Marcelo Brodsky (born 1954) lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An artist and political activist, Marcelo Brodsky was forced into exile in Barcelona following General Videla’s coup in Argentina in 1976. He studied Economics at the University of Barcelona as well as photography at the Centre Internacional de Fotografia (Barcelona).
During his stay in Spain, he took photographs that immortalised the psychological state of an expatriate. In 1984, when the military dictatorship was over, he went back to Argentina and began his project Buena Memoria, a visual essay that deals with the collective memory of the years under the dictatorship inspired by the emotions and personal experiences of those who lived through it.
Situated on the border between installation, performance, photography, monument and memorial, his pieces blend text and images, often using figures of speech. This essay has been shown more than 140 times in public spaces as well as institutions such as the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires in 2010, the Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo, Brasil, in 2011 and the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, in 2007.
1. You studied in Barcelona at the Centre Internacional de Fotografia following the 1976 coup in Argentina. How did this affect and shape your practice?
As a consequence of the military coup I left Argentina in exile and landed in Barcelona, where I started studying Economics. A bit later, tired of numbers and willing to extend my profession beyond the economy, I got into the CIF. In fact I had been taking photographs since I was a teenager. But my relationship with professional photographers, our teachers, and my first contact with a great Photobook library, increased my interest in photography. I made my first essays, notably a group project on Barcelona and Rock, and my first exhibitions. In particular what helped shape my practice the most was my close connection with our Catalan teacher, Photographer Manel Esclusa, whose seriousness to focus on photo projects and his commitment towards innovation in the medium triggered a lot of thought and ideas about art and photography. In fact my first visual correspondence, in 2005, was with him after many years of not seeing each other.
2. You are best known for the 1968 series - The Fire Of Ideas, a revolutionary year around the world for protests...what was the instigator for this body of work?
My most known work is “The Class”, which I made in 1996. That is the central piece of my essay “Buena Memoria” (Good Memory) in which I focus on the missing alumni of my high school, the victims of the Argentinean dictatorship that studied in our school, Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires. That piece became emblematic of the period, and it is now included in collections of Museums such as the MET in New York, the Tate Collection in London, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and major Latin American Museums in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. It was in that essay that I began writing text on archival images, 25 years ago.
In 2014 forty three students from a rural school were kidnapped in Ayotzinapa, a town in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. I was very shocked by the disappearance of so many young students, which reminded me what we had gone through in Argentina in the seventies. I recalled the Massacre of Tlatelolco, in the Plaza de las tres culturas (Square of the three cultures) in Mexico City in 1968. In that moment, hundreds of Mexican university students were killed by the police and the military while mobilising for their rights. No judgement was made on those responsible for the crime. So I got an image of the marches of 1968 in Mexico from a photographer friend that had covered the events, I printed it in black and white and wrote on it “If Tlatelolco would have been judged, Ayotzinapa wouldn´t have happened”. That brought me back to my text and colour interventions, and to 1968. Then I started looking around that year, and that triggered my research on what had happened around the world in the period.
3. Your work is multi-faceted - it encompasses word, as well as photography and painting. There is a dialogue which runs through each piece - can you explain more about this process? How do you pick the specific images?
My work recognises no mediatic limitations. Whilst photography is the base of my practice and the medium I come from, there is a lot of proximity today between different media. I am interested in what I want to say, and if I need to use multiple media in order to achieve that, then I move on in that direction. Photography is having a major impact on language, as the incorporation of images to all forms of communication is changing the way in which we communicate with each other, particularly in the younger generations. For that reason, if you want to transmit experience and to narrate history today, images are essential. Only with images you can reach a wide audience, and generate interest in what you are trying to convey.
My creative process starts when I determine what I want to work about.
