|The Jim Thompson Art Center in collaboration with the The Ethnological Museum – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the Goethe-Institut proudly present an exhibition “The Tropics – Views from the Middle of the Globe“, curated by Alfons Hug, a German curator based in Rio De Janeiro, Peter Junge, curator of the African Collection of The Ethnological Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Viola König, the Director of the The Ethnological Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
According to the curators, this exhibition was a response to the pioneer show “Les Magiciens de la Terre” (Paris, 1989), which exhibited at the Center George Pompidu, France. The exhibition “The Tropics – Views from the Middle of the Globe” attempts anew to detect currents of energy and subtle disturbances between the hemispheres in times of tension, and to search for cooperative as well as counteractive cultural forces. The exhibition has already been presented in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Berlin.
Ranking among the most important in the world, exhibits from the collections of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin from Africa, Asia, Oceania and tropical America enter into dialogue with works by contemporary artists from South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Old and new art converge in one place. As the show is conceived as an art exhibition, the selection of the older works was primarily made according to aesthetic criteria. In general, the exhibition attempts a re-aesthetisation of the tropics, in order to place more emphasis on cultural aspects of tropical regions, as opposed to the otherwise prevailing negative political and economic discourses.
This re- aesthetisation considers the tropics as a European construct, while attempting at the same time to clarify this construct and to consider it as a topic of discourse about the tropics. This inherent ambivalence becomes apparent in the different approaches of the three curators: Alfons Hug not only presents works by contemporary artists from the tropics, but also includes works by artists who do not originate from there, yet use the tropics as their subject. Viola König, arranges objects within the topic “Colors and Sounds of the Tropics”, thus making it possible to trace specific common aspects of the art from the tropics. By contrast, Peter Junge’s approach is more sceptical: The works of art in the three subject areas (nature, human image, and political power) curated by him are examples of different forms of art, whose only common characteristic is their assignment to cultures found in the geographically defined realm of the tropics.
The exhibition is structured in several sections, each of which refers to a chapter heading in Claude Lévi-Strauss’ work “Mythologica”. It all begins with “After the Deluge”, the chapter that deals with nature and landscapes. Pre-modern artworks in the exhibition touch or approach two aspects of nature: firstly, metaphorically conceived images, secondly, representations of creatures who act in nature, the environment of human civilisation, either by threatening or assisting mankind.
The exhibition features old works from Mexico, Ivory Coast, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bolivia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Indonesia from the collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin which are juxtaposed with new works by contemporary artists such as Thomas Struth, Vong Phaophanit, Sherman Ong, Marcos Chaves, Marcel Odenbach, Dinh Q. Lê, Theo Eshetu and Pilar Albarracin.