Icons within Chicano and Chicana Art

This entry will focus on three overlapping and reoccurring iconic themes that appear in Chicano and Chicana art: ancestral emblems, Catholic Church symbols, and figures from popular culture.

The terms Chicano and Chicana are specific to the identity of Mexican-Americans born and living in the United States and within Chicano art, icons are used to represent Mexican culture. The Chicano/a movement took place during the 1960s and 1970s, was when the search for identity was the focus for many artists (Traba, 1994). This search for identity is reflected in Chicano/a art, whose goal broadly defined is to translate Mexican culture for a broad audience.[1] As understood today, an icon is an image that signifies something beyond its visual presence and is universally identifiable (Sturken, 2001). Many artists seek to reclaim their heritage and culture through the use of icons which can take the form of symbols, signs, cues, or totems and in this case translate Chicano art to a broad audience.

Sharing ancestral traditions and the spiritual beliefs of Mexican culture is an important part of the Chicano/a movement. During the 1960s, modern Mexican artists living in the U.S. sought to express their mixed cultural identity, lost through centuries of colonialism (Traba, 1994). Artists rediscovered and reclaimed their culture through Chicanismo, which shared aspects of the narratives of pre-Columbian Mexican culture (Sullivan, 2011). Chicano artists assimilate ancestral and spiritual icons, such as Mayan and Aztec symbols, including Tezcatlipoca who was an Aztec goddess, the Pachamama who symbolizes Mother Earth, and skulls which are emblematic of the Mexican Day of the Dead. These icons not only refer to the knowledge of ancestral and spiritual traditions in Mexico, but serve an important function for Chicano/a artists in remembrance of those who shaped and shared Mexican culture.

Ancestral emblems appear in Chicano art in various forms. For example, the artist Eva C. Pérez chooses stone sculpture as her medium because it was originally the material used by her ancestors. Pérez believes working with this medium brings her closer to her ancestors and enriches her pride in being Chicana (Keller, Erickson and Johnson, 2002). In this case the iconic symbol is the medium. By sharing the icons of Chicanismo, artists are returning to their origins in a continued tradition of passing on the knowledge of their culture to others.

The Roman Catholic Church is a major theme in Chicano art because it symbolizes colonization by Spain. Early Spanish colonizers in Latin America forced their way of life, belief system and religion onto the Mexican people. The Virgin Mary, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the sacred heart of Christ are reoccurring Catholic icons in Chicano art. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a key figure for the Catholic Church,  representing Mexican nationality, spirituality, and for many Mexican women a role model (Keller, Erickson and Johnson, 2002). The sacred heart of Christ represents love, suffering, compassion and the redemption of sins (Keller, Erickson and Johnson, 2002) and Chicano artists such as Yolanda López are renowned for appropriating this Catholic icon.

Another means of working with Catholic icons within Chicano art is creating hybrid forms by mixing references to Catholicism and with references to indigenous traditions in Mexico. This custom parallels the evolution of the Catholic Church within Latin America. Raúl Paulino Blatazar and José Esquivel are artists who create aesthetic hybrids combining imagery from the Mexican Revolution and emblems of Mayan culture with references to Christ and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Icons from the Catholic Church are easy to identify by those familiar with the icons of the Christian faith making it easy for their audience to see the irony in these artists’ work.

Ranging from comic characters to political figures from Mexico or North America,   popular culture icons communicate through their audience’s familiarity with mass media. Some of their art incorporates text, hinting at advertising from popular culture media (Sturken, 2001). Mexican popular icons that are portrayed include stereotypical images of Mexicans sporting sombreros and moustaches, the masked Mexican wrestlers known as luchadores enmascardos, the Revolutionary hero Pancho Villa and other Latin Americans such as Che Guevara. These are icons that people outside of Mexico associate with the identity of Mexican culture. For some Chicano artists, exaggerated stereotypes confront the viewer with their racism towards Mexican settlers in the United States (Vargas, 2010). This is especially evident in the works of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Coco Fusco, and Xavier Garza, all of whom live in the U.S.  North American icons that appear in Chicano art also include cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, American presidents and well-known figures from both World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Appropriations of these icons can also be seen in the works of Richard Álvarez, Carlos Callejo, and Ignacio Gómez who incorporate traditional Mexican figures within their works. Mixing references is an important aspect of Chicano art for many because it emblematizes and characterizes the fusion of Mexican and North American culture.

 

Matilda Oja

 Notes

[1] In the Spanish language, general grammatical terms are written in male tense – ending in an ‘o’– rather than an ‘a’ which denotes the female tense.

Works Cited

 Keller, Gary D., Erickson, Mary, and Johnson, Kaytie, Alvarado. Contemporary Chicano and Chicana Art: Volume 1. Tempe, Arizona: Bilingual Press, 2002.

