artist Brooke Alfaro
In a project such as ciudadMULTIPLEcity, where an understanding of the urban fabric is fundamental, one would think beforehand that local artists would have the advantage of "playing at home." The fact is that art in Panama has grown to an amazing degree in a short time. This development in art was clearly expressed in ciudadMULTIPLEcity, primarily in the work by Brooke Alfaro. His proposal, Nine, was a unique event.
Alfaro worked for more than a year with the members of two rival gangs from Barraza, one of the most impoverished and dangerous sections of the city. The idea was to videotape the members of the bands (separately, since both have past deaths to account for and it would be impossible to get them together physically). Both bands were to interpret the same song by El Roockie, a popular composer and singer whose very personal brand of music infuses the underworld of urban violence with biblical resonances. The videos were to be shown simultaneously on the walls of the tenement buildings of Barraza. An immensely complex process lay behind this work, in which patience and respect were fundamental factors. For almost a year the artist entered into an alien and dangerous territory, formulated the dialogue, approached the members of the deadly hostile urban tribes (as well as families, friends, and religious and community leaders), suggested the music, listened to opinions and variations, and on countless occasions faced the possibility that one or the other gang would abandon the project in progress.
The result of this arduous process was well worth the effort. On the night of the presentation, the atmosphere was electrifying, very difficult to describe. In fact, this work would not have the same significance outside of Barraza. Its extraordinary force lay in the context of its presentation, in shaping the event within the "risk zone" by the side of the protagonists. The force of Nine comes from using art to formulate a specific dynamic within a specific context (and even for allowing vast areas susceptible to risk and unexpected irruptions). Otherwise, the presentation would not amount to much more than an aesthetically clever video of Panamanian gang members. On the other hand, thanks to the effective dynamics produced in a precise context, Alfaro secured a space and a time within which he involved, astounded, and touched all those fortunate enough to be present on one of the two nights the work was shown.
For many spectators who did not belong to the neighborhood, the mere fact of being there at all was already a violation, for being atypical, and for the danger it entailed: the closed street, the police presence, the dilapidated walls of the buildings as background for the projection... For the local residents, the excitement came from the invasion of their daily space, recontextualized, used as a space for an artistic creation, making them feel a mixture of fear, anticipation, and pride. For the members of the bands, it came from being the focus of attention for a few hours and for being (or discovering that they had become) heroes for the youngest members of the community. The appearance of the members of the bands in the videos set off an uproar worthy of a rock concert.
The force of the dialogue between artist and community, and the extraordinary energy inspired by its presentation, made Alfaro's work the most singular and exceptional event of ciudadMULTIPLEcity.