“String” books with a social message
The work of Chilean artist Edgar Endress displays a fascination for the places where things come together: the relationship between natural landscapes and the manmade; personal histories and collaborative narratives; fine art and more popular traditions, for instance.
The George Mason University professor doesn’t like to confine himself to one art form; he is both a multimedia artist and a documentarian of sorts. And he makes art objects such as the “cordels” he’s currently working on with support of a grant from the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture.
Literally “string” pamphlets, booklets or chapbooks, cordels are usually printed on a quarter of a page. They are lyrical in nature and traditionally convey moral lessons. The word is Portuguese and refers to the strings on which these works of popular literature, poetry or art are typically sold, hanging from pieces of string on the makeshift displays of street vendors.
Endress’ cordel project is public art that utilizes a combination of woodblock printing and written texts to document the folk wisdom and cultural memory of Latino immigrant communities in and around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
To support the project, Endress won a Fund for the Arts grant from NALAC, making him the only Washington-area artist amid a few dozen Latinos and Latino arts organizations around the country to receive funding this year from the national arts advocacy organization.
Inspired by the cordel literature of Portugal and Latin America, the pamphlets will be multilingual and educational in nature, informing the public about issues specific to the area, according to Endress and Don Russell, Endress’ collaborator and the executive director of the G.M.U.’s Provisions Library.
In Latin America, cordels have been around for about 150 years but originated in Europe even earlier. After the advent of the press, publishing grew. The wave of cheap publications for the masses proliferated and spread across from Europe to Portugal where it was then taken to the colonies. Although many other Latin American countries partook in the production and distribution of the cordels, they are still thriving as the popular method of transmitting information and news in Brazil, a former colony of Portugal. Like the cordels of Brazil, the cordels by Endress and his students will be on display and available to the public through sidewalk displays and workshop partnerships with a mobile print studio.
Both Endress and Russell, who also collaborate in the Floating Lab Collective, view art “as a way of relating to people.”
The FLC is a collection of artists working collaboratively on social research using artistic media. Endress, who cofounded the group, describes it as a response to the socio-political landscape of Washington, D.C. The artists hail from several different disciplines; racial, national and ethnic backgrounds; and have produced exhibitions locally and in far-flung places including New York City; Detroit; Mexico City; and Medellin, Colombia.
The project can mean something different for each of the participating artists. To Endress, the FLC explores “what it means to be a Latino within the context of the politicians of D.C.” To Russell, the FLC acknowledges the “presence of us [the marginalized and forgotten peoples] in the public space.”
These concerns permeate both artists’ work and infuse the cordel project, as well. Endress, who often uses art to aimed at invoking social change, says he’s raising issues that plague the Latino community in hope of inspiring more people to develop their innate gifts and use them for the greater good.
-by Tranelle Dodson