Keller, Gary D., Erickson, Mary, and Johnson, Kaytie, Alvarado. Contemporary Chicano and Chicana Art: Volume 2. Tempe, Arizona: Bilingual Press, 2002.

Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Sullivan, E. J. Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. Hong Kong: Phaidon Press Limited, 2011.

Traba, Marta. Art of Latin America: 1900-1980. Baltimore, Maryland: Inter-American Development Bank, 1994.

Vargas, G. Contemporary Chicano Art: Colour and Culture for a New America?  Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Mexican Revolution, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Che Guevara, Chicano, Coco Fusco, Yolanda López, Pachamama, Eva C. Pérez, Mickey Mouse, mass media, Richard Álvarez, Pancho Villa, Raúl Paulino Blatazar, Virgen de Guadalupe | Leave a comment

Contemporary Performance Art in Cuba

This entry will focus on contemporary performance art within Cuba through the works of Ana Mendieta and Tania Bruguera. Performance art, which is typically presented live in front of an audience, has always challenged more conventional forms of art such as sculpture and painting. Conveying themes of the body as well as political actions, performance has played an important role in the twentieth century [1]. Ana Mendieta and Tania Bruguera have explored the concept that “individual stories should be understood within the context of social and historical experience”[2] through their art.

The Cuban Revolution has featured prominently in Bruguera’s performances. It was one of the most influential political events of the twentieth century. Led by Fidel Castro, it took place between 1953-1958, following the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista[3]. In Cuba, communism produced growing unrest and violence among the population as the result of political dissatisfaction[5]. Many fled to other countries including the United States. According to the Center for Migration Studies at the University of Havana, “Between 1959 and 2004 roughly 1,359,650 Cubans immigrated to other countries”[4]. Exile led to the creation of new identities for Cuban nationals.

Born in 1968 in Havana, Cuba, Bruguera examines the effects of both social and economic forces on political events. Throughout her performances, she has “explored both the promise and failings of the Cuban Revolution in performances that provoke viewers to consider the political realities masked by government propaganda and mass-media interpretation”[6]. Her performances have often been censored. For example, El peso de la Culpa (The Burden of Guilt), which she had created for the Sixth Havana Biennial (1995), was officially banned due to what authorities perceived as an anti-revolutionary theme. In this piece, which has been performed many times, Bruguera wears the carcass of a lamb around her neck, mimicking armour. She also wears a Cuban flag made out of human hair. At her feet were two clay pots, one filled with Cuban earth, and the other with salt and water. During the performance Bruguera eats the soil, a symbol of death, continuously for an hour [7]. The salted water also emblematizes death. Cuba’s colonization by Spain was very violent; many indigenous people chose to die rather than assimilate to a European way of life. They ate earth and salt as a way to symbolize agency, ultimately choosing to starve themselves rather than wait for the horrible death the Spaniards had planned for them. Through reference to past events Bruguera provides the viewer with an image of Cuba’s history prior to the Revolution, ultimately suggesting that the country’s national identity results from hardship and the struggles that the people have faced[8].

Politically charged performance art has created a reputation for Bruguera. In 2014, she was detained by Cuban authorities. She had already performed her piece, titled Whisper #6, in Havana’s Plaza in the context of the 2009 Biennale de Havana. The work was created as a vehicle to allow the public to speak their mind openly about social injustice in Cuba[9]. Bruguera was detained again in 2015, for calling a press conference and resisting police. Supporters around the world protested.

Bruguera’s performances pieces are influenced by fellow-Cuban Ana Mendieta. Born in Havana in 1948, she was personally affected by the Cuban Revolution. Critics claimed that her exile from Cuba during the Revolution created a central theme of “conflicts of identity”[10] which became the focus of her work. Mendieta is known for her Silueta Series from the 1970s in which she inserted her naked figure into natural landscapes to create an imprint of herself[11]. Mendieta’s influence on Bruguera can be felt in her sense of timing, her choice of iconographic motifs, and the emotional resonance embedded in the work[12]. Bruguera has performed numerous pieces originally created by Mendieta. According to Cuban-American curator Olga Viso, “Bruguera saw the remaking of Mendieta’s art as a way to reinsert the artist into the collective of Cuban art history”[13].

In her more recent work, Tania Bruguera has taken what she has learnt from Ana Mendieta and looked to her country’s past in order to create a revolutionary form of performance art. She has worked on Immigrant Movement from 2010 to 2015. Based in Queens, New York, this long-term performance piece represents a new style of performance art for Bruguera. The artist rented a space where immigrants could gather and learn English, apply for jobs, and receive legal advice [14]. They could also meet other people from similar ethnic backgrounds and immerse themselves in the experience of their new culture. Those associated with Immigrant Movement were also performers within Bruguera’s project. They would visit areas of the city, and open a dialogue about their experience as immigrants with US citizens. Sometimes this dialogue would result in a welcome to the country, but the migrants were also met with resistance and hostility. The aim for Bruguera was to “bring the cause of civil rights for immigrants into the public sphere”[15].

