An Irreversible Storyline

July 7, 2015

In 1972 an eartquake destroyed the city of Managua.  Everything was left in ruins. The historic city center, now know as “Vieja Managua,” became an inoperative place. That Managua stood for the superficial promise of progress and modernity with which Somoza’s dictatorship silenced the harsh, precarious life of an impoverished Nicaraguan majority.

Events following the earthquake, including the fact that international aid intended to help rebuild Managua was stolen by the government, led to the popular Sandinista Revolution in 1979. The 1980s saw the succession of the FSLN, its revolution, the counterrevolutionary Contras and their military support by the Reagan Administration, and, in 1988, the wreckage of Hurricane Joan. In 1990, President Violeta Chamorro, backed by the US, put an end to this period of changes. But the ruins and the empty lots continued to act as a protagonist in this country of poets: “City, in reality, you have had a cruel destiny. Your unburied dispossessions have only served to multiply the vultures,”[1] recited Nicaraguan poet Daisy Zamora.


Ernesto Cardenal recently named Minister of Culture on the day of the victory of the Nicaraguan revolution, July 19th, 1979.

In the beginning of the 1990s, Managua, in continuous upheaval, started to develop the irreversible ability, very present in its artistic scene, to articulate a semi-invisible artistic fabric made by exchange and discussion channels, as a way to make up for its urban, political and social  deficiencies.

These channels range from pop-up venues, independent art schools, subversive journals, reactionary collectives, combative curatorial proposals, private libraries, actionism, and activist-performers, to platforms for citizenship and professionalized biennials. All of these use Managua’s ruins and abandoned lots as facilitating means for critical reflection.

The absence of urban fabric becomes an interesting challenge that must be dealt with by many Nicaraguan artists. Practice—the ongoing and changing process—takes precedence in the artistic endeavor over and above any specific object or concrete result.  With the revolution always in the backdrop, these artists also resignified those spaces they opened for the defense of freedom as places in which to transform the confusing revolutionary consequences and activate those other modes of practice to arrive at a society that integrates difference. “Ideas should flow without restrictions and be wary of self-censorship that, for convenience’s sake, silences consciousness (…) Waiting for the day in which we praise individual difference that makes of the multitude a social mosaic in constant movement and change,”[2] wrote the playwright and poet Erick Blandón.

What follows is the story of a Managua that has been exhausted by the “big” revolutionary narratives. It is a Managua focused on the poetics of difference and identity that are made in the margins.


Elyla Sinvergüenza in Monimbó. Courtesy Alejandro Belli.

Masaya, folkloric capital of Nicaragua, and a municipality that belongs to the metropolitan region of Managua (RMM) or Gran Managua, is the place of the Torovenado carnival, a popular cultural manifestation that, like the El Güegüense or Macho-Ratón, challenges imposed colonial hegemonic discourse. Last January 31st, one such challenge by artist Fredman Barahona, a performer and prolific Nicaraguan activist, consisted of an action called Devenir Torovenado in the streets of the indiginous Monimbó neighborhood, with Elyla Sinvergüenza in the main role. This performance will culminate later in 2015 in a third stage in ANIT Masaya, where it will consider thoughts and insights obtained in a socialization workshop led by poet and social methodologist Ezequil D’León Masís, who observed: “We will experience a space for critical reflection starting from the experience that we, as observers and participants in Devenir Torovenado, have been able to set in motion in regards to the rupture of heteronormativity in cultural and self-generated environments and for the potentiality of the performance as a tool for activism for human rights and sexual diversity in Nicaragua.”  

This project stems from a conversation with writer Erick Blandón, based on Blandón's "El torovenado, lugar para la diferencia en un espacio no letrado” published in his book Barroco descalzo (2003). In Elyla Sinvergüenza’s words: “I am becoming a being-witch, -divine, -animal, -shaman, -mad(wo)man, -travesti, -trans, -totemic in this visual and real exploration of my own being. I will be the old woman of the volcano, Saint Jeronimus, Saint Sebastian, the brawling crazy woman, I will be a deer, I will be a body covered in gold having anal sex with a man like those encountered by the Spaniards, I will be a pretext for spreading doubt in the symbolical confidence of a cultural practice.”


