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Spotlight on Protest: Alfredo Jaar

Alfredo Jaar, <i>Lament of the Images</i>, 2002. Installation: 3 Plexiglas plates with inscriptions, light wall, mixed media. Installation view of light wall at Documenta XI, Kassel, Germany.

Alfredo Jaar was born in Santiago, Chile in 1956. He estudied at the Instituto Chileno-Norteamericano de Cultura, Santiago (1979) and Universidad de Chile, Santiago (1981). In installations, photographs, film, and community-based projects, Jaar explores the public’s desensitization to images and the limitations of art to represent events such as genocides, epidemics, and famines. Jaar’s work bears witness to military conflicts, political corruption, and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations. Subjects addressed in his work include the holocaust in Rwanda, gold mining in Brazil, toxic pollution in Nigeria, and issues related to the border between Mexico and the United States. Many of Jaar’s works are extended meditations or elegies, including Muxima (2006), a video that portrays and contrasts the oil economy and extreme poverty of Angola, and The Gramsci Trilogy (2004-05)‚ series of installations dedicated to the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned under Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Jaar has received many awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award (2000); a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (1987); and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1985). He has had major exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2005); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2005); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1999); and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1992). Jaar emigrated from Chile in 1981, at the height of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. His exhibition at Fundación Telefónica Chile, Santiago (2006) is his first in his native country in twenty-five years. Jaar lives and works in New York.

Watch a clip from Jaar’s Art:21 segment:

About his work, Jaar says,

“People describe me sometimes as a conceptual artist, as a political artist, with work of a strong political connotation or social content. I always reject those labels. I’m an artist and believe it or not I’m interested in beauty and not afraid of it. It is an essential tool to attract my audience and sometimes I use it to introduce horror because the audience has to be seduced…Beauty becomes a tool to bring the audience in. And once they are closer, they discover other things. That’s a very good metaphor for what life is.”

(taken from the companion book Art in the Twenty-First Century 4, p. 35).

Read more about his work and watch additional clips on his Art:21 webpage here.

Have you experienced Jaar’s work in person, or did you have an opportunity to view his segment in one of the hundreds of Art21 Access ’07 events that have been taking place all month? Share your thoughts on Alfredo Jaar by leaving a comment below.

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