By looking to Cuba’s past in terms of political events, performance Tania Bruguera, like Ana Mendieta, creates performance pieces that resonate with viewers. The focus of social and political integration, as well as the aspect of interacting and encouraging viewers to relate, allows her to continuously push the boundaries of performance art.

 

Chrys Apostolatos

Works Cited

[1] “Performance Art Movement, Artists and Major Works.” The Art Story.  http://www.theartstory.org/movement-performance-art.htm

[2] “Tania Bruguera | Biography.” Tania Bruguera | Biography.  http://www.taniabruguera.com/info_biography.html

[3] “Cuban revolution.” Harvard International Review 20.4 (1998): 16.  http://go.galegroup.com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA30455674&v=2.1&u=guel77241&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=6b1e9732a0fc475981eb1bdd39f6a01d

[4] Pedraza, Silvia. Political Disaffection in Cuba’s Revolution and Exodus. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2007.

[5] Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972-1985. Washington: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; 2004. Print.

[6] “Tania Bruguera | Biography.” Tania Bruguera | Biography. http://www.taniabruguera.com/info_biography.html

[7] Muñoz, José. “Performing Greater Cuba: Tania Bruguera and the Burden of Guilt.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 11.2 (2008): 251-65.

[8] Ibid.

 [9] Sutton, Benjamin. “Artist Tania Bruguera Allegedly Detained in Cuba Over Public Performance UPDATED.” Hyperallergic (31 Dec. 2014).  http://hyperallergic.com/172363/artist-tania-bruguera-allegedly-detained-in-cuba-over-public-performance/

[10] Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972-1985. Washington: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. .

[11] Ibid.

[12] Goldberg, Roselee. “Tania Bruguera | Regarding Ana,” Tania Bruguera. 1 July 2004. http://www.taniabruguera.com/cms/files/regardin_ana..pdf

[13] Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972-1985. Washington: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004.

[14] Cotter, Holland. “Politics as Performance, an Evolving Art.” New York Times, 22 June 2012: C29 (L). http://go.galegroup.com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA30455674&v=2.1&u=guel77241&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=6b1e9732a0fc475981eb1bdd39f6a01d

[15] Ibid. For more, see “Tania Bruguera Immigrant Movement International Statement,” in Tania Bruguera: http://www.taniabruguera.com/cms/486-0-Immigrant+Movement+International.htm

 

 

Posted in Ana Mendieta, Fidel Castro, Fulgencio Batista, Havana Biennial (Cuba), Olga Viso, Tania Bruguera, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Candomblé-A Unique Religion

Calandus, a religious practice known today as Candomblé, is an African-Brazilian religion that originated from the forced imposition of the Catholic religion on African slaves during the colonial era. This religion is a blend of both Catholic and African spiritual practices, comprising of elements of the dominant European religion and African spiritual beings. Candomblé can be found in the areas of West Africa relating directly to slave trade routes and in Bahia, where African influences are most strongly represented in Brazil. Yoruba culture[1] is alive in Bahia where the religion of Candomblé is practiced.

The traditions found within the religion are primarily of African in origin. Even though the slaves who were taken from Africa were stripped of every aspect of their day-to-day lives, they still managed to transfer their culture and belief system to the New World. Through a combination of memory and personal experience, enslaved Africans brought with them “fragments of culture” and these created the unique Candomblé religion. As a result, African music, dance, language, and cuisine is very prevalent on the Latin American cultural landscape.

Many of the rituals associated with Candomblé are built on the foundation of Catholic chants, prayers, and incantations evoking God. The core components of Candomblé include a religious system of worship, rituals, and ceremonies. The purpose of Candomblé is to provide the believer with a sense of human purpose and to provide a sense of understanding around the experience of suffering. Those involved attend weekly masses with the hope of gaining not only spiritual guidance but a sense of social cohesion generated through shared African customs and concepts. The aim of Candomblé worship is to create a bond between its religious followers and the African gods known as orixas. Rituals are used to create a connection and ultimately an interaction between the two worlds.

Candomblé is best described as a three-tier system. The belief in a supreme creator that is inaccessible is identified as the first tier. The second tier comprises deities that create a connection between the distant creator gods and humans, and on the third tier are mortal men and women. Service and devotion are expressed through household altars, chants, prayers, dancing and drumming, means by which mortals may communicate with the deities. In the many sacred spaces associated with Candomblé that are known as the iles axes each individual member’s  status, prestige and privileges that are related to serving the orixa gods are signified through coded styles of clothing, color, and social behavior.

Religious activities are carried out by a practitioner known as the bablorixa. The bablorixa is responsible for leading healing, devotional, and initiation ceremonies that tend to consist of drumming, chanting, dancing, animal sacrifice, divination, and the spirit possession of practicing members. The most important aspect of the bablorixas role is to preserve the religious secrets kept solely within the bablorixas domain. These secrets include the knowledge of how to collect, prepare, and administer consecrated plants. Sacred leaves and plants are often used for spiritual and medical purposes. These are often ingested in the form of tea, but may also be poured over the body. Religious leaders have been known to go out of their way to import Old World plant species from Africa in an attempt to preserve their culture’s ethno-flora.