Then I make my visual research on archives, agencies, photographers and universities around the world to look for the images that tell the story better. Once I can reach them, and in this task I have experience since I directed a picture agency for 30 years, I negotiate the rights to use that image. I need high res files, I can´t work with images downloaded from the web. When I have the high res, I print it in black and white on cotton paper, and study the context in which the picture was taken in depth, what was going on in that moment, the reasons for which the people were mobilising. With this information I make my intervention with text and colour on the print, using crayons, watercolour, and other painting tools. There is a print run of the pieces, all of them originals, that are shown in museums, festivals, art fairs and galleries. The artworks have their own life and they are used for different projects.
4. You have embarked on a series of dialogues with other photographers such as Martin Parr and Cassio Vasconcellos - how did this come about?
The center of my work is language. How is language changing, how we can communicate with images, and how far this dialogue can go. As part of my research, I started to have visual conversations with multiple artists and photographers, in which we correspond with each other with images. The visual exchange is particularly poignant, and it opens up new ways of relationship and friendship. Visual language is open in its interpretation, and very intuitive. The inexistence of a dictionary for images make us see what we want to see in an image depending on our experience, our visual culture and our instincts. This kind of conversation is very contemporary, as more and more generations are incorporating images in their exchanges, but how far can we go in a purely visual conversation? This is what we are researching with these dialogues, some of which have been published in book format. I have been very active with multiple visual conversations during the pandemic.
5. Another important series in your work is the Africa Fighting for Freedom, please tell me more about this body of work...
I started working on Africa within my research in 1968. I identified several nations where there had been resistance and student marches that year, particularly Senegal, Tunis, Lebanon and Egypt. I could only get images from Dakar (Senegal) from the Agence France Presse that had a bureau in Senegal in 1968 and from the American University in Beirut. No images from Tunis or Egypt yet. In 2018 I was invited to have an anthological exhibition of my work in the Berardo Museum in Lisbon, and they commissioned me to work on the independence of the Portuguese colonies (Angola, Mozambique and Guinea), and found the images for me in Portuguese archives. They understood that the independence of their African colonies was a consequence of the struggle for freedom and against colonialism that was very strong in the sixties, and wanted to show it in dialogue with The Fire or Ideas. That Museum show was my biggest solo exhibition so far, and it started my interest to work on the independence of Africa, so I extended my research further. In 2018, I showed this work in Art Paris and in Cape Town.
6. The 1968 series seems particularly relevant today, in our current crisis. It is interesting that your next exhibition in New York which will open on the 2nd November and will feature this series as well as new works, will coincide with the American elections. Is this intentional or coincidence?
It is very important for me to be aware of the enormous influence that this upcoming election in the United States will have all over the world. I have supported the activism of Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd and have worked a lot on the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King. My exhibition will put in connection the social movements of the sixties in the US and in the world with the social movement of today, against police violence, for racial equality and more social justice. Part of my work is as an activist, in Latin America and beyond. I am committed to support the resistance of students and minorities for their rights with my artwork. This has always been an essential part of my practice.
The show will open up the afternoon before the election in Henrique Faria Fine Art, the gallery that represents my work in the USA. It will be a call to vote and to exercise democracy in favour of change.
Marcelo Brodsky is an active member of the human rights organisation Asociación Buena Memoria, and he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Parque de la Memoria, a sculpture park and large monument with names and a gallery, built in Buenos Aires to the memory of victims of state terrorism.
His work is part of major collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Tate Collection London, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes Argentina, Museo de Arte Moderno Buenos Aires, Center for Creative Photography Tucson Arizona, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos Santiago de Chile, MALI Lima, Museu de Arte Moderna do RJ and many more.
In 2008 he was awarded the Bnai Brith prize for Human Rights in Argentina. In 2014, he received the Jean Mayer Award from Tufts University Global Leadership Institute. In 2014 he initiated Visual Action, an organisation dedicated to incorporate visual culture in human rights campaigns and to work on visual education www.visualaction.org. In 2015 he curated “Visual Action Ayotzinapa”, an international photographic permanent exhibition in solidarity with Ayotzinapa” at the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, Ayotzinapa en Chilapa, Tixtla, Guerrero, México and temporary exhibitions at Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, México, at the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires and at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina.