Painter Renacho Melgar: Salvadoran cultural policy censors artists
By Hugo Sanchez
San Salvador, Nov 4 (EFE).- El Salvador’s cultural policy creates actions that “censor (artists) every day,” while rewarding those who pay tribute to the image of the “presidential family,” painter Renacho Melgar told EFE, going on to denounce the ban on one of his works.
It was in late September that Melgar warned on the social networks that his piece “Hoy no se hacen milagros” (Nowadays miracles don’t happen), a drawing some 4 square meters (43 square feet) in size done in pencil in which he seeks to create a collage of the “scars” within Salvadoran society, was excluded from a governmental exhibition because it presents a critical view of the state.
When asked whether he thinks he is the first artist to be censored by the country’s current government, Melgar said no and that his situation is only “an individual result and I don’t consider myself to be special,” but he added that there are other forms of censorship.
“They censor us every day,” he said, citing as examples the alleged hiring of a foreign company to represent the country at an international event and the way in which subsidies are provided to certain artists because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Development Bank of El Salvador (Bandesal) provided resources coming from a fund set up to ameliorate the economic impacts of the pandemic. On the social networks, artists who were not benefited complained, despite the fact that they are well-established and have been working as such for a number of years.
Melgar called the manner in which the funds are distributed “a Russian roulette to give away subsidies,” adding that “they come and close cultural houses or close spaces that have been for cultural promotion to have their own projects that are all up in the air, they are censoring us.”
The painter also said that Salvadoran cultural policy is based on “the cult of the (presidential) image,” adding that the fund provides subsidies “to guys because the greatest achievement they ever did is paint the face of the president.”
He said that “the message that sends to new generations” is that “if we make a portrait of the president, they give you (funding).”
Saying that artists are creators and “We do not have to fall into the cult of the image,” adding that “If you politicize and get paid to paint a portrait of the pope, that’s fine. I’m happy for you.”
“I’m not going to be the one to judge you,” he said, “but that can’t make the tip of my pencil invisible. My pencil will always keep talking about how I see the world. My work is the result of my plastic reality and how I see my ideals.”
Melgar went on to say that El Salvador is at the point where there are “no grays,” everything is just black and white and he asked rhetorically when the country had fallen into the discourse of either are you for me “or are you against me?”
El Salvador is marked by ongoing irregular migration, violence, femicide, massacres, disappearances, the pandemic and a type of consecration of figures in power, who exercise their influence on the social networks.
With the work that was rejected, “I tried to make a portrait of El Salvador with all the incentives but from the perspective of the victims. At some point when the painting is looked at, I hope that the viewer becomes a victim,” he said.
Melgar said that he was invited to participate in an exhibition at the “Transito y Permanencia” show and that on the day he arrived with the work he was going to display, which the organizers had viewed previously in photographs, he was rejected and kept from participating.
“There is no intelligent argument to tell me why they censored me. The only argument is that I was criticizing the state,” he said, adding that “There is no intelligent argument to tell me why they censored me. The only argument is that I was criticizing the state.”
“I wanted to play with this idea of political patrons, but from the perspective of how we are always waiting in El Salvador, and how that waiting leads to myopic fanaticism,” he said.
Although it is not the main image in the piece, to the right is a clown surrounded by social network icons and dressed as a religious figure who, Melgar said, has been compared by some people with the figure of President Nayib Bukele.
That’s the collective reading or the piece and “I can’t do anything about it. I can’t intervene,” he remarked, adding “I’m not manipulating anything” and going on to say that this interpretation could have been created by the rejection of his work out of “fear.”
Melgar said that he hopes to exhibit his work in Spain, Italy and France, although he provided no dates for any prospective showings.