As the Candomblé religion continues to develop with advances in society and technology, the purity of the religious practice has become an issue. There is a group, known as the Candomblé Nago, who make it their mission to preserve “pure” African ideas with the goal of maintaining the religious rituals of the Yoruba-speaking peoples of West Africa. This group feels it is essential to separate, and ultimately eliminate the Catholic components that are interwoven with Candomblé religion.

Paradoxically, to outsiders the practices of Candomblé may appear as a form of “black magic.” This negative view of the religion has owed itself in part to the mystery that surrounds it and the restricted number of openly active participants involved. The only public exposure the religion gains is through photographs and stereotypes portrayed in movies. Those who practice Candomblé hold firmly to the belief that their religion is something that needs to be experienced directly and without preconceived ideas or prejudice. Images have a presence and as a result hold power. Out of a fear of misrepresentation, pictures and videos are often not permitted during ritual ceremonies. Exceptional, artist Mario Cravo Neto has captured Candomblé in Brazil through the lens of his camera. His show titled “Mario Cravo Neto: A Serene Expectation of Light” recently in 2016 featured powerful images of Afro-Brazilian experience, black unity, and post-colonial defiance centering on Candomblé as a cultural practice.

1Candombe-Figari-1921Early twentieth century, artist Pedro Figari (1861-1938) captured the religious movement imaginatively through painting. Many believe that his paintings depict accurately the Candomblé religion to the rest of the world. Pedro Figari was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. Growing up, Figari observed the Afro-Uruguayan community which ultimately inspired him to create over 4,000 paintings motivated by his youthful memories of those practicing Candomblé. Hence a lack of pictures or representations relates back to a struggle of control. Who is free to take pictures? What do the images show or communicate? Which agenda do they illustrate? What purpose do they serve? On a further note about images: As mentioned previously, Afro-Brazilian religion is associated with religion blending between African beliefs and European religion. Powerful priests and intellectuals hold firmly to the traditional belief that Candomblé shrines should not contain Catholic images. These individuals believe that Candomblé and Catholicism are two different things and as such should be kept separate. Candomblé shrines are also considered very personal, with the shrine itself often hidden in the individual’s backyard away from the public eye.

 

Andrew Mandaliti

 Notes

[1] For more information on Yoruba culture, refer to this link https://www.google.ca/search?q=Yoruba+culture&oq=Yoruba+culture&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1612j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Works Cited

Katz, Naomi. “Brazil’s Sisters of the ‘Good Death’,” Ms, 3:3 (Nov. 1992): 78. http://search.proquest.com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/docview/204303972?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo

 Parés, Luis Nicolau. The Formation Of Candombléì : Vodun History And Ritual In Brazil.
 Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Omari-Tunkara, Mikelle Smith. Manipulating the Sacred: Yoruba Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomblé. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2005.

 Sanabria, Harry. Anthropology of Latin America and the Caribbean. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 2oo5.

Sansi, Roger. “Encountering Images in Candomblé,” Visual Anthropology, 26.1 (2013): 18-33.

 Voeks, Robert. “Sacred Leaves Of Brazilian Candomblé,” Geographical Review 80.2 (1990): 118.

 

Image:  Candombe Paintings: Pedro Figari (Candombe Paintings: Pedro Figari) http://www.candombe.com/html_eng/figari.html

Posted in Candomblé, Candomblé Nago, Figari, Mario Cravo Neto, orixa, religion, Uncategorized, Yoruba | Leave a comment

Cuban Poster Art

This entry will focus on the ‘Golden age’ of Cuban poster art that followed after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 19591. The exact dates of the ‘golden age’ vary slightly from scholar to scholar, but for this glossary entry Lincoln Cushing’s date range will be used, as he is a leading expert in the field. This range is from the beginning of the 1960s, through the 1980s2. Cuban poster art united the Cuban people, widely celebrated Cuban culture, and contributed significantly to the project of constructing a new Cuban society2.

The majority of the posters in the ‘Golden Age’ were produced through offset printing methods, although Silkscreen printing was also quite popular, and sometimes mixed media methods were used2. The dimensions and height to width ratios of the posters were not standardized. However, the posters were almost always vertically oriented and the heights usually ranged between 50-75cm, while the widths generally ranged between 30-50cm2. Stylistically, illustration and graphic design were very prominent in the posters, including the use of bold fonts, flat sections of colour and dynamic compositions2. A good example of this is José Papiol’s poster ‘Clear the Way for Sugar from the Mill’ from 1972. The influence of Pop art and Polish poster art can also be seen throughout the posters3. Some other stylistic features include, but were not limited to, satire and subtle wit, iconography, appropriation, and conceptual abstraction (which refers to the act of creating simple images out of complex and abstract concepts like anti-imperialism)2.

