Maya Watanabe: Liminal

On show Maya Watanabe’s new video installation

by Lorenza Pignatti

Liminal is an intense journey that analyses the threshold of the recognizable and the representable, the visible and the abstraction. The video installation presents a poetic film that focuses on Peru’s internal armed conflict, perpetrated by the Peruvian state police and two guerrilla groups: Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru, and the communist organization Sendero Luminoso. The dreadful and cruel conflict that began in 1980 and ended in 2000 with the fall of the Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori brought about nearly 70,000 deaths. Today – almost 30 years after the official end of the conflict – 16,000 people are still missing and 6,000 are yet to be identified.


Maya Watanabe, Liminal (still), 2019. ProducedbytheHan NefkensFoundation. Courtesyoftheartist

Maya Watanabe, Liminal (still), 2019. Produced by the Han Nefkens Foundation. Courtesy the artist


After a long process of investigation and a collaboration with the EFE – Peru’s Specialized Forensic Team – and the Peruvian General Directorate for the Search of Missing Persons, the Peruvian artist Maya Watanabe has created an artwork that exceeds politics and perhaps history itself. “I didn’t want to make an educational/essay film or a documentary based on interviews with too many explanations. I did a lot of research, I shot at mass graves, and I met with many people who were involved in the conflict, but the footage of my video is based on a close-up that conceals as much as it displays,” explained Watanabe at La Casa Encendida in Madrid, where Liminal is installed until March 31. “Even if I studied Visual Arts, I’m very interested in cinema, especially in the filmography of Theo Angelopoulos and Andrej Tarkovskij, my favourite filmmakers. I feel very close to their way of shooting, as their films were not a reflection of reality, rather like poems or dreams”, she added.

Watanabe’s way of filming is controlled and never too explicit – it involves the viewer with details and fragments, never with a full image. Time is frozen: visual fragmentation is her way to visualize the hard work of the forensic archaeologists and anthropologists who try and “restore” the victim’s identity, whose corpse has been reduced to bones. The archaeologists in the fieldwork, and later the anthropologists in the laboratory analysis, are the ones who are able to make a reliable identification, to “reinstate” a victim’s identity, and to determine their legal death. This suspended transitional legal state of “missing” person is extremely painful for the parents, as they don’t have the possibility of grieving. Enforced disappearances are a political tool, able not only to determine which lives are erasable, but also to underline who can be silenced and who cannot.


Maya Watanabe, Liminal (installationview), 2019. ProducedbytheHan NefkensFoundation. Courtesyoftheartist.

Maya Watanabe, Liminal (installationview), 2019. Produced by the Han Nefkens Foundation. Courtesy the artist


Liminal analyzes that transitional state, when the subjects’ state of legal recognition is undistinguished, at the threshold between the recognizable and the representable. After the solo show at La Casa Encendida, Liminal will be presented at the Museo de Arte de Lima – MALI in August 2019.

Maya Watanabe was born Lima in 1983, and in the past four years she presented her artwork at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Kyoto Art Center, Matadero (Madrid), and Palais de Tokyo (Paris), among others. Last year at ARCOmadrid, she won the Han Nefkens Foundation – ARCOmadrid Award, aimed to support the production of emerging artists of Peruvian origin or nationality, as Peru was chosen as country of honor.


Maya Watanabe, Liminal (installationview), 2019. ProducedbytheHan NefkensFoundation. Courtesyoftheartist.

Maya Watanabe, Liminal (installation view), 2019. Produced by the Han Nefkens Foundation. Courtesy the artist


The collaboration between the Han Nefkens Foundation and the ARCOmadrid Video Art Award will continue next year, and the winner has already been announced. Following the central theme of the fair, It’s Just a Matter of Time – suggested and inspired by the work of Felix Gonzáles-Torres – the female artist Hao Jingban was awarded $15,000 to produce a new work which will be presented next year at Matadero Madrid during and after ARCOmadrid 2020. ARCOmadrid will be the first exhibition space for Jingban’s artwork which, thanks to the vitality and networking of the Han Nefkens Foundation – that is involved in many production grants and awards – will also be presented at other art centers worldwide.

Maya Watanabe: Liminal is at La Casa Encendida in Madrid until March 31, 2019.

Lorenza Pignatti is an art writer, curator, and professor at the New Academy of Fine Arts (NABA) in Milan. She edited “Mind the Map. Mappe, diagrammi e dispositivi cartografici” (Postmedia Books). With Franco “Bifo” Berardi and Marco Magagnoli, she co-edited “Errore di sistema. Teoria e pratiche di Adbusters” (Feltrinelli Editore). She is a regular contributor for magazines and newspapers such as Il Manifesto, La Repubblica, Frieze, Art Review, and e-flux.

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