“Dream of Solentiname”

80WSE Gallery, NYU Steinhardt School
80 Washington Square East
December 1–February 17

Mariita Guevara, Jesús expulsa a los mercaderes del templo (Jesus Expels the Merchants from the Temple), 1981, oil on canvas, 15 x 22".

This group exhibition tells a story of the Nicaraguan Civil War through the lens of Solentiname, a utopian community established in 1965 by poet, sculptor, and priest Ernesto Cardenal. It features works by community members and other artists sympathetic to their mission. Cardenal is a focal point. His sculptures, vibrant depictions of plants and animals, have a gallery to themselves, as do the community’s paintings. These brilliant works, such as Marita Guevara’s Jesús expulsa a los mercaderes del templo (Jesus Expels the Merchants from the Temple), 1981, reimagine biblical stories in Nicaraguan settings, evidence of religious practice and artmaking as means of survival and direct political actions. Cardenal recalls as much: “Meditation led us to revolution; that was how it had to be, otherwise everything would have been false.”

Curator Pablo León de la Barra presents the conflict explicitly yet remains aware of the power of the image to reduce war and its survivors to something spectacular yet distant. While Susan Meiselas’s powerful war photography receives significant standing, ephemera from the antiwar efforts of New York–based art collective Group Material demonstrate the show’s considered approach: to provide a glimpse into pockets of hope from and for Nicaragua, not simply retell a bloody drama.

The exhibition is a testament to faith in the face of violence, manifest through interconnected artist communities and their work. The profound aspirations of Solentiname are done justice, and this combination of disparate objects allows for a narrative to emerge, something greater than a sterile report on the proceedings—something true.

Lucas Matheson