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Introduction to the book Memoria Digital

Introduction to Memoria Digital

TIME, MEMORY AND LIFE
A VIEW OF ALICIA VITERI’S WORK

When Alicia Viteri arrived in Panama thirty five years ago, she was still very young and had already graduated as a Master of Fine Arts from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota.  She brought with her the enormous enthusiasm of youth and the energy typical of those who dare to throw themselves into conquering life and fulfilling an ideal: that of pursuing art as a commitment to personal achievement and a desire for esthetic perfection.

Her ideal began its course of development during her childhood among the foggy and gray landscapes of the Nariño Mountains, in Pasto, where she was born. During this period, her life echoed the solitude and melancholy nature of the landscape, feelings that increased due to the premature loss of her parents.  Nevertheless, that time of her life was enriched by the freedom she experienced living among the trees and flowers of the San Javier Farm which, through a process of analysis and internalization, allowed her to get to know and value nature, which became her refuge during those solitary years.

Later on, during her high school years, she became a rebellious adolescent, motivated by the instinctive need for liberty and its values, in confrontation with a conservative system run by nuns where her acts of protest—such as turning over garbage cans or her carefree love of dancing—provided evidence of a sense of self-awareness and personal values, that did not fit predetermined molds.

During her university years, she chose to study Fine Arts in Bogotá, thwarting her family’s wish that she become an architect. It was a formative period, a time of achievements during which Alicia Viteri was enriched academically through her contact with masters such as Roda, Caballero, Cárdenas and Giangrandi, and on a personal level, through the ties she established with very close friends, who to this day continue to support and nurture her in her walk through life.

Meeting Stephan Proaño, a publicist with international experience, was the defining factor in determining her one-way journey to Panama, where she would develop her life as an artist, and where she was exposed to a warm and extroverted environment that “allowed Alicia to cut her umbilical cords, because the conflict between her Andean spirit and her new tropical vision brought her out of her shell.” (1984, Jaramillo)

The shy girl from Pasto, the rebellious adolescent, the university student motivated by art and in search of new experiences came together ideally in her new role as a teacher of graphic arts, responsible for introducing the techniques of printmaking to the Panamanian art scene.   A pioneer in the methodology of engraving tools and the printing press in Panama, she opened new possibilities for art by promoting the use of novel artistic supports through the creation of the graphic arts shop at the University of Panama, and later at Panarte (today, the Museum of Contemporary Art) where she taught and motivated both students and colleagues.

Her first exhibition in Panama (1972), where insects appeared as the exclusive motif in her etchings, “scandalized some and enchanted others” in the opinion of one of her first critics (1972, Trujillo).   Later, through a continuous and methodical exercise in printing techniques, it was her anguished-looking hands, her mysterious mummies, and her characters transplanted from the somber and decadent society of Quito, which revealed—thereby scandalizing or  enchanting the viewer-- the inner world of this artist whose work expresses a deep self-analysis, a refined lyrical sensitivity and, at the same time, an ironic if not satirical vision of  human, social, and political reality that she has developed in stage after stage of her work.

Within this evolution, Alicia Viteri continued to surprise the public by adding   unconventional motifs and broadening her technical diversity.  From the detailed drawings and the strong strokes of her prints, she moved on to painting in acrylics, and from there to employing theatrical lighting and sound to create the first installation registered in the history of art in Panama: a mural in which “Carnavales” (Carnivals) and “Funerales” (Funerals) confronted each other in a celebratory, ironic interpretation of the rigid and decadent bourgeois society, as opposed to the dynamic and Caribbean-flavored popular milieu.   At the same time, she captivated an audience that was ready to receive her message, a public that recognized itself in her work due to the authenticity of its subjects and its technical quality. Viteri managed to establish an intimate and lyrical dialogue between these spectators prepared to identify with her meaning and herself, an artist capable of representing and interpreting content in an expressive manner.

Later on, her viewers would be surprised by the daily decorated collages that adorned her acid visions of Latin American society’s political and human vices in the series that she dedicated to the “Príncipe Próspero” (The Prosperous Prince). 

