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Curatorial Practices
Interview with Carmen Alemán: Art in Panama
by Mercedes Lizcano

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Coqui Calderón, 1997

Coqui Calderón, 1999

Guillermo Trujillo, 2000

Brooke Alfaro, 1998

Carmen Alemán

Carmen Alemán

LIZCANO: Can you define a little bit more this political expression?

ALEMÁN: It is not at all a pamphleteer expression, but an assimilation of the political situation. For instance, after the end of Noriegaí­s dictatorship in the 1990s, Isabel De Obaldí­a did different exhibitions to reflect themes everybody had thought and worried about. She touched on all those conflicting points: the missing people, the fire in the "Casco Viejo"... We also did an exhibition called "Living under the Dictator." We showed works of Guillermo Trujillo, Fernando Toledo, Isabel de Obaldí­a, Brooke Alfaro, and Coqui Calderón. They introduced the political situation in their language and assimilated each one in his/her own.

LIZCANO: What academic background do Panamanian artists have?

ALEMÁN: Most of the artists have studied abroad, and some still live in those countries. In Panama there is an Art School and there are good professors, but there is also a lack of resources.

LIZCANO: The Contemporary Art Museum of Panama is in an extremely painful situation, not only because of not receiving funds from the government, but also for not having a director. Can you discuss this situation?

ALEMÁN: Yes, I have to agree. The museum is in a very difficult situation. It should have a person in charge of fundraising, a curator to organize shows, and a director to administrate and take care of Public Relations. In fact, these three positions must be in just one single profile, a person with all these skills and time to dedicate himself/herself to it. Moreover, the critical economic situation in the private sector does not help, since they have cut off most of their donations.

LIZCANO: That is an interesting point. Where does the financial support for art activities come from?

ALEMÁN: Fundamentally, Panamanian art lives on donations from the private sector. At the end of the ‘50s, two artists who had studied abroad, decided to open the Panamanian Art Institute, a non-profit entity. The mission of the Institute was to promote the Latin American art in Panama. A group of cultivated women helped them by fundraising. Finally in 1962 the foundation opened, and put together a very interesting collection of almost 600 Latin American works of art. The Institute took care of the artists' expenses for their exhibitions, and in return they would donate a painting to the Museum. Nowadays, the Museum has a fantastic collection including works by Szyszlo, Obregón, Grau, Armando Morales, etc, most of who afterwards would become the Big Names. Think about that one second: our Museum of Contemporary Art has survived for 30 years with only private funds!

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