Above: Meetings of Malagana collective. Courtesy Raúl Quintanilla. Below, from left to right: Raúl Quintanilla performing noise in a meeting of the Malagana collective together with other members of the collective and Alejandro de la Guerra.

Since 2011, the Malagana Collective has met every two or three weeks in the home of artist Teresa Codina. They watch movies, and discuss local problematics such as abortion (illegal in Nicaragua), child prostitution or the question of the “Chinese” canal. They also bring in international subjects, ranging from the Charlie Hebdo shootings, to rendering homage to the book as a format--ranging from Sandino, Rolando Castellón, Goya, to the Marquis de Sade. All of this is considered in relation to noise.

They organize exhibitions that center on local questions and they also edit a weekly online journal whose editor and face is the emblematic Nicaraguan artist Raúl Quintanilla.

Malagana calls itself, in the words of Quintanilla: “an autonomous zone of low and high cool-ture, modernist and postmodernist in a sea of apathy and submission.” It has an intergenerational character, which allows it to establish a dialogue with artists of its own genealogy, like Rolando Castellón, and with younger ones, like Ernesto Salmerón or Alejandro de la Guerra.

Like Artefacto (1990-2002) or Estrago, Malagana is an editorial device that emerges in the framework of artistic experimentation and collaborative practice, with the goal of generating a new space in the cultural geography of Nicaragua. In the face of the instrumentalization of political discourse, they plead for analytic discussion: being critical from the left, and being critical of the left. Their worldview embraces Renaissance Humanism, the thinking of Rubén Darío “Whom do I need to imitate in order to be original?”,[3] The poetry of Carlos Martínez Rivas, and the critical view of historian David Craven (a friend of Quintanilla). Malagana also works together with Adrienne Samos, Omar D´León, Teresa Codina, Erick Blandón, David Ocón, Táis Molina and Rosina Cazali, among others.

It is important to highlight the impact of David Craven (1950-2012) in today’s Nicaraguan scene because it shows that since the 1990s international support strengthened collectives like Artefacto, Estrago and Malagana.  In addition to contributing articles, Craven was a benefactor for their editorial experiments. From abroad, he provided Quintanilla with a critical view, which helped him  avoid encapsulating the artistic and political results of the collective's propositions. In issue 0 of Malagana journal Quintanilla wrote about Craven: “The last time we spoke he criticized my current position. He told me I was looking at things from too nearby and that I didn’t consider the bigger picture. ‘It’s a typical problem of the artist,’ he said.”[4] Craven’s private library is now in the Instituto de Historia of the UCA in Managua, featuring titles that are crucial to understanding the Nicaraguan context: The New Concept of Art and Popular Culture in Nicaragua Since the Revolution in 1979: An Analytical Essay and Compendium of Illustrations (Latin American Studies) (1989), or Poetics and Politics in the Life of Rudolf Baranik (1997), among others. These books greatly influenced the activist thinking of Quintanilla’s generation.


Poster of the Chao guapote exhibition, organized by Malagana in the IHNCA.

Chao guapote was one of the last exhibitions organized by Malanga in the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica (IHNCA), as part of "El canal interoceánico por Nicaragua" (“The Interoceanic Canal Through Nicaragua”), a cultural and scientific conference. The collective spurred thinking about the devastating consequences of the construction-destruction of this “New Panama Canal” on Nicaraguan soil constructed by a Chinese multinational. Xolo was one of the most incisive works; it was presented by Alejandro de la Guerra with Fredman Barahona. This video-action filmed by Gabriel Serra (the first Nicaraguan to be nominated for an Oscar for his short film La Parka) was made in the unique Xototlán region, a national symbol with one of the most emblematic lakes of Nicaragua. Serra, like  Agua que no has de beber… (2014) made by the young Darling Salinas, uses this place as a means for critical revision of Nicaragua’s own political history from the second half of the 20th century to today.


Still of video-action Xolo (2014). Alejandro de la Guerra and Fredman Barahona.

During the Somoza dictatorship, Xototlán filled with toxic waste and tons of lead. Because of economic interests of the dictator’s family, the lake’s contamination continued uninterrupted during more than 40 years. Afterward, in the 1990s, a purification plan was developed, which was implemented in 2009. Despite those current titanic purification programs, the video-action Xolo proposes an exercise in recent history to testify to the atrocious consequences on an invisible lake fauna.