In spite of the success achieved through her national and international exhibitions and the many prizes she received, the artist suddenly abandoned her usual whites, blacks, and grays in order to immerse herself in nature and paint landscapes in which countless colors plus her studies of light and its chromatic effects announced her search for an innovative palette and a new theme.  As always, this new evolutionary stage in Alicia Viteri’s work had come into being during the course of a previous period, within which the later stage had been born and developed.

In this manner, her work has shown a thematic continuity dedicated to the study of human nature in search of deep, hidden inner emotions achieved by her dedication during many different stages to the study and learning of a variety of techniques, culminating with landscapes illuminated by her brilliance and her colors. 

DITIGAL MEMORY

 Alicia Viteri now presents the latest product of her long and hardworking evolution of thirty five years. 

Her production since the year 2000 has shown a renewal that reflects the huge challenge artists have come to find in the surge of new technologies.  In response to postmodern tendencies, with their syncretism and freedom in the employment of expressive means, added to the use of advanced graphic methods, the artist has now appropriated photography into her work. Photographs have provided the basis for the exhaustive new work that she creates on the computer, employing electronic pencils and brushes, and working with the Photoshop and Zbrush programs. Due to her experience as a draughtsman and printmaker, she has managed to restore, intervene, and esthetically recreate a collection of old photographs through an extensive process of learning and intense creativity over the last seven years.

The exhibition “Memoria Digital” (Digital Memory) in 2002 showed part of this production, announcing to both critics and her audience that this artist continued being faithful to her themes, in the ideal continuity that artistic honesty demands.  In an ever-increasing process of internalization, her new technical instruments allowed her to continue the thread that has run through all of her work: her life, now understood through reminiscences and the representation of that which she herself calls “the labyrinth of my memory”.  This point of view was confirmed by Marta Rodríguez, when she affirmed decades ago that “In her (Viteri’s) work, art and life converge in an intimate union.  Her work has a confessionary and testimonial nature that is an extension of her self, of her condition, and her particular circumstances.” (1988, Rodriguez).   Viteri’s art shows a thematic thread, a linear continuity, figuratively represented by her own image and the people who surround her at present or in her memories of the past.

“I wanted to gather all the family history, my experiences in Panama, in Quito, at university, in love, with my friends, and also my enemies”, Alicia Viteri has confessed (2004, Aguilar).  “I put together an enormous archive.  I recuperated the most important events in my life.”   However, throughout her artistic development, this artist prepared herself for work that, from the technical standpoint, would bring together all her graphic and pictorial tendencies, while, in terms of her themes, she achieved an ever-deepening progression in a long process of human and social studies.  Her work today is focused on herself and those who surrounded, or surround her, “nourishing myself through people, through the infinite human landscape that surrounds me.”

This collection of intervened and esthetically recreated photographs are confessions by the artist, who leads the spectator toward the introspective vision of her life with vivid and lyrical illustrations of those who have accompanied her, or now accompany her,  in her walk through life.  The work is biographical, intimate, with successive pages that are sequential testimonies of a past and a present that can be identified as the revived fragments of lifetime experiences.

“Digital Memory” gathers, as its foundational structure, the characters that made up that vital experience, acknowledged through photographs from the artist’s collection. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that they serve as the basis for the creative act, these photos represent only a part of figurative reality.  Thanks to the intervention of electronic pencils or brushes, by means of digital manipulation, the artist deconstructs and reconstructs reality, through the subjective reinterpretation of the motifs that inspire her.  With her proficient drawing, she manages to enrich these figures through a strong interplay of lines in movement, thereby achieving a sense of dynamics that allows them to represent the past and the present all at once.  Thanks to her command of composition, Viteri puts together true and authentic narrative sequences from the lives of the represented figures, scenes that are not lacking in psychological and subjective characteristics, creating an intimate representation of the kind of human analysis in which she engages, at times with tenderness, at others with melancholy, or even with irony.  It is a remembered time in which, without limitations in terms of the represented space, she depicts both the relived past and the present, joining happiness and sadness, and combining realities experienced with fantasies relived, through drawings that bring it all together in a lyrical process of high esthetic value.   Imagination is added to reality, which in turn is connected to a deep critical perception which makes it possible for Alicia Viteri to offer expressive testimonies of her lifelong experiences to the spectator.

