Guatemala, Visual Arts, 2023, in Berlin

Alarcón Lam

A LA DEFENSIVA (TO BE DEFENSIVE), 2019. Performance, Guatemala’s Civic Center, Bienal en Resistencia.

Esvin Alarcón Lam is a Guatemala-based visual artist that works across a range of disciplines such as painting, sculpture, performance, textile making, photography, sound, and video. His projects are grounded in the desire to create spaces for critical, affective relations with the past taking materiality and abstract forms as starting points. An important aspect of his practice is his belief that artists and art should contribute to shaping a public sphere and advancing social encounters. This led him to found the independent art residency “Pagoda Imaginaria” in 2018, a platform devoted to fostering international exchange, research, and experimentation in Guatemala City that invites artists to develop actions and activities in public space.

Alarcón Lam’s recent work has been intensively exploring his Chinese ancestry and revisiting history from a queer perspective. Informed by his family’s history of immigration, the artist addresses the architecture and material culture produced by the Chinese diaspora in Central America to highlight the various community forms of negotiation with memory. The encounter with the remaining sewing machines of his family-owned tailor shop founded by his Chinese immigrant grandfather in Guatemala in the 1950s inspired some of his new projects, such as Ancestor Forest (2021), a sound piece that delves into the economy of the textile industry and the changes in the manufacturing process by the demands of transnational production.

Through paintings, textile works, and installations, he has been deconstructing national symbols and traditional ideas of identity to fantasize about other forms of political belonging beyond nation-state narratives. The artist provocatively expands queer visual culture to imagine colorful emblems for a wide range of sexual experiences and gender variations. He also focused on revisiting and expanding the layers of meaning of iconic modernist representations, such as Homage to Square (1950) by Joseph Albers turned into Huaca Cuir (2018), a geometric variation that evokes the Gay Pride rainbow and the architecture of sacred sites of pre-Columbian cultures in South America. 

In Guatemala, a country where homosexuality is still penalized, Alarcón Lam’s works put forward a clever strategy to assert the existence of a multiplicity of queer and non-normative bodies, whose traces have been usually erased and destroyed. This is also present in his project Amarica: América Invertida (Inverted America) (2019) in which the artist reinterpreted the flags of 35 countries of the Americas using various tones of pink that evoke the pink triangle used to mark homosexuals in German Nazi prison camps in the 1930s. Playfulness appears as a way to create visibility and further a sense of community that can help us to liberate undomesticated ways of interacting, staying alive, and struggling together. His work is an invitation to reconnect with unrealized or unfulfilled emotions, desires, imaginings, and political visions.

Text: Miguel A. López

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