Sandra Gamarra, Nº 3 Producto: mestizo, 2021, oil on canvas, 31 1⁄2 × 39 3⁄8". From the twenty-part suite Producción/Reproducción, 2021.

Sandra Gamarra, Nº 3 Producto: mestizo, 2021, oil on canvas, 31 1⁄2 × 39 3⁄8". From the twenty-part suite Producción/Reproducción, 2021.

Sandra Gamarra

The Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI) is among the few spaces that offer the city’s diverse audiences an overview of Peruvian art history. In recent months, MALI has modified its permanent exhibition by strategically placing pieces from its contemporary collection among pre-​Hispanic, colonial-era, post-Independence, and modernist artworks. This vast itinerary through the museum’s holdings culminates in the contemporary art gallery, where Sandra Gamarra’s exhibition “Producción/Reproducción” is currently on view.

Curated by art historian and critic Luis Eduardo Wuffarden, the show brings together a suite of twenty canvases commissioned by the artist and produced in Dafen, the famous “oil-painting village” in Shenzhen, China. They are copies of a series of casta paintings commissioned from Lima painter Cristóbal de Lozano in 1770 by Viceroy Manuel de Amat y Junyent, who ruled Peru in the name of the king of Spain. Each painting shows a woman, a man, and a child. Spanish inscriptions provide racial identifications for each figure, which read as if the phenomenon of human reproduction functioned like a math equation: GUINEAN BLACK WITH SPANIARD PRODUCES MULATTO or SPANIARD AND SERRANO INDIAN PRODUCES MESTIZO. Gamarra has added painted captions below each image, bearing quotations from texts by contemporary feminists such as Silvia Federici and Claudia Mazzei Nogueira. They serve to update the original paintings by questioning the use of certain terms in the original works and, above all, the verb to produce. The inscriptions refer to reproductive labor as the underrecognized precondition of salaried work. In Gamarra’s paintings, women sustaining their children can be seen and understood as fundamental to the “production” and “reproduction” of that labor force and of a system of care.

Both in Peru and in Spain, Gamarra has developed projects linked to personal and collective memory, the construction of historical discourses, and the violence generated by processes of colonization. Her approach to these subjects involves a reflection on pictorial practice, its materiality, and its capacity for repetition and subversion of racial and gender stereotypes. In 2002, when there was no museum of contemporary art in Lima, she created one, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima (LIMAC), which existed only virtually. Its online collection included artworks by Gamarra herself and, later, by other artists, and its website gives the playful impression that the museum is a physical space.

This museum project (a work of art in itself) is still active today: A LIMAC store stand (containing museum merchandise such as tote bags, pencils, mugs, and T-shirts) became part of MALI’s collection in 2009.

Moreover, LIMAC has donated the twenty canvases of Producción/Reproducción to MALI. The original paintings are in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Madrid and were exhibited at MALI in 2000. Gamarra’s copies mark the return of these images to their original context, where they can reach the audiences that most stand to benefit from seeing them and thinking them through. The paintings’ placement in the permanent exhibition allows us to connect the different historical moments that coexist within the museum while also updating the collection in order to let viewers understand it in a contemporary perspective.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.