Intervention in Panal. Courtesy Andrés Lazar.

Moribundero is an experimental platform of Ernesto Salmerón and Alejandro Flores, with many other local and international collaborators who have joined since its founding in 2012. Through noise improvisation they research performative public experiences for the articulation of spaces of authentic transversality.  They typically use unplugged instruments and an open mic so that the action is constructed at the same time it takes place. In Salmerón’s words: “This project also means the dilution of authorship.  It’s about teaching, learning, and flowing in many directions. About acknowledging performance as something authentic, transparent, sincere and serious.” Both mention their interest in the processes of sound experimentation by David Lynch, Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, and how Joseph Beuys dedicated his 1982 Sonne statt Reagan to Nicaragua, as a critique of the US ex-president's involvement.


Above: Patricia Belli in her workspace. Bottom left: Petricia Belli leading an art critique workshop in TACON (Talleres de Arte Contemporáneo). Bottom right: Alejandro de la Guerra as guest instructor in one of the TACON workshops.

EspIRA is a pop-up space for research and critical and artistic thinking. It was founded in 2001 by artist, dynamizer, and combative interlocutor Patricia Belli  as a pedagogic initiative focused on discussion, exchange, research, experimentation, and thinking as tools for reciprocal learning.  It compensates for the lack of an institutional and academic program in visual art, and adapts itself to the actual necessities of the artist community.

Belli states that "I went to San Francisco to get my Master's degree and when I returned in 2001, I started my work as an organizer. During the 1990s I had worked as an artist with Artefacto, but it wasn’t until 2001 that I got invoved in organizing, when I started to form a collective with an aim at formation. I thought: 'I, my books and my house are my resources,' and I did an open call for young people who wanted to talk about their own work. That was the start, and we haven't really changed that much since."[5]

EspIRA develops educational programs and cultural activities that are relevant in their context. It situates art in culture, relating art to the everyday, so that it generates meaning for its audience.  Programs like RAPACES (an academic residency for emerging artists from Central America), TACON (workshops of contemporary art), Jóvenes Creativos (formative workshops for children), and ADREDE (a program for internationalization and professionalization of Nicaraguan artists) generate a flexible, prolific and incisive pedagogic platform, and they provide a backbone for young Nicaraguan artists. Soon, the opening of CEDAVisual (a documentation center for visual art), will provide another means of support.  The center was founded in 2006-2007 with support of Fundación AVINA[6] for acquisitions, and was promoted by David Craven. Since then it has received several donations, among which was the gift of some twenty volumes from well-known curator Santiago Olmo.

EspIRA, breeding ground of the most representative young Nicaraguan artists, has numerous collaborators related to artistic practice in local and international contexts, but with a specific interest in strengthening networks from Central America. After a recent partnership with FOG (Fundación Ortiz Gurdián) EspIRA shares a space with galería Códice.


Above: Visitors with Darling Salinas's Zopilotera (2014) and close-up view in the exhibition Espacio público en el cubo blanco organized by ADREDE. Below: Pop Corn (2014) by Alejandro de la Guerra, part of a walkthrough of the aforementioned exhibition.

Espacio público en el cubo blanco, with work by Alejandro de la Guerra, Darling Salinas and Ricardo Huezo, was one of the exhibitions organized by ADREDE. It dealt with the modulation of political hegemonic discourse in the Nicaraguan context with revolutionary expectations with "confused consequences" and how these modulations construe and influence  social reality. The artists explored the management of the "asunto público" (public issue), to show the oscillations of a discontinuous program in a "de-influenced" treatment of public space.

In this exhibition, the city of Managua also became an object of reflection. With Zopilotera (2014), the Nicaraguan artist Darling Salinas carries out a revision of a public commemorative project called "Paseo Xolotlán," which consists of 22 Árboles de la vida--light structures of 14m high on Avenida Bolívar: the Hugo Chávez roundabout, the monument to nobles (próceres) of El Alba, the Luis Alfonso Velázquez park, and the Salvador Allende dock. Salinas re-appropriates those public structures to show the need to maintain a critical attitude in the face of the domestification of certain subversive "ideals," which, once mediatized through populist actions, homogenize social processes.

Pop corn (2014) by Alejandro de la Guerra looks at another dilemma that also affects the public sphere. It highlights how, in specific cases, media over-exposure has the same effect as the instrumentalization of revolutionary ideals.

