Moisés Barrios (1946 - )


    Educated in fine art at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas in Guatemala and at the Facultad de Bellas Artes in Costa Rica, Moisés Barrios went on to specialise in engraving at the Academia de San Fernando, Madrid.

    For the first 25 years of his career, he combined artistic practice with commercial work as a graphic designer, and began to carry out historical research into the traditional media of fine art: drawing, oil painting, and - in particular - woodcut.

    Barrios' work gained momentum in 1986 when he founded, with Luiz Gonzalez Palma, the Galeria Imaginaria in Antigua, Guatemala. The gallery served as headquarters for a younger generation of artists working as the collective Grupo Imaginaria. In 1984 the military (who gained governmental power in 1978) had reduced its involvement in affairs of state, elections had been held, and the circulation of information via press and publishing began to incrementally relax from the stricture of past decades. The possibility of Guatemalan art extending its reach, both toward international currents of activity and national, political concerns, reopened. The collaborative activity of the Imaginaria group was founded upon these possibilities. Working receptively with a younger generation, this atmosphere motivated Barrios to extend the range of his own media. With the Imaginaria group he exhibited work at the Museo de Arte Moderna, Mexico City (1988) and Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, New York (1989).

    From the mid-1990s, Barrios embarked on a series of paintings that each used quasi-commercial techniques to reproduce a fragment taken from found advertisements or magazine covers displaying or using the image of the banana. These works were first shown as a series at the solo exhibition Mesotica II: Centroamerica Re-generacion, at the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporaneo, Costa Rica, San José (1996). Following this series, Barrios continued to mine the history of art, science, literature and visual culture in search of the strands that have enriched the banana fruit with multiple meanings and messages. Whether transforming the banana into abstract painted and varnished layers of black bleeding into yellow, or into writing via his re-appropriation of the 'Banana Republic' clothing label, the banana has remained an ever-diversifying leitmotif of Barrios' work. It has emerged both as a central figure and as an element amongst other evocative cultural symbols.

    Having both supported and worked alongside younger generations for successive decades, Barrios is regarded as a central figure within the development of contemporary art from the country. In 1998 he was selected to represent Guatemala (as part of the grouped Central American representation curated by Costa Rican critic Virginia Peréz-Ratton) at the 24th Sao Paulo Bienal. An installation of photographs entitled Café Malinowski, this 1998 work combined the archetypal figure of the European anthropologist (Malinowski) with the Dadaist atmosphere of the Café Voltaire in a room of photographs depicting carefully assembled cultural artefacts: empty cans and cola bottles, tropical flowers and fruit - including the banana.

    Isobel Whitelegg

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