college at the time was on photorealism, which was not without effect on the artist's early work. In terms of content, he began to emphasize the phenomenon of urbanization, using primarily photography as a medium, whose documentary quality and “truth value” especially attracted him. The capacity of capturing both reality and illusion in photos, but also the challenge of retaining memories, advanced in the early 1990s to become key features of Muñoz's art. He frequently devotes himself to strategies of (self-)representation, focusing on the issue of identity-finding, self-love and, not least, one's personal past. He addresses these motifs on the one hand by means of depictions of the body and face themselves, and on the other through conscious transformation of certain evanescent materials such as breath vapor, water, light, wax and dust.
Wilfredo Prieto studied painting from 1997 to 2002 at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. For several years now he has been working almost exclusively in the field of object art and installations. His conceptual projects develop a direct reference to everyday experiences, slightly reinterpreted in the installations, where apparently familiar things are alienated, as in the reconstruction of a library containing 5,000 blank white books (Biblioteca blanca, 2004). The artist consciously isolates certain traits of a situation, place or convention, attempting to conserve the essence of the subject. Prieto works analogously in his environments for the public space, whose execution invariably takes the immediate context of the site into consideration. Prieto represented Cuba twice, in 2007 and 2013, at the Venice Biennale.
After attending the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, in the 1970s Rios fled from the Argentine military dictatorship to New York. At present he commutes between New York City and Mexico City. Since the 1990s, the artist's conceptually oriented work has been devoted to the themes of colonialism and globalization. He produces painstakingly crafted sculptures and reliefs based on cartographic models. Since the 2000s, Rios has also created large-scale installations in which he works with moving objects and sound – as in the poetical films A morir, 2003, and Return, 2003-04, employing trompos, the Mexican version of the spinning top, to translate the dynamics of human, cultural and political interaction into an abstract, metaphoric language.
Rojas studied architecture, English literature and visual arts, then taught painting and fine art at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá from 1987 to 2006. Since the 1960s the artist, who rejects the notion of art for art's sake, has made reference to the difficult reality of his country in works extending from photographs, drawings and prints to video works and installations. Rojas pursues a narrative strategy, addressing both the tragedies of Colombia and the drug wars, and also personal experiences of marginalization and exclusion, of the kind from which homosexuals still suffer.
After initially studying painting and art history at the University of Bogotá, in the early 1980s Doris Salcedo attended New York University, where she devoted herself to sculpture. In 1985 she returned to Colombia, where on several trips through the country she met survivors and relatives of victims of brutality. Since then, a heightened sensibility for the subjects of war, alienation, loss of orientation or homeland has formed the focus of Salcedo's work. Using pieces of furniture and other household objects, she creates both small-scale sculptural configurations of a private character and enormous installations – frequently for the public space – that reflect her political and social consciousness in terms of original artistic interpretations. The sense of responsibility Salcedo feels for current political injustices seems inevitably to suffuse her large-scale installations and virtually lends them the character of monuments. Although the works often make reference to actual events, they always leave room for interpretation, and thus take on universal validity and effect.
Santiago Sierra studied visual art in Madrid, Hamburg, and finally Mexico City, where in 1995 he settled for several years. The subjects of his socially critical projects are generally the mechanisms and social aspects of capitalism: the value of labor, the utilization of human beings as a resource, and the relationship between poverty, precarious living conditions and exploitation. In actions and performances with paid lay actors, the artist investigates the extent to which people put their bodies and identities in the service of labor, and whether under certain circumstances they are willing to abandon themselves altogether. These stagings are intended to instill great disquiet, the seeming exploitation of the performers frequently raising moral doubts and a sense of helplessness in the audience.
After studying art at the University of Reading, Melanie Smith made Mexico City her new home in 1989. In her films, photographs and paintings the British artist finds compelling imagery for the incredible dimensions of the Mexican capital. She investigates the economic, social and cultural implications resulting from the metropolis’ incessant growth. Rather than generally describing the reality of the city, her films focus on isolated places or particular moments of everyday life. This focus lends her art a well-nigh abstract character. In 2011, Smith exhibited in the Mexican Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale.