Map of America presents South America in a swirl of colors devoid of national and geographic boundaries. Physical, mental, and social movement is central to the work, which Downey made in conjunction with a road trip from New York through Central and South America. The Chilean-born artist had lived abroad—in France, Spain, and the United States—for nearly a decade, and the trip was the result, he has said, of “a wish to take root once again in the essence of that which was Latin American.” During his travels, Downey videotaped aspects of regional cultures and showed local people his footage to share information and undermine isolation between communities. He later combined his video footage and richly drawn, evocative maps like this one to create the 1976 multimedia installation Video Trans Americas.
Gallery label from A Trip from Here to There, March 15–July 30, 2013.
Instead of depicting national borders, in his Map of America Juan Downey represents the South American continent as a swirl of colors. In response to a military coup in his native Chile, he embarked on a journey in 1973, traveling from New York to the southernmost tip of South America. Along the way, he videotaped the regional cultures he encountered throughout South America and showed the footage to people he met in the hope that he might bridge the isolation between different communities if they could find commonalities in their everyday experiences.
Downey’s footage became the basis for the installation Video Trans Americas. Map of America and similar drawings accompanied his videos. In this work, he uses the hand-drawn map as a galvanizing symbol to foster a more unified, transnational Latin American identity.