In order to talk about Cuban poster art, or any art movement in an educated manner, it is critical to know where it’s situated within a historical and political context. In Cuba, Batista was overthrown and Fidel Castro was brought to power in 1959 as a result of the Cuban Revolution 1. In 1961 Castro pledged himself to Marxist-Leninist communism3. After 1959, Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union were expanding, while their relations with the U.S. were deteriorating, cumulating to the point where a substantial trade embargo was introduced in the early 1960s3. Through all of these events the Cuban people yearned for a better life and were hopeful that the new Castro leadership would bring that to them2. This thought was well represented through the poster art that they produced in this era.

This new political leadership was very supportive of culture and ultimately led to a rejuvenation of the arts in Cuba, which included printing and print-making3. The state recognized both artists and their work as socially important and thus functioned as a patron, buying and commissioning their posters, and allowing them to flourish4. The total number of state sponsored public posters were around 10,000 in total2. Although creating poster art this way provided only a modest income for the artists, it freed them from needing to produce art to suit commercial buyers, and instead allowed them to focus on creating art to promote Cuban culture and unite the nation4, 2.

This government support of posters in Cuba allowed them to become very unique compared to posters in other countries. For example, although they shared some decorative styles with posters in the U.S., they were much less involved with consumer society, commodification, and advertisements5. Cuban posters also differed a lot from posters created in Soviet Russia and China5. In Soviet Russia and China the poster artists had strict limitations on what they could produce and the designs they could use, in order to control how the posters were interpreted. On the contrary, Cuban artists at this time had a lot more freedom to create the posters the way they wanted to5. The artist’s freedom of expression allowed the posters to deviate away from becoming a form of one-dimensional political propaganda or advertisements, and instead enabled them to become a more truthful reflection of Cuban culture and society at this moment in history6.

Cuban poster art was influential in many areas of Cuban life. These areas can be divided into four broad categories: sports and health, revolution and national pride, agriculture and resources, and education and culture. This paper will highlight at least one way the posters influenced and/or participated in each one of these areas of Cuban life, and give an example. For sports and health, Cuba’s government used posters to promote sporting events to encourage the masses to become interested and involved in physical activity. This was for the simple justification that involvement with physical activity adds to a population’s healthy well-being2. A good example of this is Eduardo Murin Portrille’s ‘To Practice Sports is to Grow Healthy’ from 1973.

In terms of revolution and national pride, the revolutionary artist played an important role in adding to the heroic stature of leaders such as Che Guevara and Castro4. An example of this is Roberto Figueredo’s ‘The Bravest, the Most Productive, the Most Extraordinary of Our Fighters – Fidel Castro’ 1977 poster2. These posters created solidarity among the citizens that helped to form a national identity based around their common beliefs. Often times they also communicated that the common person was a fundamental part of the revolution by simply having the same united nationalist pride4.

Agriculture is a very large proportion of Cuba’s economy, with sugar cane and tobacco being the main crops2. During the ‘Golden Age’ of poster art, the government had set high quotas for the amount of sugar they wanted to be produced and would sponsor posters to encourage farmers to work hard to reach that quota2. An example of this is José Papiol’s poster ‘Clear the Way for Sugar from the Mill’ from 1972.

One reason the socialist Cuban government desired an educated population, and thus promoted education through posters, was to have a defense against foreign capitalist influences2. The state also supported posters that promoted many different kinds of cultural events and phenomena, like various music festivals, art exhibitions, and film, which was particularly successful in the ‘Golden Age.’ These film posters went against the Hollywood star system of emphasis on the specific actors, and instead focused on the main themes of the movies. In addition to this, they were not only made to support Cuban film, but foreign films would have Cuban posters created for them as well1. An example of this is ‘The Lovers of Hiroshima’ by Eduardo Muñoz Bachs in 1969.

We’ve examined of the ‘Golden Age’ of Cuban poster art, including the formal aspects, state involvement, and how it was influential to certain aspects of Cuban life. Posters in Cuba are a reflection of, and inspiration for, the construction of an enhanced Cuban society2.

Heather MacRae

 

Works Cited

1 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Cuba: Art and History From 1868 to Today. Montreal: Prestel, 2003.

2 Cuching, Lincoln. Revolucion! Cuban Poster Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.

Sullivan, Edward J. Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1996.

Goodfriend, Pennelope. “A Visual Legacy: Art Reflects Life in Cuba.” World and I. 17 (2002): 196.

Barnicoat, John. A Concise History of Posters. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Carstens, Rosemary. “The Art of the Poster.” Hispanic. 19.8 (2006): 74-75.

