Mariana Turchio On Bringing Latin American Art To The Middle East And Vice-Versa

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“It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad as long as it provokes a reaction in you,’ says Mariana Turchio when asked what makes a piece of art good. ‘You realise something is happening in you, a response coming from you; that’s beautiful.”

A native of Argentina, Turchio has had an illustrious career that spanned several countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. She works closely with the exclusive Picasso Foundation – by virtue of the friendship she forged with Maya Picasso, the artist’s daughter, while studying in Paris – and is frequently called upon to inspect and certify Picasso paintings worldwide. In fact, Turchio is one of only five people in the world certified to use RAMAM – a technique that uses infrared light to inspect a piece of art.

Mariana Turchio collecting samples and analysing a Picasso work from a private Picasso collection in Colombia.

In 2014, she settled in Dubai, UAE, where she tends to Artissima Gallery in the Al-Quoz region of the city – and its de facto art hub – and organises independent art exhibitions around the Emirates.

Turchio’s signature style when it comes to exhibitions is to create a fully immersive ambiance. ‘The role of the curator is to create a link between the spectators and the artist, as well as the art itself,’ she explains. The veteran art critic, nonetheless, goes the extra mile to appeal to all of the spectator’s senses with the imagery, the sounds, the smells, the taste… ‘My role is actually to provoke the senses,’ she smiles.

Over cups of tea, Mariana Turchio passionately tells me her story.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you got into art.

I was actually studying literature in the University of Buenos Aires, but had to interrupt my studies because of health issues. I changed majors later and switched to art because it was convenient to transfer my credits. Then I was accepted into a government-backed programme to go study for two years in Saint-Germain in Paris to become a curator for art.

When I finished, I returned to Argentina to work for the government: I organised an exhibition for all artists from the region in La Casa Rosada (the Pink House) – the Argentine presidential palace.

Walk me through your curating process.

First and foremost, I would have to say that the most important criteria are the aesthetic aspects of the piece: the light, the technique, the figures, the object, how the artist worked with spaces, and so on. Then, I study the background of the artist; their story, the exhibitions they’ve done – any relevant information about them.

When I add up all the elements, I can then say that this particular piece of art fits in this specific exhibition – that it’s right for this specific audience.

I have two different sets of standards for art curating: I consider it very important to respect the cultures and traditions of the Arab and Islamic world when I work here. When I’m working outside the region, though, the criteria are different.

What brought you to the Middle East?

My grandmother was Lebanese. She arrived in Argentina when she was 12 years old and never lost her culture: she was always cooking Lebanese food and loved Arabic dance, which is very common in Argentina – and this was my first and main relation to the Arab world and it’s what pushed me to come work here.

I first came to the UAE to work for the Louvre in Abu Dhabi – I even co-curated an exhibition in the Louvre in Paris, which showcased how the Abu Dhabi branch would look. It took a full year to put that exhibition together. I wasn’t contacted directly by the Louvre, however, rather by a third party, who, sadly, had a falling out with the museum and had to leave the UAE. That meant I was no longer involved with the Louvre, but I decided to stay anyway.

The first work I did in the region was back in April 2014, I was the main curator for the festival of Latin American art in Al-Quoz, Dubai. After that, I arranged an exhibition for the prince of Fujairah.

“The art scene here is pure. It’s young but not completely free; there are cultural norms and traditions to stick to.”

Mem Firefly, Ivaan Hansen. Acrylic, 70 x 100cm.
Big Apple Harem, Marco Art, Oil on canvas, 2 x 2m.

Yet, whatever you create here will be well received because it’s new and the audience is still not as accustomed to it. Digital art, especially, I believe, will be very strong here.

What do you hope to achieve through your work?

I have always supported Latin American art all over the globe in order for Latin American artists to have a place and a standing in the world. I wanted to bring Latin American culture to all parts of the world, including to the Middle East. But now that I’m here, I’m trying to go the opposite way by bringing Islamic and Arab culture to Latin America and the rest of the world. This is because over there, people base their understanding of Arabs or Muslims on what they see on the news, which is very misleading.

Exhibition in Fujairah, UAE. “I Love Fujairah”, Marco Art from New York, Curator and critic/ Mariana Turchio Inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah.
Exhibition in Artissima Art Gallery, Dubai, of Italian artist Mimmo Centonze, where special guests participated in the opening ceremony, including Sheikh Mejren Bin Mohammed Bin Mejren of Ras Al Khaimah.

As we wrapped up our conversation and prepared to leave the café, I was left with the unwavering impression that Turchio is not one to rest on her laurels; the veteran curator has taken it upon herself to represent the artists of the region she now calls home. Her work has all but gone unnoticed; she has recently been invited by The Arabs Group (a UK-based branding and marketing solutions firm that organises several creative awards ceremonies dedicated to Arabs worldwide) to be on the jury of their The Arabs Group Achievement Award – specifically, for an event called International Art Exhibition London, which focuses on Arab artists from anywhere in the world. ‘I’ve represented Latin American art in this region before,’ Turchio concludes, ‘and now, it’s time to take the region’s art to the world.’

Joe Dagher

Joe Dagher is a journalist, editor, translator and aspiring novelist. He writes and edits in English, Arabic and French for publications covering business, economics, lifestyle and culture in both Beirut and Dubai. Twitter: @joe_a_dagher Instagram: @joe.a.dagher