A Requiem for a Car
Fire chat with Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero, special guest of Art Paris 2019
A group of bicycles is carrying on their “shoulders a dead body made-of-steel,” moving a car through the large avenues and narrow streets of Paris to its final resting place right in front of Le Grand Palais, next to the Champs Elysées. “A Requiem for a Car,” a Jaguar to be exact, is a symbol of speed, power and wealth. This invitation to slow down a humanity obsessed with haste, consumerism, and individualism is Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero art installation to celebrate the 2019 edition of Art Paris. Romero, whose art has been exhibited throughout the world and is now part of the permanent collections in North and South American as well as European museums, plays here with some of her favorite themes: automobiles and globalization.
A spanish version of this interview with Bétsabée Romero was published online by First Class Life
What did you want to express with an art installation composed of bikes and a luxurious car?
We, as human beings, are in constant movement, both real and virtual. Our paths define who we are, but they also define life or what remains of it in big cities. We need a new attitude towards both the energy we consume and the idea that each movement affects the mere existence of others. As the Mexican President Benito Juárez (in office from 1858 to 1872) famously once said:
“Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”
This year’s « Art Paris » focuses on Women artists and on Latin America. Are these two necessary themes?
It is timely and necessary. While Latin America has given birth to many great women who actively defined part of our art history, literature and politics, it has been a continent where levels of violence toward women has remained a reality. Latin America is today the most lethal area for women outside a war zone. All current efforts are needed to defeat this violence.
What should then be the solution?
Art and education always. Education with art always.
Art at the core of personal development?
I believe that art—and above all, artistic education—in addition to a continuous and formative contact with some artistic expression can give someone’s life a purpose when that person has nothing left to hold onto.
You are one of the Latin American artists at Art Paris. You are also exhibiting on the streets of Washington DC an installation commissioned by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and your international foot print keeps growing. How can Mexican art contribute to building the image of a contemporary and forward-looking Mexico?
I am optimistic that change is here in Mexico, but it is only the beginning of a long process of a country’s transformation where so many values have been broken down and where people have suffered from violence, injustice, and impunity. Rebuilding ties among people is a long and profound task. I firmly believe in art projects held in the most hurt communities to succeed in this endeavor, but they have to be sincere, generous and last.
In 2016, Le Grand Palais invited you to talk about Mexican women artists. You then explained that the three leading female Mexican artists from the early 20th century, Frida Kahlo, Nahui Olin, and Rosa Rolanda existed in the shadows of their powerful husband painters—respectively Diego Rivera, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano and Miguel Covarrubias.
Great women artists from Mexico and the world have gained awareness and fame, but they have also been fighting a history of art made by men and for men. Some of them managed to become visible through the success of their husbands, who were often the ones who promoted them.
What about today?
Since the 1970s and the rise of feminist movements, the situation has started to change throughout the world. Nowadays, 40% of all exhibitions in London or in France feature women artists. In Mexico, however, this percentage does not even reach 15%, and the price of works by contemporary women artists remains much lower than their male counterparts’ despite having mainstream international museums, collections, and galleries promoting their art.
Is there a feminine approach to art?
I do not think there is a feminine look or rather I believe that this is not exclusive to women artists, I have learned a lot from the femininity within men.
Yet, I believe that women are culturally less pressured by the need to obtain monetary success. It allows some women artists to fight and seek goals beyond the market and closer to other public concerns or issues that the art market has no interest in. This type of projects can be an example of another approach to social development, and there I find that there are more women than men artist interested in this approach.
Can art contribute to a greater gender equality in the world?
Art reproduces the systems of relationships that exist in all other modes of production, distribution, and consumption of goods, whether they are symbolic or material. That’s why there are almost no women composers or symphonic orchestra conductors, and unfortunately, art is not an example of fairness either.
However, art can be a significant trigger to help women recover their identity and build an essential social and historical reconciliation among men and women.
Art must be a seed for patience and affection. This is the only way to heal and dignify our most intimate damaged collective memory.
So, are you a feminist?
My concern for women is one of many others related to inequality and injustice in the world.
I do not think that only women should be worried about our problems, nor is it the single cause with which I identify myself as a person who struggles. I like to know that women deal with issues that go beyond our individuality, our emotions and our bodies. I am interested in being part of the solution that explores the deepest wounds that violence has left us with.
More about Betsabée Romero: