Map of the island of Utopia, taken from one of the first editions of the book by Thomas More (published online at the Bibliotheca Augustana).

Statement by Hayle Gadelha, Cultural Attaché at the Embassy of Brazil in London:

“For some time, ACALASP has wanted to put on a major event to commemorate the relaunch of its activities, as well as to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the countries that we represent. So, to this end, we hit upon the idea of an Ibero-American themed arts competition. Here at the Embassy of Brazil we had already set a precedent by running our own Visual Arts Award in 2014-2015. So we decided to extend the original format into a collaborative cross-embassy initiative for 2016.

Fortuitously, our plans thereby coincided with the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, so we thought we would explore how More’s fictional account of an ideal world could be said to speak to the Ibero-American situation – therefore, this year’s theme will be ‘Ibero-American Utopias’. This also speaks to our interest in fostering cultural interchange, and in stimulating new interactions between the Ibero-American and British worlds. In this case, we are linking a key text of the UK’s Renaissance intellectual history to current trends in contemporary art, and revisiting and investing with new significance the story of the relationship between these two spheres.

So, how about the link?  If you stop to think about how Spanish and Portuguese explorers first fantasized about the Americas as a kind of ‘new Eden’; how Latin American thinkers have sought to forge their own unblemished ‘native’ consciousness; about Don Quixote and his impossible dream; or Pablo Neruda’s hymns to the ideal of Pan-American unity; or Mário de Andrade’s irreverent utopian novel Macunaíma, his rhapsodic amalgamation of brazilianness, – you will see that the intellectual and art histories of Ibero-American countries are indeed a rich tapestry of utopian dreams and contestations. And it isn’t just Ibero-American artists who have been inspired by the myth of El Dorado. You need look no further than Voltaire’s Candide for an example of how Latin America, Spain and Portugal have long served as beacons of utopianism to writers and artists from beyond their borders.

We’re looking forward to seeing how participating artists will respond to the utopian impulse through their art.”

FAQ: I am inspired by the theme of ‘Utopias’, but unsure how to tackle it in relation to Ibero-American cultures. Does my artwork have to relate to Ibero-American cultures?

“Our Call for Entries states the following: “All artworks must explore the theme ‘Ibero-American Utopias’, which artists are free to interpret in the broadest sense. It is hoped that the openness of this competition to artists of all nationalities will produce a real wealth of diverse responses to the ‘utopian impulse’.” Therefore, while we certainly encourage artists to consider how the theme may relate to Ibero-American cultures, we equally encourage artists to explore how the Utopian theme relates to their own cultures, individual personalities and artistic styles. The most important element is therefore the Utopian one.”