Pedro Querejazu: 'Bolivia's cultural policy magnifies differences'

November 2008 -

"Contemporary art in Bolivia is still primarily considered a matter for the white urban elite. That idea is actually a bit out-dated. In photography and street art in particular, new expressions can be seen that have little to do with the differences between city and country, for example, or white and Indian." The speaker is Pedro Querejazu, Bolivian historian, curator and art critic, who was appointed by the Fundación EsArt in July 2007 to improve the foundation's sustainability as executive director.

"The biggest challenge facing our country is establishing a modern national identity that also does justice to our cultural diversity. Our neighbour, Brazil, is a good example. In the twentieth century the Brazilians have been able to establish a close national identity that successfully integrates the country's enormous cultural diversity. That differs sharply from the cultural policy of the current Bolivian government, which magnifies racial and social differences rather than softening them. The government's justification is that more than two-thirds of the Bolivian population is Indian. I believe that is the wrong viewpoint. Bolivia is a society in which the distinctions between the various population groups are no longer clear. What we lack is the courage to accept the hybrid nature of our society as our national identity."

The current political polarisation has cost many cultural institutions funding from local business sponsors in the past two years. It was for this reason that Fundación EsArt started a number of projects to make the organisation more sustainable in cooperation with parties including the Dutch Embassy in Bolivia and the Prince Claus Fund. A series of books and magazines discussing a wide range of subjects in contemporary Bolivian art, for example, is intended to generate more independent income for the foundation. Fundación EsArt also started its 'Adopt an artist' project together with Hivos, in which young artists work together with more established artist mentors for a number of months. "We then sell some of their work to finance both the project and part of the organisational costs. We hope that this will help to reduce our dependency on international donors while providing a platform for young, innovative artists", says Querejazu.