TIME AND MEMORY

A careful reading of the ensemble of testimonies reveals the past and present of Alicia Viteri’s life.
The first images in the group display her childhood, her adolescence, her life as a university student, and her early role as a grown woman.  Melancholic sensations predominate in these first images, where the maternal figure is an omnipresent motif from the artist’s memory, represented at times by friezes as in “Amo a mi mamá” (I Love my Mother), at times by images that stem from other recollections as in “Mamá corazón” (Heart Mother), and at other times through symbolic values as in “Hermanos” (Siblings), in a constant mutation of concepts that subjectively enrich these images.   In her reminiscences of her childhood or her adolescence in Pasto, the lyrical force of the eternal and significant relationship between the artist and her mother, as well as with her father and her brother, grant this initial ensemble of testimonies a revelatory value that reflects an effort to unite time and vital spaces within one individual: the artist.

These are narrations in sequential time in which, in addition to her parents, her brothers, the San Javier Farm, and the old car as a reminder of countryside outings, and the Pasto landscape are introduced to the spectator through a vision dominated by color.  The drawings of the figures, that are the focus of these compositions, are diluted into blurred profiles in such a way that the exuberant representation of nature, which frames the narration and gives unity to the composition, prevails.  One sees Alicia Viteri’s walks through the Pasto landscape, at times as a lonely girl, and at others, as a child protected by her mother.  One observes, in a bright yellow dress, the energetic person that will bloom during her youth and, after her graduation, the image of a strong and sensual woman who discovers her brilliance and her leading role in life (“Ojo” [Eye]),  as well as the admiration of an artist who pays homage to her teachers.  They are lyrical images, with representative values defined in compositions where the static nature of the figures serves as a counterpoint to the dynamic vegetation.  Her characters are projected through filigrees of bright, contrasting colors that reveal a meticulous and flexible design, and a surprising wealth of motifs.  The chromatic diversity captures vegetation, flowers, butterflies, landscapes and sky.  It is a vibrant, intimate poem in which memories bloom among dynamic strokes that reflect optimism, or at other times, among shadowy tones that reveal a sense of melancholy. There are even friezes made up of the dark profiles of nuns that speak of social criticism or irony, as well as pyramidal forms that represent ideals. These works are fragments of memory, but even more, they are successful esthetic compositions where figures are the focal point and the lines in movement and the fantastical forms of nature that frame them reveal powerful strokes, a dynamic order, and a subjective capacity to reinterpret her experiences through a technical language based on excellent drawing.  These are works that merit careful study by the spectator in order to perceive the minute details in the representations, the multiple chromatic variations with which this artist, reflecting her fertile imagination and technical expertise, recreates a fairy-like landscape of fantastic visions in which the figure is not only the central motif, but also the pretext for a poetic message.

Like a link between her present and her past, in this group of memories there are testimonies of the period during which Viteri fought against cancer.  These images indicate a return to earlier stages in her graphic production, in which black, white and gray are the predominant colors of the central figure, which is the artist herself.  They are anguished self-portraits in which black areas darken the reality of the figurative image.  Curves rule in these compositions that are reminiscent of the painful crossroads encountered by those who are facing death, but still love life.    Here, Alicia Viteri shows a preference for the use of stylistic resources that stem from her graphic work. The revival of motifs from former stages is evident:  the woman with a hat from the 1980s in “Torso con árboles” (Torso with Trees),  her phantom-like characters from the funerals (“Cucú”1) now reinterpreted by the artist in relation to herself, with that ironic laugh that makes excessive subjectivity impossible, and that validates pain as a contained and balanced feeling.  “Como el huevo”2, “En la olla” (In the Pot) and “Caracoleando”3 are fragments of a life that the artist relives, not just through her memories, but also through the analysis she makes of characters that are involved in the misery of the human condition.  She explores her inner self and exposes it with accents of laughter or caricature that reflect acceptance as a way of overcoming those fateful signs of pain and sickness that are omens of death. 

The final piece in this series dedicated to self-analysis is “Love”, a classical composition of concurrent triangles in which one can once again recognize signs of the past and the present.  With a strict economy of narrative elements and great dynamism, it is a statement that synthesizes Alicia Viteri’s ideal message regarding the emotions that unify and strengthen mankind.

