Mateo Arcniegas Huertas, together with ACOMPI displays sixteen photographs of the Latin American immigrant community on the Salgado Playground in Buskwick, where they meet, play soccer and found a way to feel at home
Mateo Arciniegas – Domingo a las 4
At the Reinado Salgado Playground field in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York, a Latin American community meets to play soccer; in 2020, it used to be daily, in the last year on weekends, more precisely on Sundays at 4 pm. It’s not just playing soccer: people cook and sell local food that brings them back to their hometowns, straight to Latin America, where they were born, some grew up, all are far away. The neighborhood’s soccer field is the starting point of a story of home longing and community bonding narrated in the first place, as an inside witness, by the Colombian New-York-based artist Mateo Arciniegas Huertas who joined the community in 2020 and never lost contact ever since. The series of sixteen photographs that hang directly from the soccer field fences and are on public display through November 17– thanks to the collaboration of ACOMPI’s young curatorial team based in New York City – are composed of portraits of soccer league members and other close-ups of moments before and after games. They depict human interactions that show what a typical day might look like for a soccer player, approaching the close bond of community.
The Liga Gorytos Sports league
The fences of the pitch, in this case, are not seen as a barrier but as a delimitation of a stage on which something worth telling occurred, narrated in the first place by the artist who took part of it and had the urge to testify it. In 2020, during one of the worst moments of the pandemic, Arciniegas Huertas joined the Liga Gorytos Sports league thanks to ‘Memo,’ who introduced him to the neighborhood’s Ecuadorian community. «He’s from Ecuador, and I’m from Colombia. He is a special person and friend. He put it all together; he tightened the strains between people», explains the artist. After that, Arciniegas Huertas started playing the three-four matches of the league, and every time they met, he used to bring his camera with him. It was back then he realized it was something more than just playing games. It was about finding himself finally at ease with people who were seeking for the same humanity, who were eager to build a sense of community with the sensibility of their compatriots, who had the same idea about friendship and family, that found a way to share it without overthinking or necessarily putting it into words. The very act of playing did it all.
Soccer as a democratic way to build a community
The artist has always been into soccer. «Since we all were obliged to slow down and think about our priorities in the last years, I always wanted to go back to play football regularly. It is something I have always been obsessed with, and that reminds me of the time spent with my father. If I could be a professional player I would be that. When you are from Latin America, football is part of your culture and your everyday life». When he lived in Bogotà, he used to play at leagues and go to the stadium with his dad. «My family from my father’s side is very supportive of this sport and the team Santa Fe from Bogotà. It’s always around me and on my radar. When I got here, I lost it. Photographing it was always in my head, I tried to incorporate it in my work but nothing really strong enough».
The reason why he loves this sport, in particular, is explained: «I can’t imagine as more democratic and global as soccer. It’s a way to bring people together; you don’t even have to speak the same language nor agree to the same ideas. I can’t think about something more accessible, open, and democratic as football» — getting into sports inclusively and unconsciously constructed something stronger than the fear of finding oneself not at ease in a foreign country. The artist moved to the United States 11 years ago with his mother, seeking asylum from Colombia. Even after all these years, he still couldn’t deeply connect to the country, as well as the other members which have been living in the United States for years. Thanks to the league, concentrating momentarily on the game, the members suddenly felt part of something, not thinking that they were far away from their homes and affections. «I think that the moment we play football, whatever the scenario might be, it’s like a place where we can all forget our problems and our issues. You look forward to the day you can play», says Arciniegas. The act of playing asks them to be present.
The seek for home: being Latin American away from Latin America
Taking part in the Liga Gorytos Sports league made him think about his past in Colombia and what he has been missing in the United States. Since he moved here with his mother 11 years ago, he couldn’t go back for the first seven years. The duality of wanting something and then finally reaching the goal, the longing for home and for something that was somehow taken away from him and he is now trying to reclaim as he goes back more often, at least twice a year during the winter, is something he includes in his works, trying to understand and cope with the feeling that things change, even his own country. He now is looking for his true self, which he finds interacting within his neighborhood’s community. ‘Doming a las 4′ is the first project of the artist that takes part in the United States. His previous series, including Olvido Pa’ Recordar, which the Helsinki Photo Festival has shortlisted, is more a reflection of his past personal life. «All I did in the past was about Colombia and my relationship with my hometown. This is the first time I approach something that is here and about people living here, even though they are not from there, but we are all from this present and this place. Since then, I started to feel a more sense of home here I lacked. I keep knowing and getting to know more the community of my neighborhood and myself as I play every Saturday (the league is over, but we still play every Saturday with everyone)».
The power of public display
On the public display on the soccer, the artist explains: «The moment I started talking the pictures started thinking it couldn’t just a project to have in a gallery, show it in a nice neighborhood where the same community might not feel at ease, not confident to go to. For me, it was important that I would show it to the community that I am portraying and not just to the art world». In the beginning, he thought the best way to show it was with wheatpaste, just like the advertising on the streets. It was until he met Constanza from the curatorial group ACOMPI who suggested he display it publicly. Founded by Constanza Valenzuela and Jack Radley, ACOMPI is a global curatorial project based in New York City. The name comes from the Spanish word acompanado, which means in the company, suggesting the group’s engagement in public art. They aim to have art accessible to people other than the standard displays of artworks. These ideas meet and integrate with the artist’s aims and interests.
Recording in between games
In his future projects, the artist sees football as something he will continue working with closely. In a way, he is already doing so by recording audios of the moments before and after the match, just like the pictures displayed in the pitch of ‘Memo’ and ‘El Profe’ handling the money or warming up.
«I record not only the actual game but also the conversations that are happening outside of the pitch. In between games, there are many interesting and fun conversations; there is also music playing». The artist is recording all of it and eventually will do an even closer insight of the community’s meetings, showing us what it means to find a ‘home away from home’.
Arciniegas (1993, Bogotá, Colombia) is a Brooklyn-based photographer. In 2020 his first solo exhibition Olvido pa’ Recordar, debuted at Miriam Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. Arciniegas was shortlisted for Helsinki Photo Festival (2021), Descubrimientos PHE (Photo España) 2020, and has exhibited in group shows in New York and Bogotá. As a commemoration of the Colombian peace process in 2019, Arciniegas exhibited work at the Colombian Senate.