Both artists appropriate the language of culture and entertainment as a critical instrument that denounces the absurd. And they are able to do so by showing the social model that is constructed through mediatization, at a far remove from a social, heuristic model where the interactions aren't prescribed, the processes aren't linear, and where the citizenry participates in equality through empowerment.


Above from left to right: Patricia Belli during the installation of Dibujos in galería Códice, organized by ADREDE, and detail of Huracán (2014). Below from left to right: detail of Belli’s Huracán and Terremoto (2014).

Códice is a gallery founded by Juanita Bermúdez, who is also coordinator of the cultural program of the Fundación Ortiz Gurdián and the Bienal Nicaragüense. The gallery is a response to the lack of interest by the government of Violeta Chamorro (1990-1997) in the promotion and professionalization of Nicaraguan artists, who felt left aside by the cultural politics that were then implemented.

Dibujos brings together work by Norlan Gutiérrez, Jullissa Moncada, Moisés Mora and Patricia Belli. Belli's Huracán, Terremoto and Escombros, all from 2014, continue a line of research begun by Belli in Principio de incertidumbre (2012), an installation that was part of BAVIC 8 (Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano), held at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Panamá (2013). 


Still of La Caída (2014), video by Alejandro de la Guerra for the IX Bienal de Arte Visuales Nicaragüense. Courtesy of Alejandro de la Guerra.

La caída (2014) by Alejandro de la Guerra was one of the most symbolic actions of the program of the IX Bienal de Artes Visuales Nicaragüense (BAVNIC), curated by Omar López-Chahoud, who was the chief curator, with the curatorial support of Agustín Pérez Rubio and Oliver Martínez Kandt and sponsored by Fundación Ortiz Gurdián[7]. This action recreated the 1979 fall of the equestrian statue of Anastasio Somoza García, an event that signified the victory of the Popular Sandinista Revolution. 

This edition of the Biennial, titled “Reciclando la memoria: retomando la ciudad perdida” ("Recycling Memory: Retaking the Lost City"), will be remembered for its level of professionalization. The exhibition, as López-Chahoud explains, delves into the relation memory/Managua/dis-remember[8]: "I didn't want to formulate a personal project with a particular theme .... Managua is a city that has transformed through time and in many extreme conditions (dictatorship, earthquake, uprising, revolution, neocapitalism) .... The people of Nicaragua try to recover, through memory, something that doesn't exist any more and has changed."

This edition decentralized its program into five different localities: Managua, León, and Granada, and with the contextualized participation of two artists from the PRAXIS group[9]--Doña Maruca and Leonel Vanegas, both linked to the memory of Vieja Managua.


Still of Reconstrucción de una ruina/anti monumento (2010-2015) by Marcos Agudelo.

Reconstrucción de una ruina/anti monumento (2010-2015) by Marcos Agudelo is a sculptural action in an empty lot in Managua that can now be seen in the Los Robles neighborhood, close to the Pellas building, next to Reñazco funeral services. It is part of the Vídeo-objetos (2008-2015) series made with ipods. The work registers actions in well-known urban sites of Managua like the Metrocentro or Güeguense roundabouts. The aim is to generate a space of tension and unease between technological speculation and the democratic ideals it represents in a state of generalized frustration with asymmetrical social "progress."

Agudelo analyzes the relevant historical facts from the Sandinista revolution at the end of the 1970s, and the devastating effects of gentrification produced by unplanned urban growth together with self-denial as a condition of existence.


Entry to Instituto Rigoberto López Pérez (2015) by Marcos Agudelo. Below left to right: Sandino junto a la carretera and Estadio Nacional (2015), both by Agudelo.

Arqueotectura (2015), research and work in progress by Agudelo, examines the construction of popular Nicaraguan culture from an archeological perspective. It looks at the architectural iconography and the mass social uses of this symbology.

Arqueotectura focuses on three sites in the city of Managua where three national heroes construct architectonic narratives: Rigoberto López Pérez (1929-1956), "poet of León" and symbol of the Popular Sandinista Revolution and who immolated himself while executing dictator Anastasio Somoza García; Roberto "el Boby" Espino (1954), considered "el mejor nica" ("the best Nicaraguan"), batting champion in the 1978 World Series in Italy; Augusto César Sandino, "General of Free Men," revolutionary and, together with Rubén Darío, the highest expression of Nicaraguan identity.


