¡Patria o Libertad!: The Rhetorics of Patriotism
Curated by Paco Barragán

It seems paradoxical that with the emergence of globalized economies and the hybridization of culture, we are increasingly witnessing a precipitous rise in patriotic sentiment. As a result, in both the United States and Europe, issues related to immigration are taking center stage in a debate that is seemingly centered around cultural, social and political identity. The exhibition ¡Patria o Libertad!: The Rhetorics of Patriotism, curated by Paco Barragán, offers a critical perspective on the diverse ways patriotism manifests itself in society, by gathering a group of 17 international artists that capture through video works its difficulties, absurdities and contradictions. Comprised of four distinct parts, Love thy Anthem, Fly your Flag, Honor the Hero, and Tell us a Story, the exhibition, held symbolically at Miami’s Freedom Tower, reads much like a book, as most of Barragán’s shows; thematically going through specific visual representations that demonstrate the complexities of nationalistic or patriotic discourse. Its title, inspired by Fidel Castro’s infamous slogan “Patria o Libertad” (“Land or Death”), displays a dichotomy that opposes nation with freedom; an intriguing hypothesis that suggests that identifying oneself with a particular nation is at the crux of oppression and fundamentalism.

The first part of the exhibition Love thy Anthem presents works that explore anthems or patriotic songs and their cultural and sociopolitical significance. In National Anthems, Turkish born but German raised performance artist Nezaket Eziki sings the the German national anthem using the melody of the Turkish national anthem and vice versa. By displacing the lyrics of these two anthems from their song and integrating them, Eziki points at the difficulties of cross cultural assimilation and suggests that notions of home, nation and identity are social constructs. Adel Abidin’s Jihad displays a humorous take on religious fundamentalism by transposing the all too familiar televised image of an islamist terrorist with that of an American folk singer. The exhibition’s second part, Fly your Flag, showcases a grouping of videos where representations of the flag are recurrent themes. For instance, DeNike’s Flag Girls is inspired by a postcard of five young girls wrapped in a Colonial flag found by the artist in New York City’s Lower East Side. In it, DeNike recreates the image and succeeds in depicting the flag as an object rather than a symbol.

In Honor the Hero, we can find works such as Ivan Candeo’s Inertia, which questions notions of the hero and hints at their mystification. In Inertia, a cyclist is shown on a stationary bike performing a warm-up in front of a mural of Simón Bolívar, the great liberator of Latin America; a figure often used by Latin American politicians to further their revolutionary ideals. The act of pedalling as an inert action, one that leads nowhere is set against Bolívar’s utopian ideals of nation and political activism, offering a subtle but forceful critique on revolutionary optimism. The last part of the exhibition, Tell us a Story, is structured around the theme of patriotic discourse and storytelling. In works such as Emilio Chapela’s Hello Chicago and José Angel Toirac’s OPUS, the artist appropriates speeches made by politicians, intervenes them and distorts them to exemplify the ways that communication within a political context is a manipulative tool.

In a time where neoconservatism in both Europe and the United States is claiming a high seat in political affairs, and where utopian revolutionary ideals are rampant in Latin America, ¡Patria o Libertad!: The Rhetorics of Patriotism succeeds in highlighting a disquieting and troubling reality brought on by globalization, heightened individualism and economic uncertaintly.

Originally published on ARTPULSE Magazine