“Hey man, you should not be doing that man!” I hear from a distance. A guy is coming up to me repeating that my actions are not so wise.
I am standing in the middle of Barrio Campo Bruce and struggling to handle two phones as I am looking to call Patrica Belli, who’s door I am in front off. I am early, as I am almost always, and I am warned in perfect American English to be careful waving those phones around. I take his advice and quickly tuck away the modern equipment in my waterproof bag.
‘Seguridad’ (Security) is a big issue here, actually in Central America in general. It’s very visually present. Over 40 security companies in Managua alone provide heavily armed high-risk security to simple guards in the streets who in the mean time wash your car. They earn around $400, which, so I am told, is a fairly good salary here. Many people work in this business, making it an essential part of a big economic generator. Hotels are locked behind bars, middle class homes have high walls and barbed wire and every 20 meters has either a makeshift outpost or a chair providing necessary comfort for the guards. Sometimes with shotguns and AK-47, sometimes nothing. There is little to no police on the streets.
What does it say about a spatial experience of a place, either as a visitor or resident? In many of the conversations I had with filmmakers, journalists and artists, we quickly touch upon this ‘seguridad’ and a historic approach to it would be to find its beginnings in the revolution in 1979. When the Sandinista’s overthrew Somoza’s dictatorship and ending the era of his family’s rule over fifty years, many people lost property in the following civil war. It was chaos and everyone took what they could, houses were abandoned, people fled or got killed. This planted the seed towards the feeling of protection and when families came back, regained property (both legal and illegal) they wanted to secure their stuff, eventually constructing a complete economy of security.
How has this economy not only provided jobs and a recognition of ‘one of the most safest countries in Central America’, but also shaped a possible change of a society that rather closes off public access? How does it affect artists working on the streets and the EspIRA, which I am standing in front off?
In the middle of Campo Bruce I find EspIRA, the organisation that Patricia Belli runs since the early 2000’s and has since grown out to a stable source of ‘critical artistic practice’ fulfilling a personal ambition of providing an educational platform departing from art, proposing its critical mechanism as a useful tool to think through ones practice. I hold deep sympathy for those initiatives, as they usually organized without much financial support, infrastructure and exposure, but uphold a strong belief in a certain working of an instrument, in this case the ‘critical element’. Patricia translates that critical element to something one could describe as a conversation, a start from which one can depart to other territories of thought that would be up until the moment of the start of the conversation, unknown. But how does this form of criticality find its way to become a public voice, what is the necessity of such a voice? Or, does one need these instruments to think about those seemingly closed social structures and spatial reality? It’s a quick thought only trying to see how important it can be to bring together the critical instrument that art can provide, a closed spatial experience of a city and a violent history of a country.
In my conversations with people such as Katia Cardenal and Sofia Montenegro and many others, it became clear that the Sandinista memory is never far away. In fact, the reality of what has become current Sandinista politics in the form of the re-election of Daniel Ortega, are definitely not the politics of the early Sandinista’s and those of the 1970’s and 1980’s, a great disappointment is definitely present. For a younger generation of artists this has perhaps translated in more representational forms than direct reference to Sandinista politics in a reality where return of one-man politics, both Ortega and Hugo Chavez (he just got an enormous memorial rotunda in central Managua) are examples in the streets, feed the image machine around it. It makes me feel that one can not yet leave ones guard down just yet, from protection and upholding of Sandinista heritage to inventing systems of criticality as an art institute, to individual artists experimenting with how these histories have shaped their world of security and how to undo it if it does not make sense anymore. The only security that really needs to come down is the own protecting the disciplines of entangling their knowledge.