Above referenced images are reproduced in Lincoln Cuching. Revolucion! Cuban Poster Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Latin America at a Glance : Fun Facts

AA LAT-AM-Poster-2-LinkedIN-

Image credits: Susan Douglas | Mel Hayes (c) 2015

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

La Revolución

MexicoRevolutionSoldiers2  The term La Revolución, Spanish for “The Revolution,” specifically refers to the Mexican Revolution that occurred from the years 1910-1917. The English term revolution most commonly refers to a rebellious act by an unsatisfied society determined to create a transformation after years of unhappiness. This is true for the Mexican Revolution of 1910 that was initiated by the revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata with hopes for changes specifically regarding labour laws and land reforms. La Revolución marks one of the most crucial periods in Mexican history, it exemplifies the beginning of a strong desire for change in Mexico with its initial intent of massive political change. It grew fiercely into a powerful desire for social change. The Revolution was not a single event in Mexican history that took place at the beginning of the 20th century; the Revolution is an ongoing process that still has a presence in Mexico today (Folgarait, 7). Culturally and socially, the presence of the Revolution created an understanding amongst Mexicans, and especially amongst Mexican artists, regarding the importance in both individual and cultural exploration of what it means to be Mexican. The Revolution also provided society with a variety of ways Mexican identity may be interpreted. Therefore the Mexican Revolution is strongly tied to the arts as it ripened an artistic movement in Mexico often referred to as the “Mexican Renaissance” (Fernandez, 23).

The Mexican Revolution attempted to implement socialist ideals and goals stressing an importance on labour rights and social justice. Mexico, under the rule of Profidio Díaz at the turn of the century, was an uncommon period of peace in a Mexico, but this was based on the “absolute suppression of the democratic political aspirations of a theoretically free people” (Azuela, xxxvi). At this point in Mexican history, a revolution was imminent (Azuela, xxxvi). In 1911, after the Díaz government had crumbled away, Francisco Madero was elected into presidential office. Revolutionary leaders such as Zapata pushed for social reforms at this point and, after the murder of Madero, when General Victoriano Huerta became president, the Revolution had began in full throttle, “Mexico at last had definitely broken with the past” (Azuela, xxxvii). Straight forward philosophies and political ideals initially brought about a revolution; however, what the Revolution left behind was much greater than a reformation of land and labour laws.

At the turn of the 20th century, in the majority of regions in postcolonial Latin America, society was in turmoil partly due to the variety of cultures and races that were produced out of European contact with the indigenous people of these nations, and the social hierarchies that had resulted as a consequence of colonialism. Politically and socially, the status of an individual in Latin America has always greatly been defined according to one’s race. Latin American countries began to express a strong need for political independence from Europe and colonization in this period.

During the Mexican Revolution, the relationship between art and revolutionary ideals became strengthened. Many artists embraced left- wing politics, and this enabled art to become more vibrant as well as politicized. Muralist painters, for example, would have a difficult time finding commissions if they were not a part of the Communist Party. As Justino Fernandez states: “In Mexico one can see the truly spectacular fusion of an old and highly developed native civilization and modern European culture bearing fruit in a major contribution of world art” (Fernandez, 7). Another crucial aspect tying the Revolution to the birth of a new artistic movement in Mexico was presented by Jose Vasconcelos as Secretary of Public Education in 1920 (Sullivan, 22). Vasconcelos’ strong belief in aesthetics lead him to directly commission revolutionary artists at the forefront of Mexican modern art such as Diego Rivera and Orozco. Vasconcelos’ understanding of the importance of art became crucial for the Mexican Renaissance and is an example of the strong political effect that artistic production had on society, because it became closely associated with the government. This political project allowed Mexico to develop a national identity as well as for Mexican artists  to thrive and gain respect around the world. The United States was of particular importance in this connection (Lewis and Vaughan, 14).

The rising popularity and presence of public art that existed in Mexico following the Revolution was a major effect on culture and society promoting Mexican identity and a strong sense of nationality. The Mexican Revolution made it possible for the arts to enjoy both protection and patronage by the state which had been unknown to Mexico previously (Craven and Lozano, 18). During and after the Revolution of 1910, and well into the 1940s, the impact of the Mexican Revolution on society was extraordinary and especially transformed the visual arts. As Lozano and Craven state in Mexican Modern Masters “La Revolucion’s explosive impact after 1910 helps to account for the unsurpassed position assumed by art from Mexico during the first half of the 20th century” (25).

The Mexican Revolution marked the beginning of an artistic change, when art would become completely immersed into Mexican culture, a artists expressed their thoughts on society very publically, almost to be interpreted as visual politics. Best known for this is the renowned Mexican muralist painter Diego Rivera. The Mexican muralist movement was launched by artists inspired by new social ideals and “demanded public appreciation for the rich complexity of its emotional and thematic content” (Fernandez, 23). Murals played a major role in social and political issues in Mexico and allowed artists to communicate their political beliefs to society.

