• Roberto Alvau

Can we consider SAMA as relational art?



In his dense theorizing about relational aesthetics (Esthétique relationnelle, 1998) and the possibility of a socially compromised public art, the famous french curator Nicolas Bourriaud emphasises the new concept of the micro-community as a cardinal point for the creation of a finally socially inclusive art.


"Today's art includes in the working process the presence of the micro-community which will accommodate it. Thus, a work creates, within its method of production and at the moment of the exhibition, a momentary grouping of participating-viewers."

Bourriaud, Nicolas. ""Relational Aesthetics" (1996).


Bourriaud strongly discusses the notion of community in his writings. In his opinion, the only possible way for public art is to be first and foremost a compromised art: this means to be aware of the economic-social issues of the community where it develops, to make the passive spectators of the work of art active participants in it, to recover the social connections that the modern alienated world has progressively taken away from us and, finally, to fight against social inequalities in favor of human rights. Only in this way art can play its role as a "social interstice" and escape from the consumerist system that apparently dominates it.


Socially compromised art also alludes to being able to create a micro-community as a microtopia, a possible utopia of every day that results as a safe space for anyone who wants to take refuge. Culture and art, through their efforts, can improve certain spaces, stimulate encounters between individuals, and improve inclusion between different cultures.

As Bourriaud himself says:

"These kinds of interstices work like relational programs: world economies where there is a reversal in the relationships between work and leisure, where everyone had a chance to come in contact with everybody else, where people once again learned what conviviality and sharing mean, where relationships are treated as a festival celebration".

Bourriaud, Nicolas. ""Relational Aesthetics" (1996).



From this point of view, SAMA's work is definitely relational: its efforts in favor of a compromised public art are perfectly in line with the relational tradition set up by Bourriaud. Since 2012 SAMA's objective is to create a community-based, contemporary eco-museum that uses street art as a tool for dialogue between stakeholders of Nieuw-West Amsterdam as well as visitors to the region. The collection is not only a "plein-air" catalog of works of art from great urban artists from all over the world but a moment of encounter and shared history: each work of art preserves within itself a piece of the story, a moment of social encounter between the artist-museum-public paradigm.


Its visual presence also helps to improve and develop the district itself, being a point of reference for its own citizens and visitors. During these past nine long years, the museum has been committed to offering the Nieuw-West district a wide variety of social activities, inclusive projects, and artistic residencies that have allowed the Dutch urban movement to grow and mix with European, Asian, African, and Latin trends. Artistic but also social and daily multiculturalism is a firm point of reference for SAMA in understanding and making art.


So, to conclude, is urban art a socially compromised and relational art in Bourriaud's terms? Absolutely so. It is not possible to understand street art as a classic museum trend, it is not possible to enclose it within four walls, it is not possible to denature it and deprive it of its natural environment: the streets. In this way, its most important essence, the social essence, is lost. And without it, street art no longer deserves to be called as such.




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