RAY MARK RINALDI
The Center for Visual Art is showing two ambitious exhibitions — each diving deep into the topic of food — that together take visitors across the hemisphere and back home again.
The showstopper is titled “Banana Craze” and it features nine international artists exploring the broad impacts of banana cultivation in the Caribbean and Latin America. It’s as big and complicated a discussion as it sounds. But it is also eye-opening, especially for consumers who don’t think about bananas beyond what they see in grocery stores.
The exhibition relies heavily on video and photos and every piece is provocative in its own way, as the show examines the environmental and social costs of growing one of the world’s most important crops — a practice dominated by large, multinational corporations with a history of failing both the landscape and the communities that surround it.
Artists take the industry to task in a multitude of ways, and the concepts they use to make their points are rich in both detail and color. Many of the pieces were created in the field, where the fruit is grown and shipped, and are represented in the exhibit via digital techniques.
Ecuadorian artist María José Argenzio, for example, presents photos of a large banana tree in the middle of a remote plantation that she has covered — trunk to branches — in gold plate, bringing together elements of the two main industries that have defined the region over time. Both, as her images remind us, have ravaged the flora and fauna around them.
Another video captures Panamanian artist Milko Delgado’s performance piece where he symbolically recreates the high price of banana-growing on both humans and the fruit itself. The video monitors are accompanied by actual bunches of bananas that sit on the gallery floor.
The exhibit, curated by Juanita Solano and Blanca Serrano, has its visceral elements, including Honduran artist Leonardo González’s text-based piece that uses actual banana plant materials to spell out, in urgently rendered letters, “NEMAGON,” which is the name of a pesticide blamed for causing injuries in workers.
But the show is most effective when it goes high-tech, as it does with the video titled “Coquitos,” in which the artists use digital imaging to re-create patches of earth that were destroyed and obliterated as a result of lax farming practices. The virtual images of the now-gone terrain appear on screen alongside local residents who tell the story of the catastrophic events. The piece is a collaboration between Great Britain’s Forensic Architecture agency and Colombia’s Truth Commission, the panel established by the government to redress atrocities that happened during that country’s recently ended civil war.