Why Activist Poet Margaret Randall Is a Perfect Muse for SITE Santa Fe

Cildo Meireles

The 2016 biennial, dubbed “Much Wider Than a Line,” is the second edition of a rethinking of the event.

site santa fe
Xenobia Bailey, Sistah Paradise’s Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent (1993–ongoing). Courtesy of the artist

Margaret Randall, self-described “feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist,” was born in New York City in 1936. Amid a life of many peripatetic adventures, she found herself in Mexico City during the 1960s, where she co-founded the pioneering bilingual journal of poetry and art, El Corno Emplumado (“The Plumed Horn”), with the Mexican poet Sergio Mondragón. The journal, which prided itself in showcasing work by “communist guerrillas, Catholic priests, indigenous poets,” and “consecrated masters,” according to Randall, will be celebrated next week by an installation in the SITElines biennial in Santa Fe, which opens July 16. Indeed, it can be thought of as one of the muses for the show.

The editors of El Corno Emplumado took a stand for the Mexican student movement, which faced violent repression in 1968. The ensuring scrutiny from the Mexican government effectively marked its end. “When the repression hit us and I had to go underground, that was the end of the magazine,” Randall recalls in a video dedicated to its history.

Randall’s subsequent life took her to post-revolutionary Cuba, through the social upheaval of Nicaragua, and back to the United States in the 1980s, where she was nearly ejected again for the anti-imperialist sentiment of her writings. Today, she lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

With a continent-spanning creative significance but at a right angle to the typical globe-trotting paths of the art circuit, her story serves as a precedent for the kind of energy that SITE Santa Fe’s biennial is attempting to capture.

Two years ago, the organizers of Santa Fe’s venerable biennial (founded 1995) decided to rethink the project amid a glut of international art events. They committed themselves to a six-year cycle of events, called SITElines, that would focus on “New Perspectives on the Art of the Americas,” a remit that performs a balancing act between expanding the focus of a regional biennial, while still telling a specific story.

“Part of why we set out to change the biennial in the way we did was to create a platform for many voices that were not included in the traditional biennial circuit, especially in the United States,” explained Irene Hofmann, director and chief curator of the new biennial’s organizing institution, SITE Santa Fe.

Graciela Iturbide
Graciela Iturbide, Self Portrait with the Seri Indians, Sonoran Desert, Mexico (1979). Courtesy of the artist

“You will recognize names on the list,” she continued, “but we are also bringing forward a number of artists who haven’t been a part of the conversation, partly because they are indigenous, or because they are artists who often pigeonholed in strictly Latin American, or Caribbean exhibitions.”

As part of its rethinking, SITElines has ditched the model of superstar curator, employing instead a collaborative team. For 2016, the five curators represent different geographies and specialties—even if at least three of the five work for New York institutions: Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, curator at New York’s El Museo del Barrio; Kathleen Ash-Milby, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; and Pablo León de la Barra, curator of Latin American art at the Guggenheim.

Rounding out the roster are Pip Day, director and curator at SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art in Montréal, and Kiki Mazzucchelli, an independent curator who splits time between London and São Paulo.

Over the course of a year and a half of collaborative discussion and reading, this group honed the theme. Each contributed four to six artists representing their interests.

The title of the biennial, “Much Wider Than a Line,” is cribbed from Indigenous poet and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s book Dancing on our Turtle’s Back, which looks at the traditions of the Nishnaabeg people as a resource for contemporary thinking about society.

Cildo Meireles
Cildo Meireles, The Southern Cross/Cruzeiro do Sul (1969 – 1970). Courtesy of the artists, Galeria Luisa Strina, Sao Paolo.

All told, the event features 36 participants, from Brazilian art great Cildo Miereles to “social practice” star Pablo Helguera.

“It is certainly not the usual suspects,” Hofmann told me. “At the same time, even the artists you do know, it frames them in ways that create important new connections.”

Below, the full list:

Jonathas De Andrade (b. 1982 Maceió, Brazil; lives in Recife, Brazil)

Xenobia Bailey (b. 1955  Seattle, Washington; lives and works in New York) 

Lina Bo Bardi (b. 1914  Rome, Italy; d. 1992 São Paulo, Brazil)

Anna Boghiguian (b. 1946 in Cairo, Egypt)

Margarita Cabrera (b. 1973 Monterrey, Mexico; lives in El Paso, Texas)

Raven Chacon (b. 1977 Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation, Arizona, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Benvenuto Chavajay (b. 1978 Guatemala City; lives in Guatemala City)

Mariana Castillo Deball (b. 1975 Mexico City, Mexico; lives in Berlin)

William Cordova (b. 1971 Lima, Peru; lives in Miami/New York/Lima)

Lewis deSoto (b. 1954 San Bernardino, California; lives in Napa, California)

Aaron Dysart (b. 1975 Minneapolis, Minnesota; lives in St. Paul, Minnesota)

Carla Fernández (b.1973 Saltillo, Mexico, lives in Mexico City)

Miguel Gandert (b. 1956 Espanola, New Mexico; lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Jeffrey Gibson (b. 1972 Colorado; lives in Hudson, New York)

Jorge González (b. 1981 San Juan, Puerto Rico; lives in San Juan) 

Maria Hupfield (b. 1975 Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada; lives in New York)

Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942 Mexico City; lives in Mexico City)

Sonya Kelliher-Combs (b. 1969 Bethel, Alaska; lives in Anchorage, Alaska)

Zacharias Kunuk (b. 1957 in Kapuivik, Nunavut, Canada; lives in Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada)

David Lamelas (b. 1946 in Buenos Aires; lives in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Paris)

Cildo Meireles (b. 1948 in Rio de Janeiro; lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Marta Minujin (b. 1943 Buenos Aires, lives in in Buenos Aires) 

Paulo Nazareth (b. 1977 Governador Valadares, Brazil; lives in favela do Palmital in Santa Luzia, Belo Horizonte)

Rometti Costales (Julia Rometti: b. 1975 Nice, France; Victor Costales: b. 1974 Minsk, Belarus; began collaborating in 2007; they live in Paris)

Abel Rodríguez (b.1943 Nonyuya Community, Colombia)

Tanya Tagaq (b. 1977 in Cambridge Bay, Canada; lives in Canada)

Javier Téllez (b. 1969 Valencia, Venezuela; lives in New York)

Juana Valdes (b. Cabañas, Pinar Del Rio, Cuba; lives in Miami)

Pierre Verger (b. 1902 in Paris, France; d. 1996 in Salvador, Brazil)

Erika Verzutti (b. São Paulo, 1971; lives and works in São Paulo)

Margaret Randall (b. New York, New York; lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Conrad Skinner (lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Pablo Helguera (b. 1971 Mexico City; lives in New York) 

Francisca Benitez (b. 1974, Santiago, Chile; lives in New York) 

Raven Chacon (b. 1977 in Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation, AZ; lives in Albuquerque)