• (L-R) A student, Marcela Montes, Teresa Torres, and Juan Enrique Montes.

    (L-R) A student, Marcela Montes, Teresa Torres, and Juan Enrique Montes.

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Art-Based Enquiry field trips: Visit to Fernando Montes’ studio

Posted: 3 March 2015 by Gisselle Giron

Fernando Montes (1930 - 2007), a Bolivian artist from La Paz, donated his painting of the monumental gate of the pre-Inca ruins of Tiahuanaco Sombra de la Luna (Shadow of the Moon) [1998] to ESCALA in 1999. Since then, the Montes family has established a collaborative relationship with the Collection and, by extension, with the University. His widow, Marcela Montes donated, in 2008, two more pieces both titled Family(Familia) [1976-7]. One is a small pencil on paper drawing and the other, a painting on a large canvas. Together, these read as Montes’ creative process from sketch pencil drawing to finalised egg tempera composition. In the last few years, this relationship has strengthened thanks to the work of Teresa Torres, Lecturer from Language and Linguistics, who has been using the collection in her class ‘Spanish and Latin American Art, Film and Music’ (LA457).

Teresa’s students learn Spanish language through studying different aspects of Hispanic culture. One ofthe projects features an artist from ESCALA, and these last three years the chosen artist has been Fernando Montes. With the help of Dr Joanne Harwood (ESCALA Director) and Dr Sarah Demelo (ESCALA Collections Assistant), Teresa was able to access to material related to his work and to contact Marcela. She was very happy to hear that a group of students from Essex were engaging with Montes’ pieces and was more than happy to answer any question they had regarding her late husband’s work. On Saturday 31 January, Marcela invited Teresa’s students to her house in Wimbledon, London where Montes’ studio has been left intact and many of his early works can be found. Three lucky students, Teresa, and I were welcomed into Marcela’s home. That morning, Juan Enrique Montes, her son, joined us. Over tea and croissants, we had a very absorbing conversation filled with insights of his works global appeal from Paris to Tokyo, his universalist philosophy, and fascination with Andean culture.

Marcela Montes with one of the studentsAll throughout the conversation, Marcela and Juan Enrique stressed the universalist philosophy that underlies Montes’ work. However, we were also revealed that Evo Morales’ (the current president of Bolivia) has an affinity for Montes’ works. In her last visit to Bolivia, Marcela was surprised to find one of her husband’s paintings in Morales’ office. Whilst she highlighted that Montes never had a specific political inclination, she confessed that whilst she did not agree completely with Evo’s policies she cannot deny the incredible cultural shift after Evo’s rise to power. Juan Enrique said, speaking as a London-born individual of Bolivian heritage, that Evo needs to be commended for challenging the power structures in Bolivian society. Marcela agreed elaborating that, no longer is ‘indigenous’ a taboo word, foreign to political discussions, but has entered international preoccupation. Having witnessed the prejudices and discrimination which anyone and anything associated to the ‘indigenous’ faces (both in Andean areas of Bolivia and Peru) I sympathised with what Juan Enrique and Marcela declared.

It was indeed an erudite conversation which, inked by the Montes family humbleness and incredible curiosity for a diverse range of cultures, propelled students to approach different cultures with great carefulness, always recognising our personal biases and limitations.

We would like to thank once again Marcela for welcoming us into her home and Juan Enrique for the engaging guide through his father’s oeuvre. It was a day to remember.

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