Five questions to Victoria McCarthy – curator of El Sur

Färgfabriken’s collaboration with Argentinian Victoria McCarthy began in spring 2023 when she curated the film program Seeing Lithium as part of her examination project at the Curating Art Master in Stockholm University. A year later, she is back to present El Sur – Narratives of Extraction, an exhibition which she developed together with Färgfabriken’s Emilia Rosenqvist and Daniel Urey. Here six artists with varying artistic expressions, explore the effects of large-scale extraction of natural resources on the Latin American land mass.

Why did you want to engage in making this exhibition?

My main aim with this exhibition is to pose a question that can be eye-opening, to make people in Sweden more aware of how extraction is a global system that has effects in many places and communities. When I lived in Sweden, I could see the country’s self-image of being climate-friendly and ‘green’, with, for example, the extended use of electric cars. But when I had conversations and I asked people if they knew where the materials for these ‘green’ devices were sourced from, it turned out that this was not common knowledge. They were quite surprised and unaware of the toll that these technologies had. 

But these negative effects of extractivism are not only limited to the key materials used for the ‘green’ transition (such as lithium, cobalt, etc.), which is why in discussion with Färgfabriken for this new exhibition we decided to broaden the topic of this exhibition and showcase the global consequences of our contemporary societies. 

Then, of course, I also want the Swedish audience to have the chance to get to know these fantastic Latin American artists who are shown in El Sur. You don’t necessarily have to be interested in the subject of extractivism to find it worth visiting, the artworks are strong aesthetic experiences in themselves.

How did you choose the works for El Sur?

I did a lot of research to find works of high artistic quality that address extractivism in an interesting way, conceptually or materially. I also wanted a certain geographical spread. However, the fact that all the participants are women or non-binary artists is not the result of a conscious strategy. These were simply the artists that had an expression that I was attracted to. But now that the selection is made, I can see that it adds something special to the exhibition – in a positive way. Approaching extractivism from an ecofeminist starting point provides a contrast to a prevailing global system and opens up to other perspectives and questions, to understand common goods in a different way.

It is also no coincidence that I have chosen to show several video works. I think that it is a medium that can also reach people who are not used to seeing art, it is a very approachable format.

What can artists contribute to the discussion around extraction that others cannot? Are they activists?

Artists can make knowledge understandable and tangible in a different way than, for example, researchers or journalists. Some of the participating artists in El Sur are more overtly political, others are not, but all express their understanding of this topic in different ways. 

How does the Latin American context differ from the Swedish?

In Sweden I have not seen many artworks about extraction, only some about the mining in the North and what consequences it has for nature and the Sami people. In Latin America, extractivism as a theme is much higher up on the agenda, and we don’t talk about the impact on nature and indigenous peoples only, but about how entire populations are affected when corrupt politicians allow multinational companies to plunder our countries’ natural resources. It touches old colonial oppressive patterns. This is of course reflected in the different artworks chosen for El Sur.

What do you hope to achieve with the exhibition?

As I said earlier, I want to show a piece of reality that not many people in Sweden know about. I think there is a lot to learn from the Latin American art scene, and these artists in particular. I also hope to start a dialogue between Swedish and Latin American artists. I have seen Swedish and Latin American artists approach this subject in a similar way, but they have no connection today.