Born in Peru but educated in Europe, Jota Castro is the embodiment of integration – and its contradictions. He knows the European Union much better than the majority of its citizens, since he worked within the institution for over 10 years. One day, he decided that art was his true passion and a better way to reach people. In this interview, he shares with us some of his opinions about what should change in our continent, how difficult integration is and the role art can play in mobilising hearts.

c After many years in politics in the European Community, you decided to quit and dedicate yourself exclusively to art. Nevertheless, your art shows a strong intention to promote social commitment. Is art more useful than politics when it comes to reaching people?

Photo: Jota Castro
Jota Castro's art promotes social commitment

Jota Castro: Yes, I think so. But the work of art that changes the course of world history still doesn’t exist. All we've achieved is that some works have become symbols, like Picasso's Guernica –but why don’t we use art to talk about social issues? Art can be a good tool to communicate certain ideas.

E&M: You have been living in Europe for 25 years. This must have influenced your own identity. Do you feel European?

Jota Castro: Yes, I am European in the end. I have the face of the Europe that bothers many people, the mixed-race Europe, the one that doesn’t resemble the Europe of 50 years ago at all. I feel European but in a very open sense; I have a European cultural base, I don’t deny it, but also a deep immigrant feeling ingrained in me. And that’s probably the great problem of the Union, how to make it so that people don't feel bad about their origins.

Jota Castro

Peruvian artist who resides in Brussels. He has worked in the European Union for more than 10 years.
Currently, he is consulting editor for Janus Magazine in Belgium and Nolens Volens in Spain.
He teaches at the European University of Madrid and his works of art have been shown around the world. He has participated in the Venice, Tirana, Prague and Kwangju Biennales and won the Gwandju Biennale Prize in 2004 in Korea.


E&M: Do you think art can somehow help in this integration process?

Jota Castro: My first work as an artist was a naked man, Mediterranean but from a country outside the EU, with an erection covered with a European flag. I hung it everywhere in Europe with the message “Desire for integration.” I think it did work, it was useful to treat the topic polemically, to talk about it. Actually, the first political party who talked about my work was the French National Front, in the European Parliament. So yes, I think art can help, but it would help more if our politicians considered immigrants to be first-class citizens.

E&M: How is life in Brussels? It certainly is the political capital of Europe, but is it also its artistic heart?

Jota Castro: No, I think it is a city in which many artists love to work because conceptually it is a no man’s land. It’s a city which doesn’t demand integration. I lived in Paris, where you're obliged to learn the language, to respect some traditions. Belgium doesn’t demand anything. Many people find Brussels boring, but I think it’s an interesting city, impersonal, it represents perfectly what cities are nowadays. Surprisingly, considering it's a symbolic city, it's very much mistreated by the authorities, by the system, and yet it’s a place in which people from very diverse nationalities live together in a more or less natural way. It's very similar to the future as I imagine it.

"Art can help, but it would help more if politicians considered immigrants to be first-class citizens."

E&M: In some of your works you have reflected on the concept of “transculturalisation”. Could you explain this concept?

Photo: Jota Castro
No more / No less reflects
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Jota Castro: It is the phenomenon whereby one culture dominates another and it becomes the culture which drives an individual. I decided to show it in a very brutal way, for instance the works in which symbols of cultures with a colonialist past are penetrating men from behind.

The idea came during a session with my therapist. It took me a long time to overcome my complexes, which is generally the first step towards adapting to the situation of coming from another country. I was drawn towards a form of integration which wasn't positive at all, because at the beginning my wish was to integrate myself so fast that I nearly started to forget where I came from. I overcame this and – partly as a justification for my past life – I told my therapist that the problem was as if they had raped me.

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