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The spectrum of colors 

Chroma (color) supports strong expression in spirituality, in expressivity, in visibility. We will specifically focus on the Latin America area. It is because when talking about one of the most colorful regions on the map, Latin America is always one of the top answers. A world with kaleidoscopic cultures, covering geographically from Mexico down to Patagonia, and chronologically spanning from pre-columbian civilisations of Inca, Maya, Aztec, Olmecs etc., through Spanish and Portuguese colonisation and influx of immigrants from other European countries, to the introduction of African slaves by the colonisers. All these facets contribute to a patch of the rich Latam culture.


The strong visual distinction of colors is a perfect instrument to express the idea of cultural variety, and color itself is also a very interesting topic. Audiences might come from different backgrounds, bearing different preconceptions and experience to define and to interpret the symbolic meaning of colors. However, where do these notions come from? There are apparently cultural influences that shape the differences, simultaneously there are also many similarities, are they mere coincidence? Or are there some elements in colors that control our perceptions? This then leads to an ontological question, what is color?


According to the book “Phenomenology of Perception”, Merleau-Ponty observed that “science only succeeds in constructing a semblance of subjectivity: it introduces sensations, as things, precisely where experience shows there to already be meaningful wholes”. We all know that color is the result of objects absorbing certain wavelengths and reflecting the remaining ones. At this point, colors are realistic, but the images we receive in our mind are still subjective. Suppose that we all receive the same waves in our eyes, we have no way to know if the final idea of certain colors emerging in our mind is the same as what emerges in others’ mind. Color is hence empirical in this case, which cannot be explained literally, and this is the beauty and mystery of colors. Same in culture, rituals and conventions are somewhat universal among the same community, but individual experiences let us have different images emerge in our mind.


In a recent exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, “La Couleur en Fugue” (2022), we can see that the curator brought international artists with different backgrounds in different generations together to create dialogues with the architect Frank Gehry. Following the visiting route, we can deeply experience that the artists work on the same topic with numerous ways of interpretation. It shows by applying colors, artists can tell expressive, rational, symbolic, harmonic, and choreographic stories.


Being over the top and extra


According to Oxford Dictionary, extravaganza is a large, expensive and impressive entertainment piece. It appeared in Baroque arts as an over representation of emotions and expression. Curved façades, gold-plated scrolls, opulent sculptures, over-decorated alta, the churches built by the Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America are more than opulent, the Baroque ornate architectural elements were built to be seen. Filled with emotions, dramatic lighting, Baroque paintings are also eager to tell the biblical stories to the masses. The Iberians used excessive visuals to impress the indigenous people.


This method is still applied today in contemporary media. In fashion and interior, extravaganza is usually associated with contrasting patterns, textures and of course, colors. Designers like Christian Lacroix give an impression of all-inclusiveness, inviting viewers to stay and discover more details and metaphor. In architecture, it is expressed in another way by application of contrasting lines, shapes, and forms, to give life and create intriguing movements, and also to catch the attention of the audience in a more lasting medium, as in most of Zaha Hadid’s masterpieces. All of these contemporary works are meant to evoke pleasure and trigger interest by being excessive and extravagant.


Earlier this year, la Musée des Arts Décoratifs held a lavish exhibition, “Thierry Mugler, Couturissime” (2021-2022), featured the French icon of extravaganza. Through an opera scene-like exhibition journey and stage-like decor, the museum exemplified the couturier’s fantasy-inspired eclectic world. By grandiose photos, we can also experience the flamboyant silhouette of this multidisciplinary talent.


Extravaganza should be impressive, as the generous and audacious use of colors in Latin American cultures. It should be liberated, as the oblivion of the traditional framework of Europe-centric aesthetic. It should also be, last but not least, over-expressed, with the eagerness to be seen, and to be EXTRA.

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