El combate (1994)
Donated by Joanne Bernstein 1997
An image of physical fatigue and futile combat, Moisés Barrios' El Combate articulates the incessancy of sustained conflict with successive images of duelling boxers. In 1994, at the time that this book-work was produced, the first negotiations for peace were only just in evidence after thirty years of civil war between the government of Guatemala and URNG guerrillas. This had become the longest armed conflict in Latin America.
The pages that the images are printed upon are the legal documentation of land rights, an appropriation that points to the racially based repression that marked the illegal military government established in 1978, when Guatemala's indigenous population (an overwhelming majority) were branded, indiscriminately, as insurgents, and hundreds of villages were razed to the ground.
On one page the two figures are masked by hoods, on another (illustrated) the boxers are held in conflict by an invisible puppeteer. This suggestion of a nation pitched against itself by an intransigent, manipulative force is deepened by the fact that the two figures so closely resemble one another, appearing to be mirror images of one body. The ideologies that have surrounded, and been corrupted by, civil war flash up from page to page via iconographic figures such as Mickey mouse and the Catholic virgin. The identification of affective iconography, evocative of both urban and rural life, is a signature of Barrios' practice. This visual language is articulated with a convincing contemporaneity across the media that he has used, whether traditional woodcut, slick photorealist painting, or assembled photographs.
Isobel Whitelegg, 2008