A different perspective about Latin American and Bolivian art

At 9,000 feet high altitude lies the city of Cochabamba in Bolivia. A beautiful valley with terrific weather surrounded by mountains and covered, almost at all times, by deep blue sky. The weather, geography and vegetation remind me of Los Angeles, CA. On one hand, it is impossible to compare these two places if we notice that we are in South America and not in the United States, but the sky and the light are so similar that I feel, no matter where we are in the globe, every place has something from another. In this case; every place can be common and different, such as art is.

At the very end all becomes universal, when awareness and understanding open a gap to show us the intimate view of a culture through its expressive and creative interpretation.

Douglas Rodrigo’s Studio is located in this place and I had the chance to visit his peaceful studio in a poetic corner of the city, in front of a park.

The place is full of light, very organized and with not a lot around, but his energy.

Paintings, ‘old ones’ as he remarks, are hanging on one of the walls. Two big tables are the support for many drawings and sketches for current and future projects.

Writing and editing about art is one of his diverse activities, and the books and dated journals are perfectly organized in shelves.

Conceptual art cannot, in most of the cases, be kept as objects or commodities. This is something you can see in Rodrigo’s studio. Most objects are only ideas. The rest are ready to be actualized at his performances, activism, drawings and writing.

Douglas Rodrigo Rada is a Bolivian born artist who embodies, as an international contemporary artist, the influence of different cultures. He lived for almost ten years in Mexico where he studied art. After returning to Bolivia, about ten years ago, he is now considered one of the few curators and conceptual artists in Bolivia that has an education in contemporary art. He calls himself an activist more than an artist. His work is analytical and very critical.

Our conversation began about politics and freedom of expression, which is very normal in Bolivia.


Do you think that freedom of expression is being controlled at this moment in Bolivia?

 Not in the arts. Political art happened only between 2004 and 2011 here in Bolivia, now it is different because people are not feeling uncomfortable any more. They don’t have a good reason to complain, as it was years ago. Those days, the most important political art happened in the south, in Santa Cruz, not that much in the other cities. There was a lot to say, Bolivia was undergoing a huge social and political change.


You experienced the politics and art in Mexico while you where there. Do you think there is a similarity to Bolivia?

Not at all. There is more a purview after scholarships, sponsorships and attention than real political art. Bolivia has none of this. There is no cultural budget or cultural politics in this country. I can say, that the countries that really are at the head of this type of art in South America are Argentina and Brazil.

Do you think that Latin American art is always considered relative to politics because of its history? Is there a kind of cliché around that?

 I do not think so. The problem is that we need the financial support from European countries and the United States, and of course, our art has to have a political dialogue and message that is in accordance with their point of view, believe it or not.

They establish the parameters. The texts as the artworks are reviewed, I think we will be fine when we have our identity well represented, but with total freedom of expression. Our possibilities are so limited that we are entirely dependent, as international artists, on their assistance for basic requirements such as travel, visas, accomodations and all the supplies for that kind of situations. That is very knotty for us.

As artist, curator or activist you need to travel the world. Local art will always be seen just as local, “if you stay local,” he laughs.


Is there any financial support here in Bolivia?

 There are some gallerists and curators that support some artists, but not everyone. I am not complaining, I only say that we have to face our limited reality in order to change it. That is all.

There is Raquel Schwarz, a Bolivian artist and curator. Through her gallery Nube in Santa Cruz http://www.nubegallery.com she has been really supportive of me and of other artists. She already has been internationally recognized and is known at international art fairs, which is positive for Bolivia for having a different global experience and showcase.

And what about the indigenous governmental influence in the arts? Do you think that has an effect in the art production and current subject matter used for it?

 I think the government was never interested in institutional art – in his words arte de salón– this is referred to every type of art that has a connection with any kind of cultural institution.

The governmental administration is interested in folklore, popular art, like Carnival, etc. and does not take the initiative to promote contemporary artists addressing current global issues.

That is why most of the  countries around the world think Bolivian art is about folklore and only that. This is really distressing to know when your vision and activity as artist, curator or activist, is totally the opposite.


How do you find yourself as an artist in this newly integrated multicultural Bolivian society, considering that this government positively changed the interaction and integration of different milieus?

 I consider that I belong to a very fortunate generation of artists in this country, because of the opportunities that we have through technology and media. A lot of us had the chance to have a good art education, but that is not the only requirement to become a successful artist. Here in Bolivia there are a lot of self-taught artists that are having international recognition. We are proud of it.


Is your art understood internationally? How do you see yourself as Bolivian within an international art scene?

I am not someone who represents a country through my art; my work is not Bolivian per se. It is in a context where my art has an effect; a country is not a condition. I believe that we have to be coupled to global issues and to internationalize ourselves we must have the opportunity to learn about analytic methodologies that are the key to get out of the local scene.

Never the less, the center and periphery are terms that are still used for untying countries in relation to their political, economical, and social development. You can infer to what group Bolivia belongs to. (He laughs).


How do you produce your work? Do you do it by yourself, or are you used to collaborations?

 I do my work in this space alone. Even though here in Bolivia many artists take advantage of inexpensive handiwork, I do not — well, sometimes. When I need something specific for my installations or performances. Here you can find people that fabricate works for contemporary artists — that it great. My drawings are obviously only produced by myself.


What is the conclusion that you want to give us to finalize this conversation?

 My conclusion is that here in Bolivia, most artists and curators are trying to break the idea that art in this country is only related to Andean exotics and indigenous culture. We want to move much further and to take the international attention with our ideas and thoughts, creating a dialog about current global issues and not only about the colors of Carnival.

We want to change the idea that our art is predictable and rustic.

This interview, for example, is very helpful to pursue those intentions. I think these talks are important to internationalize art. These are connections, which is one of the most important constituents of art promotion and broadening.

I hope this move us to a new place. Thank you TSV!


(This interview was translated from Spanish)

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