keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist
responsible for an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.’ This
is the definition of curator provided by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia in an article entitled Curator.
It gives other definitions, ‘In contemporary art, the title curator is given to a person who selects and
often interprets works of art. In addition to selecting works, the curator often is responsible for writing
labels, cataloging essays, and other supporting content for the exhibition…The late twentieth century
saw an explosion of artists organizing exhibitions. The artist-curator has a long tradition of influence.
Notable among these was Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy, London.’
Although we may be unfamiliar with curators and their role in the art world, most of us are familiar
with the work of Belizean artist and curator Gilvano Swasey. I managed to ask Gilvano his definition of a
curator and how a curator functions in the Belizean context.
I have been witness to Gilvano’s work, in the capacity of a curator, since 2004. I would be extremely
comfortable resorting to flattery by stating that his curatorial work is pure magic. Instead, I will say that
he seeks the key elements of a piece (painting, sculpture, photograph, graphic design) and explodes
that element into a motif which he plasters unto the wall, doing so he creates a harmonious relationship
between the work and the gallery space. Each exhibit he curates is an installation piece.
Swasey began curating exhibits in 2002 at the Museum of Belize. He said that he not only curates art
exhibits, but also educational and historical exhibits.
“Most spaces allotted for exhibits are not exhibit- ready, so a curator needs to understand colour,
movement of people inside the space, lighting, spatial relations and context. The curator needs to
understand which works go together” Gilvano explained.
He added “Belizean art spaces don’t change- so you HAVE to work with colour and texture to change the
space to keep people interested and show something new each time. It is the same gallery space every
time, so how can I make it interesting for the guests each time they arrive.”
Needless to say, as I sit here in the Image Factory gallery, I can see the layers of paint under the
white walls with its skin-like texture. How many times have you visited the gallery and the space was
completely transformed? The gold wall from the last exhibit you visited had morphed into a white space
with bright red crates.
The contemporary art space was often referred to as the cubo blanco (the white cube) in certain art
circles in Merida. Since Mexico, for me, is still my main point of reference when it comes to art, I asked
Gilvano what he thinks about the famed ‘white wall’ exhibits.
“It is necessary in some places and aspects...” he moved a step ladder to the centre of the gallery and
continued, “but today, especially with the mass media now streaming, you would expect people to
know more, however the curator still has to compliment the artist’s work to help sell the message.”
Do you think it helps that you are an artist? What do you think about curators who are artists?
“You have to understand the work that you are mounting. You also need to understand the artist’s
message and social events so that the work can be relatable. Unless people can relate to a piece, there is
no purpose to displaying it.”
Gilvano added “people need to understand how to ‘live’ with a work. I try to show the audience how
they can live with a piece, or how to compliment it to have it function in their homes. Because most
times, people purchase a work and it just ends up lying there collecting dust.” He explained that he
provides the viewer not only with the story of the work, but also with an idea of how to make fine art
co-exist with a living space.
Could you curate your own exhibit?
“I’ll never exhibit again!” he chuckled.
He is currently setting up The Belize Show, an exhibit by Hubert Neal jr. and he works to ensures that
each painting says its message as it should. He seemed to be creating a single exhibit for each piece.
Finally he admitted, “I think I could though. I think I would know how to.”
In summation, Gilvano said that being a curator entails understanding how pieces go together. He said
that an exhibit tells a story without using words, and though words can be misleading, images can be
misinterpreted based on how these are positioned. “It is a science!” he exclaimed.
Swasey said that sometimes a curator gets a large space for two small works or a small space for five or
more very large works and other times a work is so strong it can really stand alone in a space. A curator
has to understand the artist’s message and then figure out how best to display it in the context of the
gallery space and current events.
Celebrities need good publicists, but every artist needs a curator to enhance the work and sell the
message to the public.