The muralist movement, according to Sullivan, intended to “generate an awareness of patriotic values amongst masses and members of indigenous races.” He goes on to state that, to the indigenous people, this message to “raise conscience” was often unsatisfactory, because the real “demands of indigenous people were much more pressing.” This may be the reason for Diego Rivera’s exceptional popularity amongst working classes and the indigenous population in Mexico. Rivera does more than promote nationalism in Mexicans or depict history through his murals; he creates social realist works that combine Mexican history with current everyday life (Fernandez, 23).

Diego Rivera explicitly made apparent in his work the understanding that he had which may be referred to as “the Mexican Problem” (Coffey, 45) in reference to the concept of nationality. This “problem” has to do with the fact that, because of the variety of different nationalities that exist in the region of Mexico, it was difficult to develop a national identity. According to Vasconcelos, the purpose of nationalism, the “ultimate goal” of muralism, was “cultural fusion, linguistic unification, and economic equilibrium” (Coffey, 49). Vasconcelos, who commissioned the production of many of Rivera’s public murals in Mexico City, “theorized that the mere presence of this material in public space would enlighten and thereby lift up the populace” (Coffey, 49). Rivera’s work is defined by art critics as “social realism.” Social realism essentially refers to the idea that art engages with real economic and political issues. Coffey refers to Rivera’s work as a “visual language that attempts to elucidate political and social realities for the purpose of determining collective action” (45).

There are many themes in Mexican art that came out of the Revolution including nationalism, the representation of identity, socialism, and Marxist ideals. All of these themes contribute to and embody the modern movement that was born out of the Revolution in Mexico. If the Mexican Revolution was not the political success many, such as revolutionary heroes such as Zapata envisioned, if it did not create social reforms that many anticipated, it did a have a positive impact on society and it revolutionized culture in Mexico,  too.

Chloe Stelmanis-Cali

Works Cited

Azuela, Mariano. Los de Abajo. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1967.

Coffey, Mary K. “The ‘Mexican Problem’: Nation and ‘Native’ in Mexican Muralism and Cultural Discourse,” in The Social and the Real: Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere, in Alejandro Anreus, Diane L. Linden, and Jonathan Weinberg, eds. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.

Fernandez, Justino. Mexican Art. London: Spring Books, 1965.

Lewis, Stephen E. and Mary Kay Vaughan, eds. The Eagle and the Virgin Nation and Cultural Revolution in Mexico, 1920-1940. New York: Duke UP, 2005.

Lozano, Luis Martin and David Craven. Mexican Modern Masters of the 20th Century. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico, 2006.

Paine, Frances Flynn. Diego Rivera. [New York]: Museum of Modern Art, 1972.

Sullivan, Edward. Latin American Art. New York: Phaidon, 2000.

Posted in Diego Rivera, Emiliano Zapata, Identity in Mexico, indigenous, Mexican Revolution, muralism | Leave a comment

Authenticity

The term “authenticity” refers to the many “truths” of an object or artwork [1]. In that an artwork can possess both authentic and inauthentic elements, the term is multidimensional. A forgery of a painting by Picasso is paradoxically an authentic “painting”. Because of shared perspective, history, culture, and experiences, truths coded within an artwork may be perceivable to some audiences but not to others. An artwork’s authenticity may be perceived differently by the artist, “insiders” belonging within the artist’s culture, or “outsiders.” Art may convey varying degrees of nominal, expressional, provenance, style, personal, existential, type and token authenticity.

Nominal authenticity coincides with the most literal definition of authenticity, and refers to the correct identification of an artwork’s origin, history, genre and artist; this is  termed provenance in Art History. Identifying the provenance of older artworks tends to be a difficult process within legal discourse because it requires imput from and cooperation between many parties including art historians, art appraisers and occassionally the courts. Courts, art collectors, and the public desire objective conclusions about an artwork’s origin and press art historians for it. Historians, however, can only offer their tentative opinion. If their final verdict turns out to be false, i.e. mistaking a forgery for an authentic painting, then lawsuits may ensue. Tension between historians, the government, and the public perpetuates a sense of mistrust. This may be alleviated if everyone involved in the process understood the underlying elements of determining nominal authenticity. While subjective conclusions can be drawn from interpretations of style, brushstrokes, colour palette and content, modern day advances in technology can in some cases make establishing authenticity easier.

If the public sphere was only concerned with aesthetics, disregarding the artist’s expression (imbued with personality, experience, understanding), then establishing nominal authenticity would be of marginal significance. Forgery and plagiarism, however, are concerns that plague the art market and museums. A painting will not have the same cultural significance if it is a copy, or if its origin, history, and artist are equivocal. Thus, the difficult process of discerning nominal authenticity is undertaken in the interest of pursuing expressional authenticity, which speaks to the piece’s success in connoting the artist’s intent, history, beliefs, and culture. This form of identification serves an intimate human cause, which is  to find the meaning and patterns behind the development of cultural beliefs and personal character within the context of history. After the Mexican Revolution, Diego Rivera reached into Mexico’s history to explore the nation’s identity, and materialized his findings in a series of famous mural paintings. His murals were situated in public space for everyone to view, so as representations of Mexico they conveyed both strong personal associations and deep cultural significance. Quite simply, artists that express themselves truthfully (their emotions, thoughts, perspective and/or cultural identity) produce artworks of high social value.

