Essex University is celebrating 25 years of providing a home to the most complete resource for art from Latin America in the UK with a season of exhibitions, talks, an artist’s residency, the launch of a catalogue and an internationally significant conference.

Through their ambitious programme, the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (Escala) will create a platform for dialogue between artists and audiences on ecological issues raised through artworks from Latin America.

The celebrations are being curated by Dr Lisa Blackmore, lecturer in Art History and Interdisciplinary Studies from the School of Philosophy and Art History, working with Escala’s founding co-directors Professor Dawn Ades and Professor Valerie Fraser and the collection’s newly appointed curator, Dr Sarah Demelo.

Sarah, originally from Canada, took up her position in December but is more than familiar with the works in Escala having been its collection assistant for more than ten years after studying for her Phd at the Wivenhoe Park campus.

She says: “Then I went to work at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich before coming back here, where I’m very excited to be looking after the collection, especially in its 25 year.”

Escala began with a founding donation by Brazilian student Charles Cosac in 1994 of a piece by Siron Franco called Memory, which is now located, in pride of place, in the Silberrad Centre. Over the years as the collection has grown in reputation commissions, acquisitions and more donations have increased its size to include more than 900 artworks from all over Latin America.

Sarah adds: “We’ve had quite a few new acquisitions recently as part of a project driven by student research engaging with the art of Latin America. It’s helpful for us to have the work here so that students can get up close to the work.

“Essex always had a good reputation for research and scholars such as Dawn and Valerie, who are experts in their field, and I think that led to a lot of Latin American artists donating their work so they also could be a part of our world renowned collection.”

And some of the works are from some pretty high-calibre names, as Sarah points out to me, including Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, Graciela Iturbide from Mexico and one of Peru’s greatest living artists, Armando Varela, whose son lives in Colchester.

As part of the 25 years celebrations, a programme of public events has been set up, revealing the breadth of research at Essex relevant to the university’s art collection.

Academics from a number of departments will contribute to the talks programme, including experts from sociology, wild writing, interdisciplinary studies and Essex Business School will offer new perspectives on the collection.

Dr Lisa Blackmore, from the School of Philosophy and Art History at the University of Essex, says: “Essex has long been a vibrant hub of connections with Latin America, and this series of events honours that tradition by initiating a new line of inquiry into the Escala collection that explores environmental challenges that face us collectively, wherever we live.”

First up is a new exhibition of work called Gone to Ground, an exhibition of environmental works from Escala that runs until February 16 which seeks to open our senses to the earth’s pulsing presence through artworks from Latin America.

Addressing indigenous cosmologies, colonial histories of botanical and mineral extraction, and contact zones between human and non-human bodies, these works revisit the historical grounds on which human life has unfolded to pose questions about the conditions for our collective futures.

It includes works by artists from Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Argentina, including Alberto Baraya, Fernando Cruz, Regina José Galindo, Teresa Pereda, Nancy La Rosa, Cynthia Soto, and Warmi.

As well as the exhibition there will be new works by Peruvian artist Alejandro Jaime, who is conducting a residency on the Colne Estuary, a two-day symposium bringing together artists and scholars of visual culture and the university will also be publishing a new catalogue marking the 25-year anniversary.

A launch party takes place tomorrow, January 17, from 6pm to 8pm, which is free with complimentary refreshments.

Escala’s exhibitions and events are hosted by Essex University’s gallery Art Exchange. To find out more visit

To find out more about the collection itself, visit