Migrant Melancholy in Las Golondrinas by Maya Saravia at the Balcony Gallery

On December 13, 2018, the bar Las Golondrinas, located on the lower floor of the Balcony Gallery, in Lisbon, welcomed a great celebration that marked the inauguration of Maya Saravia’s homonymous exhibition, curated by Sérgio Fazenda Rodrigues.

Las Golondrinas reenacts the atmosphere of different bars often visited by Latin American emigrants in Madrid, a city where the artist of Guatemalan origin lived. People who, having have departed from the country of origin, often for heartbreaking reasons, feel the need to meet each other, while listening and dancing to the music that is rooted in their culture.

Far from their country, and now part of a brand-new context, Maya Saravia, as a migrant, believes that their point of contact is the dance and the memory of a shared origin. This memory edifies a cultural identity, whose outcome is its own aesthetic, shown at Las Golondrinas, where vibrant colours, smoke, mirrors, lights and specific decorative elements, often chosen by the bar owner, such as a curtain of vivid ribbons, embellish the different areas. An aesthetic that resists and fights the increasing normalization of this sort of spaces, typically based on white walls and hollow materials, copies of the natural counterparts, preferred by a gentrified middle class.

The public is encircled by a melancholy atmosphere, where joy and sadness cross paths, a migrant melancholy marked by the neon present in one of the first spaces of the bar, and emphasized by the exhibition’s name, Las Golondrinas, the swallows in English, which is also the title of a Mexican song from the end of the 19th century, often heard at times of farewell and associated with a balmy nostalgia. Furthermore, the glasses and beer bottles scattered all over the place on the day of the inauguration, which then became an integral part of the installation, add up to this feeling.

Contrasting with the lower floor’s hassle-free and unexpected ambience, on the upper floor Maya Saravia’s pieces are visibly laid out on the spotless, white and neutral walls. Positioned next to the stairs that connect both levels, the Las Golondrinas neon, and some white smoke that trespasses the curtain that divides the two floors, provides different clues and invites the audience to go down. This duality of environments challenges the concept of White Cube and the idea of what constitutes a ​​gallery space, something that intends to create an architecture neutral to art, sanctifying it.

Traffic, movement, migrations, dance. The exhibition is essentially centred on the idea of ​​movement, on how it happens and on how one can individually relate to each person’s body through dance and, collectively, through migratory movements.

Maya Saravia establishes a chronicle of the traits of specific migratory routes and depicts the movements implicit in the dances that have originated from the mishmash of peoples who come from this same movement. According to the artist, the arrival of African slaves to Latin America, during the period of Portuguese and Spanish colonization, was particularly important for the emergence of new kinds of music and dance, as those means were a decisive coping mechanism to deal with the oppression implicit in slavery, giving back to each individual the consciousness of their own body and, therefore, the sense of oneself.

Posteriorly, the migratory movements and the technological and media evolution, fostered its globalization. Thus, most music heard today had its origin in the African drums. Jazz, Blues, Techno, House, Calypso, Kuduro, Coupé-Décalé, AfroHouse, Changa, Tuki, Reggaeton, Technobrega, Funk Carioca and Dembow are just some examples of dances that derive from that cultural camouflage.

Maya Saravia emphasizes how the history of music and dance is directly associated with work and to labour-driven migratory flows. Besides the adoption of the rhythms of the African slaves’ drums, who worked in some American countries during the colonial period, the development of the world’s largest automotive center in the early 20th century, Detroit, also led to the establishment of a significant community in the area, thus unfurling rhythms based on recurring factory sounds, which would be the roots of Techno.

Interested in dance as a practice that allows one to reconnect with the body, particularly when performed in a movement, Maya Saravia, in the summer of 2018, hung out and watched different street dancers, most of them emigrant descendants, in the centre of Lisbon. As a result of this observational process, the artist captured the movements of six dances through a pictogram-based system, known as Labanotation, outlined by the Hungarian musicologist Rudolf Laban, to register the position of the body and the choreography design.

As a complement to these same diagrams, the artist puts on display other documents that depict territorial shifts that have originated the dances she has studied, such as the maritime route of the old “Atlantic Triangular Trade” , used for the trafficking of resources and slaves between Africa, America and Europe, a major factor in the mixing of peoples and cultures; the route of the caravan that crosses Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as Mexico City, towards the North American border; and a map pinpointing the location of different musical styles that are the outcome of this intertwinement, particularly those developed in the former colonies, and their relationship with the current African music.

All these documents are shown in the form of stripped-down diagrams, which are graphically appealing and didactic, similar to the infographics often found in TV news as a representation of the events. This abstraction of reality for communication purposes is absorbed by the audience in a way that differs radically from what actually happens, with the information acquiring a certain credibility. The representations are therefore convincing and the artist states that “pictograms are the new Baroque painting”.

The freedom of migratory flows, which have influenced and defined the history of music and dance, now depicted here by Maya Saravia through diagrams where flowing lines cross any land frontiers, goes against the closing of boundaries that we are presently witnessing. Dance and music are shown as unifying elements of cultures, as instruments of integration, symbols of community and of global unity.

Maya Saravia’s exhibition has an absorbing duality, founding itself between tragedy and joy, emotion and reasoning, the individual and the collective. A tension emphasized by positivism associated with a fatalism that reveals a profound sense of humanity.

Las Golondrinas by Maya Saravia, curated by Sérgio Fazenda Rodrigues, can be seen until February 23, 2019 at the Balcony Gallery, in Lisbon.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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