The works that make up the third part of this group of images reveal Alicia Viteri’s present:  her friends, her neighbors, her enemies, the “people who nurture me.”  Although they are very different, her compositions are all dominated by a sense of movement.  The forms and dynamic lines are like molds and structures around small photos that are now part of the composition rather than its central figures. In these statements, one can clearly observe the artistic capacity to feel and narrate lives that stems from sensitive observation.  She depicts her university companions, her friends from Panama and from Quito with their children and husbands, but again, she engages in character descriptions with a range that goes from psychological to  circumstantial details, and leads the spectator through the accidents of time, place, or manner that define their lives.  Within this multiplicity of narrative representations, she achieves a particular focus for each character as well as multiple variations in her style of drawing and her colors.

 Alicia Viteri reinvents narratives, successfully making them dynamic by uniting the past and the present of those pictured, with an abundance of minute details and fragmented memories, and thus, transforms them into a gallery of poetic personages that she gives value to through the perception of their happiness or pain. She allows us to view their individual truths through the sensitive filter created by friendship or an intense behavioral analysis.  Nature is equally present, even in her refined drawings of bright and contrasting colors, but it is not necessarily the frame for these testaments of her memories in which the greatest importance is granted to symbolic values as a vehicle for the interpretation and representation of human beings.  Similarly, in some of the photographed figures in this last series of images, the introspective and caustic artist resurges, revealing a cruel reality through balanced forms and a noteworthy scarcity of fantastic details.  “La menina criolla” (The Creole Menina), “La medalla milagrosa” (The Miraculous Medal), and “Baby Face” testify to her knowledge of mankind’s negative values, its vanity, its egotism, and above all, they display Alicia’s well known capacity to strip the people she portrays of their gilded adornments, in order to reveal their dark souls.

Her testimonies, her reminiscences, and the fragments of her life are completed in “Digital Memory” through two portraits of people from Panama: one from the past and the other from the present. In both images, Alicia Viteri highlights the multiplicity of ethnic features and the eclectic character of the society of men and women, who accompany her in this country where she has been able to live, work, love, and transform reality into poetic perceptions and esthetic realizations.  Both compositions are derived from photographs that, having been intervened through digital manipulation, come together in one narrative sequence of a Carnival scene in which the deeper analysis of man and society—the essence of Alicia Viteri’s work—is condensed in two figures: the photograph of a hieratic Carnival queen from the past, and the drawing of a sensual woman with an impressively curvaceous rhythm.

Once again, past and present complement each other within a composition. Space, reality, and fantasy come together to express, through two symbolic characters, the artist’s sense for life: her acceptance of diversity and the value she places on the rich contrasts in human nature, seen and represented in all its circumstances and conditions. However, these representations always reflect a critical point of view, which is inherent in the sense of humor Viteri displays when she combines Panamanians’ past and present in the celebration of Carnival, an excessive festivity that inevitably reveals people’s characters and passions.

With its succession of testimonies, “Digital Memory” fully complies with what the art scholar and critic Lionello Venturi demands from a modern work of art: that in its dynamic reality, it communicates a new esthetic interpretation that “obliges the destruction of a subject’s meaning in order to transform it into poetry, in which esthetic purity provides an escape for shadows, allowing the unreal to become transparent.  A supreme, almost inaccessible value.   A fugitive presence, a suspended character, the birth of a fairytale world, fertile with surprises that modern art discovers through pure and unique visual sensations.”

- Angela de Picardi.

Translation into English by Monica E.Kupfer

BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTES:

 (1984) Jaramillo, María de la Paz, “Quince dibujos, grabados y litografías”, Estrella de Panamá, suplemento El Istmo, Panama, 18 November, 1984,
pages 22-24.

(1972), Trujillo, Guillermo, Los insectos de Alicia Viteri. Dibujos y Grabados, exhibition catalog, Galería Arteconsult, Panama, December 1972.

(1988), Rodríguez, Marta, “Alicia Viteri: El arte es vida”, Arte en Colombia, Internacional, Nº 37, Bogota, September 1988, pages 80-83.

(2004) Aguilar Nicolau, Amalia, “Memoria Digital, de regreso a la infancia”, Agenda, Vol. 60, Panama, March 2004, pages 72-74.

(1997) Venturi, Lionello, cit. in Archer, Michael, Art since 1960, Thames and Hudson Inc., New York, 1997, page 186.