On a recent trip to Bolivia, I was invited to a very special event in La Paz. The Casa de Arte Abierta (Art Open House) is a popular exhibition of underground Bolivian artists’ work, including photography, paintings, drawings, video art, installation art, performance art and live music. For a full twelve hours, visitors can immerse themselves in this world and learn all about the artists’ innovation.

As I learned on a visit to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, the art scene in Bolivia is very difficult to break into. Museums run by the municipality tend to promote an exclusive and elitist vision of what they’d like the Bolivian art scene to be. Artists who challenge the status quo or attempt to stir up controversy need to find other channels in order to get their work out there. The Casa de Arte Abierta provides exactly that. The project is an initiative of Random is Not Whatever, an independent record label in La Paz.

An Open House in the most literal sense of the term, the exhibition takes place in a vacant house on Avenida Muà±oz Reyes, on the south side of the city. Artists’ installations occupy the rooms of the house with thick black curtains framing the doorways so visitors must pass through the curtains to get from room to room. The whole house is dimly lit, creating a somewhat eery atmosphere after the sun has set. The mood is thus set for contemplation of the art. In an almost symbolic sense it seems as though a spotlight is being shined on a dark part of society– artists calling for an examination of the social and political situation in Bolivia.

In one room, for example, video art by various artists shows silent images featuring sex or even the suggestion of self-inflicted violence. The alienation and discontent is palpable. In one striking slow motion video, a young man mechanically humps an androgynous person doggy style while eating a sandwich. In another room with installation art, the scene is set to show a dining table that seems to have been destroyed in a fight, with broken beer bottles and wine (or possibly blood) stains. One room is set up like a shrine or seance, with an ornate gold mirror in the center and candles burning on the floor. In one of the front rooms, the message is overtly political: spray painted onto the wall is the phrase “No a la criminalizacion de la protesta social”. This work was created in response to the arrest of an innocent protestor accused of terrorism by the Bolivian government.

Outside, various musical groups perform on the lawn and guests can buy drinks at a bar on the porch. While I was there, a couple performed a spontaneous dance with some impressive acrobatic moves. And when a small dog made a cameo, barking at the performers, no one knew whether it was rehearsed or spontaneous.

The next Casa de Arte Abierta will be held on September 6, 2012. For more information on the artists involved, check out their website.

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