The Social Function of the Arts by Vivi Kieffer


The article was submitted after the open call for our 10th anniversary of Water Tower Art Fest in 2016


By Vivi Kieffer

Art sublimes emotions and allows the artist to live in another world, with less boundaries, more freedom and more beauty. Victor Hugo, the well-known  French author of the 19th century, felt that opening schools would result in closing prisons, and nowadays many government programs are based on the understanding that opening artistic programs result directly in a diminution of delinquency.

This is an accepted point of view; allow me to add another one. For me, the main social function of the arts is rediscovering a country’s identity, sometime lost or forgotten.

A little personal history to illuminate the subject…I left my home country France, to discover new and unknown horizons. When I arrived in Peru, I was nine… Back then Peru was slowly waking up from the somber times of Sendero Luminoso, The Shining Path. And when I speak about waking up, I speak about its culture, its roots. Cuzco of course was always a very touristic citadel, even in those times, but indigenous Nazca signs and Inca symbology were not often referenced or artistically presented as they are now more than two decades later.

Was it political stability that drove culture and its subsequent tourism to what it is today ? Or on the reverse, is it culture, that over time, and through determined authors, that helped the country to heal from its political injuries? Is there any causality to be seen, or just the mere chance of timing ?

Let me then take another example, one that is closer to my artwork and to the mission I feel that is given to me as an artist. I have been living in a world touristic destination, a safe haven, called the Dominican Republic. Whenever I speak those two words, I see all my interlocutors picturing themselves in a hammock swaying in front of the beautiful turquoise sea… This scene could be a real one, but it’s not the only.

Dominican Republic was also the first interface between Europe and the pre-Hispanic culture, the first point of encounter, historically dating back to 1492.

However when you visit the so-called DR, you really have to be a willing and motivated tourist to discover more than traces of Spanish footprints. How many of the almost 6 million tourists annually try to go to the places of the conquest or seek to see the pre-Hispanic legacy? Well, not as many as I would want… And, of course, it is not surprising, because the country’s  nationals themselves are still not inspired by its legends.

Some years ago when I was told about the Taino woman warrior called  Anacaona, I was mesmerized by her and the myths surrounding her. This woman, coming from a pretty horizontal culture (with no hierarchy) is said to be the first one of the Caciques to oppose herself to Spanish colonization. It was only after Columbus’ second arrival to the island that the Spanish succeeded in taking complete control.

I envisioned Anacaona (also called Flor de Oro or Golden Flower) as a golden amber, three dimensional flower resting over calm waters at sunset, and therefore built a volumetrical abstraction,  as I call my artwork trend. Then I created  “Genesis”, the video-art I am very happy to show at WTAF this year. “Genesis” is a fusion of images from the Dominican Republic – its Spanish history, its wonderful and incredible landscapes and my volumetrically abstracted structure “Anacaona”.

This artwork inspired Lilian Carrasco Art Critic for El Caribe newspaper to write:

“It seems that the artist [Vivi Kieffer] has found a way to project over time the legacy of the queen of the Jaragua’s chiefdom [Anacaona] so that future generations do not lose track of their

indigenous past and the wealth that inhabit their traditions.”

And to tell the truth I do not know what I am more proud of, the aesthetic value of the video-art work “Genesis” itself, or making a bridge between generations and offering, through art, a way of rediscovering one’s cultural roots.

By any means, for me art’s main social function will always be to help people build an identity and rediscover long forgotten roots.

One Comment

  1. Great article. Completely agree wirh last paragraph. Congratulations

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