80WSE Explores Nicaragua’s Artistic Utopia: Solentiname

In 1965, a spiritual, political, and artistic movement emerged on an archipelago in the south of Nicaragua: Solentiname. This community was established by leading poet and priest committed to social change, Ernesto Cardenal, and is the focus of a new exhibition opening December 1 at NYU Steinhardt’s 80WSE Gallery. ‘The Dream of Solentiname’ will look at this key moment in the relationship between aesthetics and politics in Central America as well as its social impact on artists working in New York City during the 1980s.

A social and artistic utopia built around principles of art, liberation theology, and social justice is documented in Cardenal’s letters with fellow priest Thomas Merton. Primitive painting became a way of political expression, economic support, and lifestyle for the inhabitants of the archipelago. Residents of the communal society also wrote poetry, created ceramics, handicrafts, and works in wood, leather, copper, bronze, and silver. Sadly, Merton died before he could visit, yet, over the years the community hosted a number of writers and artists including Julio Cortazar, Juan Downey and Sandra Eleta.

Solentiname’s experimental community lasted from 1965 until 1977 when it was destroyed by the Somoza regime. Two years later, the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown in the Nicaraguan Revolution; Cardenal became the minister of culture in the new government and the Solentiname experience became a model for the cultural program of the revolution.

Nicaragua, 1978. Susan Meiselas, Magnum Photos

‘The Dream of Solentiname’ intends to catalyze a discussion of the importance of artists during this historical moment and how painting and photography, as well as the other forms of art and literature that developed in Solentiname in the 1960s and 1970s, can serve as a tangible example of massive sociopolitical transformations.

The first gallery will present selections from Group Material’s work ‘Timeline: A Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and Latin America’ and ‘For Artists Call Against US Intervention in Central America’, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York. This will be followed by an installation of Susan Meiselas’ revolutionary photographs from ‘Nicaragua: June 1978 – July 1979’. The final three rooms will include historical paintings and sculptures by the Solentiname community and Ernesto Cardenal, as well as a reconstruction of the chapel on the island of Mancarron by architect and artist Marcos Agudelo. The exhibition explores this radical period within Nicaragua, as well as the relevance of these ideas today.

The exhibition – curated by Pablo Leon de la Barra with 80WSE Gallery and with a conference in collaboration with the Institute of Fine Arts – opens December 1, 2017 and runs through February 2018.