Globalization has recently added novel dimensions to the process of discerning authenticity. It has opened the doors of cultural mixing, signifying an exchange of styles, mediums, motifs or content. The Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura created a series of artworks in 2001 called An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo. Each photo was intentionally and distinctly coded with foreign and native elements. Morimura appropriated Kahlo’s identity blending it with references to his own Japanese heritage so that his posture, the hand-shaped earrings and a unibrow connoted Frida Kahlo, while his clothes, flowers, and oriental decoration reflected elements of Japanese culture and tradition. Cultural appropriation poses an interesting challenge for those who attempt to discerning authenticity; can an artist internalize and project the “truths” of other cultures?

The aesthetic handicap thesis [2] argues that artists cannot successfully appropriate material outside the sphere of their respective cultures. The idea is that an artist will fail to employ the medium and style of the original correctly because she or he lacks the intimate experiences associated with belonging to that culture. Within this framework, formal hybridity, as the result of appropriation, would fail to produce authentic artworks of high aesthetic value. In this argument, hybridity lacks provenance authenticity, which specifies that cultural artworks produced by “insiders” (those belonging to the culture) are authentic, and inauthentic otherwise. Appropriation also entails a lack of style authenticity, which refers to the use of the style and mediums belonging to one’s culture. Essentially, one would have to belong to a particular culture to successfully utilize the traditional styles and mediums.

This thesis, however, fails to recognize the full dimensions that constitute an artwork’s aesthetic value, and the intentions of the artist. If the artist is innovative and committed, then their artwork will have high aesthetic value because it possesses personal and existential authenticity. Personal authenticity is the artwork’s reflection of the artist’s own originality and genius; art that does not possess this quality is often dismissed as non-innovative and mimetic. If the artist is committed to the artwork and saturates it with their intent (rigorous planning or utilization of particular symbols), then the artwork is said to possess existential authenticity. Diego Rivera provides another good example: He appropriated Cubist elements into his work Zapatista Landscape (1915), while still retaining his own identity, cultural roots, and style. He produced a work of high aesthetic value because he conveys his own thoughts, intentions, creativity, innovation and commitment. However, he arguably broke with provenance and style authenticity by appropriating the style, motifs, and techniques of another culture. Although it may seem counterintuitive, producing artworks of high aesthetic value can involve the integration of both authentic and non-authentic elements. In general, however, when artists create innovative artworks through originality and modification of cultural memes their work will be perceived as more valuable.

The development of replication and photographic technology has distorted the boundaries between authentic and inauthentic artworks. Authenticity reflecting content, however, has remained unaffected – a photograph that deceptively stages/describes a scene is inauthentic. Robert Capa’s photo, Spanish Republican at the Very Instant of His Death, would be inauthentic if the victim was not shot at “the very instance” the shutter fell. The recent shift from storing images as analogue to digital has significant connotations, as it confers that photographs can be printed and transferred indefinitely with no loss of quality. Consequently, a shift from establishing token authenticity to type authenticity is necessary. Traditionally, artists signed, stamped, exhibited or printed an image in a certain way/context to mark its authenticity. Museums’ determination of authenticity hinged on this token; even if the artist did not themselves print the photos, bearing this token connoted authenticity. With the increasing reproducibility of prints and the transition to a purely digital medium, this token of authenticity is often lost. Thus, evaluating type authenticity is often substituted for token authenticity. Type authenticity is maintained when the photographer ensures that their art is printed/reproduced in a particular way (adhering to a specific “type”). If a publisher manipulates the dimensions, tone, or colour of a photograph without consent, it is no longer an authentic representation of the artist’s work. Particular mediums interact with conceptions of authenticity differently; when a medium no longer produces a ‘one of a kind’, but rather an almost endless number of identical copies, the line distinguishing what is authentic is blurred.

Authenticity cannot be described as a binary function; artworks contain a combination of inauthentic and authentic elements with respect style, symbolism, beliefs, intent and commitment. Globalization adds to this complexity because it facilitates the mixing of different cultures; hybridism and appropriation never truly produce authentic artworks. If the artist integrates their own beliefs/culture into their art, then viewers will be able to read it in a personally and culturally relevant way. However, one can only pursue expressional authenticity after the nominal authenticity (provenance) of the artwork is known.

Coryn Briere

Works Cited

[1] For more, see Denis Dutton “Authenticity in Art” in The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, edited by Jerrold Levinson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[2] James O. Young, Cultural Appropriation and the Arts, Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment