Retratos de barrio
La Cometa Gallery, Madrid 2023, December
“The whole world is one neighborhood.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Americans have long used the metaphor of the “melting pot” to talk about the modern neighborhood as a place where people of different origins come together, in their everyday lives, to form a nation. For some, this melting pot requires residents “assimilate” to a self-contained whole where individual cultural identities tend to disappear, but others see it as a space where social relations create communal and symbolic capital. However, the reality is that most people in the United States live in neighborhoods defined by race or national origin.
Juan Baraja and Hermes Berrío take on the concept of the neighborhood as a place mediated by relationships of proximity, which sometimes speak to us of identity and belonging and, at other times, of intersections between the past and present. Both artists invite us to an open dialogue (using different media, across different geographies, based on differing origins) where documentation of the everyday becomes a tool for critiquing the current socio-cultural status quo. The exploration of neighborhood events through photography and painting brings to life a multiplicity of histories and images.
Juan Baraja presents us with a selection of photographs produced during his participation in DC.es: A gaze of Washington DC by Spanish Photographers, a project organized by the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain in Washington DC in 2023, where five previous grant recipients from the Royal Spanish Academy in Rome shared their visions of the US capital. Baraja focused on Florida Avenue, a street that once defined the city’s outer limits and is now its main thoroughfare, thus constructing a visual tale that shows how the urban fabric of Washington DC has transformed while also providing testimony of the present through portraits of its inhabitants.
In contrast, Hermes Berrío’s paintings document quotidian life in his Miami neighborhood, Little River. As an artistic and cultural enclave, Little River resists being gentrified and transformed into a tourist attraction. To document the extraordinary in everyday life, Berrío explores and interprets his urban surroundings with honesty. His pictorial process opts for a simple palette, compositions rich in urban typography, and textures derived from repurposed materials that give meaning to his painterly vision.