Both images: Paisaje Errante project developed by Veinti3.

Veinti3 is a collective by Consuelo Mora, Darwin René Andino, Juan Carlos Mendoza, José Montealegre, Moisés Mora, Gloria Ruiz and Vicente Navas, who are co-founders of RACA (Red de Arte del Centro de América-). They are the steering motors behind several projects that aim to articulate new platforms of exchange and visibility, such as  Red Aldea (a search engine of artists and cultural proposals in Central America and the Caribbean) or A Cargo (2015), a program of relational art between Honduras and Nicaragua in collaboration with the Escuela de Arte de Tegucigalpa and with the help of Hivos and Arts Collaboratory. A Cargo works with communities of both countries by organizing, for example, a fair of agricultural products made by women of the cooperative together with the production of short fiction films with the children of the communities.

errante (2014) was an idea by Rene Hayashi developed together with Veinti3, whose goal is to open a dialogue between city and public space through the temporal activation of the Tiscapa lake. Pollution was the main concern of this project and they designed and constructed floating structures with recycled materials: wood from wedges or pallets, with plastic bottles as floatation devices. The platforms were used as floating gardens and meeting spaces that allowed the extension of the water/city border.


Archive image by artist and organizer Alicia Zamora during the production of a mural called La urbe semi rural: Anotaciones del entorno cultural local (2011) at the Centro Cultural de España en Nicaragua.

We can't finish this overview without mentioning Alicia Zamora, artist and dynamizing force, who was until recently in charge of the program at the Centro Cultural de España en Nicaragua. Her practice activates critical revision projects in the public space, such as the emblematic Murales de octubre, or local research projects like La urbe semi rural: Anotaciones del entorno cultural local, urban greenhouses, Lo que hay o La construcción de la escena de arte contemporáneo en Managua: ¿Pesadilla o sueño húmedo? (What is there, or, The construction of the contemporary art scene in Managua: Nightmare or Wet Dream?); as well as platforms of exchange like De mi barrio a tu barrio.


Top from left to right: basic tropical murals painted during the neoliberal government (1990-2006) and Espacio disponible by Habacuc. Below from left to right: mural by Errol Barrantes and Good Bye Sandino (2006) by Adán Vallecillo and Leonardo González.

For Murales de octubre (2005), Zamora invited local and international artists to intervene on the walls of the legendary Avenida Bolívar, which had also served as support for numerous murals painted during the Sandinista period (1979-1990) in honor of the Nicaraguan people in collaboration with the International Brigades. They represented ideals of progress--the construction of an equal society, education and public health, land for all. During the following neoliberal, non-revolutionary government (1990-2006), they were overpainted by basic "tropical" geometry. This action caused a reaction by national and international intellectuals, including David Craven, who demanded the conservation of this "muralism" as necessary sediment for the memory of the Nicaraguan people. They wanted to avoid the instrumentalization of public space in which the traces of its own history should accumulate.





[1] “En verdad que tu destino ha sido cruel, Ciudad. Tus despojos insepultos solamente han logrado multiplicar los zopilotes y los buitres”

[2] “Las ideas deben dejarse fluir sin cortapisas y estar alerta contra la auto-censura que por conveniencias acalla la propia conciencia (…) Esperando que un día enaltezcamos la diferencia individual que hace de la multitud un mosaico social en constante movimiento y cambio”

[3] “¿A quién debo imitar para ser original?”

[4] Raúl Quintanilla, “El urdidor”.  Revista Malagana # 0 (2013). 16-17.

[5] From an interview with Patricia Belli in: Luisa Fuentes Guaza, Lenguajes contemporáneos desde Centro América (Turner, Madrid, 2013), 207-215.

[6] Fundación AVINA supports organizations from civil society, the academic field, and governmental institutions to contribute to the common good.

[7] Fundación Ortiz Gurdián, founded in 1996 by Patricia Gurdián de Ortiz and Ramiro Ortiz Mayorga, was conceived as a non-profit institution for the cultural development of Nicaragua.

[9] Grupo PRAXIS was a Nicaraguan artist collective founded in 1963 in Managua.