An Interview with Maximilano Ruiz

by Nastia VoynovskayaPosted on

Fresh from the printing press, Maximiliano Ruiz’ new book Nuevo Mundo: Latin American Street Art (Gestalten,2011) offers a comprehensive survey of urban art from Central and South Americaand the Caribbean. While internationally recognized names like Os Gemeos and Bastardillamake an appearance, the book showcases dozens of up-and-coming artists, many ofwhich will be at the book’s reception on July 7 at London gallery Pictures on Walls. Maximiliano sat down to chat with Nastia Voynovskaya about the ins and outs of Latin American street art.

NV: Latin American street art is a broad theme; it encompassesmany different countries and individual artists. How did you go about choosingthe content for the book?

MR: In each country and each local scene, my quest was to have agood enough amount of artists so that you get to see different kind of stylesand different ways of living the street art. I wanted to have differentdialogues about street art, not only working with graffiti but also withpainting, wheatpasting, stencils, and also different approaches to why peopleare doing street art. Not only techniques, but the artists’ approach to thecity.

NV:What do you mean, different ways of living the street art?

MR: A regular question I always get is what’s the differencebetween Latin street art and the rest of the world. There isn’t really aconceptual, technical difference; it’s the way they live the street art. That’swhat I’m trying to show in the book. I’m talking about the permission [to doart] in their day to day lives. In Latin American society, there is moreaccepted by the neighbors and the police. It’s not legal but it’s accepted.

NV: So street art is more integrated into society there than inEurope or North America?

MR: Definitely. Generally speaking, street art and graffiti cameto Latin America in the mid ‘80s, ten years after Europe and North America. Inthe beginning of the graffiti movement in Europe and in the States, it was allabout bombing and tagging. Ten years later, graffiti came to Latin America, itwas more developed as a movement. So in the beginning you didn’t see tags andscratching glasses, it was more about letters and 3-d and characters, which Ithink allowed the community to accept it in a better way and not see it asvandalism.

NV: Nuevo Mundo takes a sociological angle on the development ofstreet art in Latin America. How do you think Latin America’s history hascontributed to the artistic expression that goes on there?

MR: Most countries in Latin America experienced militarygovernments in the ‘70s and ‘80s that were all about repressing free speech.Having that repression when there was all that culture centered arounduniversities and artists really put a stop to everything. And when they finallywent out because of the democracy it was all about exploding for the artists.That affected all of the arts—music, street art, sculpture. There were artistsenergetic about expressing themselves but there was also the problem of gettingmaterials and information. Definitely today the internet helps. But before,getting spray cans was very complicated. Not having all these tools forcedartists to use all they could find and spread out beyond graffiti to otherkinds of interventions.

NV: Organizing the chapters of the book by country could havemade it easy to generalize about national aesthetics, but you do a really goodjob focusing on the artists as individuals. Did you have this difficulty inmind when putting the book together?

MR: My idea for making books has always been not trying tointervene in the investigation. Of course, it’s not easy because I am choosing everything.But the way I am looking to do this is by getting the featured artists to writeabout their work and choose their own pictures. I invite every artist to speakfor himself. I didn’t have specific questions I wanted them to answer; I justgave them a certain amount of lines to put down what they really want in the book,whether it’s their own art, about the local situation, their influences. It’sall about what they do, not what I think or what I take from it; it’s reallyabout the artists.  

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