Integration through contact

 Cheo Carvajal

Oficina de Turismo de San Agustín del Sur, octubre 2015-abril 2016


The gaze needs the body to approach and appraise. To understand what is from afar a just a landscape. Postcard, distance. The body and the gaze need to enter the urban landscape together, travel through it, to establish the fabric (social and spatial) of the city as one entity. A human fabric that inhabits and moves without limitations through all its spaces.

There are areas of the city that we don’t know, that we know of only because we hear or read its name. There are others that we see from afar, through the window of a train or the underground, in comings and goings on the bus, from a zigzagging motorbike or through the opaque car window. It’s probable that we will never come near some of them. Areas where nobody misses us, where we will always be absent?


We know, or at least we suspect, that one of the virtues of a city is its diversity. In our contemporary urban experience it is clear that more diversity means more vitality, although in itself does not imply more justice or peace, rather more conflicts to be resolved. The challenge then is to discover, inhabit, to become a part of it.

Can we be a part of this diversity even while we ignore it? How can we be incorporated if we have been left out, lost contact, if the contact scares us? The city is a space of wishes, discoveries and exchange. And tourism is an allurement which allows our wishes to be channeled so that discovery and exchange can happen, at a global and a local scale. For some it may not go beyond the banality of documenting sights, in the click of a shutter which freezes everything. For others tourism might mean the opening through which you submerge yourself in deeper waters, the moment when the “postcard” image opens the way for dialogue and maybe even the activation of networks and commitments.


There are places that cities sell as “must see” destinations and these appear as priorities on maps and tourist guides. If we ask people from Caracas what these places might be that they would like to get to know or visit in their own city, would San Agustín del Sur be on that list? The Caracas shanty-towns and San Agustín among them have a great potential to revert this disintegration. Their history, organization, the manifest wish of the community to be part of the city. From outside many do not assume it as a tourist destination, from inside others do not even consider the idea that it may be an interesting place to show. From so many years of separation of city and shanty-town, as two different categories, a barrier has been created. An abyss that is often part of our own perception of the city.


Understanding the shanty-town as city requires a lot of thought and action. A constant exercise of recognition from inside and out. To make it effectively so is a difficult job, complex but necessary, requiring multiple strategies. Activities on site, but that are also symbolic, such as the mapping that details and makes visible it’s interior and also blurs some of its borders. The San Agustín del Sur Tourism Office is an exercise of artistic mediation that points in this direction. This dialogue does not begin with this exhibition, instead recounting the process of several year’s work where the communities aspirations and the artists vision come together, and who today invites and incorporates the actors that participate in this interactive, collaborative process including the museum.

It is not a small achievement that the Museum of Contemporary Art has taken on in the most important room of the premises an exhibition that starts with a void and will grow as it progresses with unforeseen images. A room where the mapping will serve as a canvas for children, adolescents and adults that can build a narrative about San Agustín and its surroundings, with their own drawings and movements. They won’t come to contemplate works of art (although they can if they want to) or learn about movements, tendencies and vanguards of contemporary art. They will come to imagine, propose, share their vision of a unique territory in this common ground, which is public, the museum, separated physically from the shanty-town by the river and the motorway but which is not the only barrier. The ‘work’ will not be an object, but a document of a process and relations.

An exhibition which is a living map, developed through the body and lived experience, with children and adolescents from the 3 shanty-towns schools, and people from the community, and also with any other “Caraqueño” who wants to amplify the limits of his city. A city where we know that the lack of contact plagues us, disintegrates us, even though many would insist on the opposite.