The questioning of cartography and the re-examination of the concept of territory were the common concerns of numerous Latin American artists from the time. Used as an instrument of domination since the Modern Age, the map established borders between territories and disregarded the people inhabiting them. Cartography offers a symbolic representation of space, yet to understand the landscape in its social, historical, cultural and affective dimensions mention must be made of place, space experienced by a physical body and informed by daily life, ancestral knowledge, and historical and local narratives, as well as narratives of land.
Art from the Southern Cone is typified by the centrality granted to territory. The landscape of “underdevelopment” became the image of resistance to Western modernity and its economic and political system, rising up against its space of consumerism, exploitation and conquest.
As they intervened, redrew and renamed maps, artists found a way to re-appropriate space, criticise the world order and question national identities, imagining instead alternative worlds or explaining complex realities of the present. Their proposals considered the material dimension by relating the body to the political situation of violence intersecting it, and many artists, with a sensibility heavily linked to place, embarked upon journeys around the continent.
Juan Downey is one such artist. His installation Video Trans Americas (1976) plotted a journey with stops in the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, his aim being to identify the common values of different indigenous cultures from the Americas to dig deeper into his Chilean identity and, at the same time, offer the spectator a connected map of the Americas and a mirror in which to discover part of these communities. On his travels, Downey adopted a similar role to an ethnographer, but critically confronted the colonising gesture implicit in the use of the camera to establish, with indigenous peoples, a specular dynamic reflecting the act of seeing and being seen: he handed them the camera and showed them what was recorded.
Carlos Ferrand and Claudia Andujar also worked with strategies that were characteristic of ethnography and anthropology. From Peru and Brazil, respectively, they felt the need to use photography — and also cinema, in Ferrand’s case — as a form of political action extending beyond intimate and personal expression. Over long periods, the artists lived with native communities in danger of losing their ways of life due to the effects of developmentalism, and put forward their defence by documenting this situation of vulnerability. Ferrand
founded the film collective Liberación sin Rodeos (Freedom without Detours) to film the daily life of farmers in the Peruvian mountains and rainforest and thus express a longing for social justice, while Andujar joined the foundation of the Pro Yanomami Commission in support of demarcating Yanomami territory.