Maria-Christina Villaseñor

Maria-Christina Villaseñor

Maria-Christina Villaseñor

I have visited Germany a number of times working together with Deutsche Guggenheim through my function as the associate curator of film and media at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. I have been in the professional field for long, starting with duties in the film archive section and moving on to organizing art exhibitions. I have an academic background in Arts and have done some documentary films. However, I neither draw nor paint; I wish I had the necessary talent. I have had the opportunity to meet different artists and help in preparing exhibitions. The preparation for the Black Box exhibition is particularly interesting for its richness. The work entails different forms of art including drawings, painting and theatrical production, moving images, kinetic objects and music. I think this is about all you can get in a very rich art work.

The most interesting thing for me as a curator is to create a concept for an exhibition that would entice people to visit the exhibition and present a starting point for the visitors to form their own opinions about the work on show. I try to give the visitors the best starting point I can give to enable them to view the work from different perspectives.

Due to the complexity of the work, competences in different areas are needed; technical expertise, design and computer knowledge for example. This might raise some doubts in the mind of an artist in connection with the talents of the party organizing the exhibition. Working together with William Kentridge was a valuable experience for me. He is quite open and we had a very good cooperative working relationship during the preparation of the exhibition. We shared advice, opinions and suggestions.We had to talk and did discussed about different issues concerning the drawings, the objects, the mechanic and kinetic, the film and projection technique as well as the availability of historical information. For the historical part, we had to do some research on German – African history and African colonial history with the thought of presenting the historical information through photography and moving images.

I took up the responsibility to research earlier colonial films for historical materials, which I presented to Kentridge. He would respond and through discussions, materials were selected for use or discarded. This was really unusual because curators are generally more involved in the preparation of an exhibition after the artist has already finished/developed the art work. So, it was amazing for me to be able to bring-in my ideas and be part of the development of Black Box.

The nature of my job is international, which demands my travelling to different places/countries, meeting different people and dealing with different groups of audience. As a resident of New York, I have to be cautious that I do not bring the New Yorker mentality or attitude into play when dealing with other people. I have to be very open to new issues and bear in mind that I am dealing with people with different ways of life, perceptions and languages.

This requires my adapting to new mode and situation resulting from the changes in my environment. Wherever I am, I give myself the time to talk to the artist and the people. In discussions, I make sure that I am not only forcing my own view points but allow other viewpoints different to mine. I have to be sensitive to new issues of interest, listen to new suggestions and consider other opinions. I might say it is sometimes hard on me but I love it all. I love my profession.

In general, I focus on the artist and the art work when preparing for an exhibition. The nationality or the cultural background of the artist is not the main focus. It is more important to give artists space and time for their work and allow them to learn about themselves and their personalities. I know Kentridge and I have seen many of his drawings and animations before working together on the preparation of the Black Box exhibition. I found his works and the way he presents them fascinating. In 1998 we invited him to give a lecture on a film program we were doing. He came over to New York and gave a brief lecture. About three years ago, we started talking about the Black Box project, which developed into a very rich style of cooperation between the artist and the curator. I feel very lucky to spend so much time on the project and experience such a benefiting work relationship. The project gave me a first hand knowledge of how the artist, William Kentridge works.

I have always been fascinated by colonial history. My family comes from Mexico, which has her own history of Spanish colonialism. Colonialism and Imperialism are important part of the work. But these issues should be viewed from a very broad sense. Some of the colonial issues and implications as well as imperialism are still true of the situation in many parts of the world today. The viewer should see the integrated historical captions as a part of a whole art work with different elements. It was certainly challenging to carry out the research, especially in Namibia, a former German colony. In Namibia, Kentridge was lucky to meet a competent archivist who helped him in digging out relevant and interesting historical information. I am pleasantly surprised to find special attention paid to some of the issues in many English publications in Africa. Moreover, the activities such as the centenary commemorations of the Ovaherero-German war that took place in 2004 further helped me to gain an insight of the Namibian-German history. In terms of the timing, I have been fortunate to benefit from these programs and all the great publications in the media. Yes, it was a big project for both of us. While Kentridge did more of general research, I played the role of expanding the dialogue ensuing from the content.

Describing the work in a few words is quite difficult because there are so many aspects to it. The work is not only multimedia as it was started but also multi-facial. It really shows the artist’s journey in that it is not just a series of drawings, sculptures and other elements in the theatre that led to the Black Box. The fascinating feature is the way all the elements including the animations and the theatre productions are incorporated to form the Black Box leading to the creation of dialogue between all objects.

Of course, I very much hope that the work would be exhibited in Africa, especially in South Africa. It is a work that is meant to open up dialogue and it would be great to see the impact of the work on the audience in Africa and the responses from Africa. I would personally love to organize the exhibition there, engage in dialogues with the people and get to know the artistic community better. I am working on that and hope it would happen soon.    Afritopic 2005


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