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Panama at Venice

Friday 24th April, 2015

EVA 2014 artist Humberto Vélez will represent Panama in the Latin American Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia

Humberto Vélez: Miss Education
A Delegated Performance, 2013–2015

Humberto Vélez will present the second edition of Miss Education at Venice Biennale 2015. Visitors to the 56th Biennale will be able to observe a real beauty queen parading through the Arsenale and Giardini in this performance piece that uses the convention of the international beauty pageant to examine artistic and intellectual prejudices.

Yomatzy Hazlewood is the reigning Miss Panama 2014 and was also crowned Miss Education by curator Gerardo Mosquera, a panel member on the Miss Panama beauty pageant. She will be appearing at Venice Biennale during the preview days from 6 to 8 May 2015 and during the opening of the Latin-American Pavilion in the Arsenale on May 8 at 11am.

Miss Education began as an artistic intervention in the national Miss Panama beauty contest, conceived specifically by Vélez for renowned artist and critic Luis Camnitzer in 2013 as part of VISITING MINDS Radical Pedagogy: Art as Education,” an international forum held in Panama City in May 2013.

With Miss Education, Vélez intended to confront social, artistic and intellectual prejudices by exploring the elitism and stereotypes of art, education, and beauty through the lens of mass media events and popular culture. Vélez wanted to playfully challenge the concepts of art and education by merging aspects of the global art world with the mass market appeal of the beauty pageant. For this purpose, Luis Camnitzer served as jury president of the Miss Panama competition and personally chose a new “Miss” with the title of Miss Education.

Such was its impact, Miss Education has now become a permanent title in the Miss Panama contest and one of the most coveted by the participants, who now lay more emphasis on the importance of education and activism, than simply beauty.

Miss Education has become a work-in-progress, with Vélez invited to participate in several events, such as the Montevideo and Venice Biennial and Behind The Wall public art project during the Havana Biennial — not as documentation of what happened in Panama – but as a delegated performance, a “living work of art”, where Miss Education parades or intervenes through the exhibition and public spaces of each biennial and city.

In each venue the work acquires new modalities. For example, Jeniffer Brown, Miss Education 2013, performed in the II Montevideo Biennial. Yomatzy Hazlewood, elected Miss Education 2014 by curator Gerardo Mosquera, is participating in the Latin American pavilion of the 56th Venice Biennale. She was also crowned Miss Panama and therefore ran for the title of Miss Universe. A medal-winning track meet runner and an English major in college, Hazlewood comes from a humble working-class family. For 2016, Vélez is asking a prominent art collector to join the Miss panama jury in order to select the next Miss Education.

Contests are a constant in Vélez’s work, as he explains, “What really interests me is the ceremony through its different manifestations: parades, contests, sports competitions, etc. I have used them extensively as artistic strategies. At the ceremony, members of a community look directly at each other and intertwine ancestral and current moments and emotions that speak about human nature”.

“In the past, after my performances ended, these remained alive for those whom I worked with, thanks to the empowerment of artistic experience…. However, with Miss Education this system — of collaboration, empowerment, and subsequent participation in social, political, and artistic arenas — has expanded. The forms and results it delivers are unknown to me. The work lives and takes on new meanings every day through others, who are not under my direction but independent of me.”

Working with a beauty pageant in this way can also be read as a comment on art competitions — which preserve power in certain hands and divide artists — and about the art world itself, with its strategies of legitimation, especially by those who control the media and the market. Furthermore, this situation is applicable to everything else: sports, electoral politics, private education. They are all “contests” that manage huge amounts of capital and symbolic winners. Vélez consistently addresses cultural disenfranchisement based on class and race as a strand running through his work.

See Humberto Vélez's website for further information.

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