“There is currently Latin American art as a specific expression? And if yes, in what terms is it given?” Attendees – critics, theorists, artists and museum directors – were invited to answer these questions at the famous symposium he organized in 1975 the Argentine critic Damián Bayón at the University of Texas, with the theme The Latin American artist and his identity. As was to be expected, the positions on this issue were varied and even contradictory. The painter Rufino Tamayo, for example, was categorical when he said that “the concern for identity is a kind of inferiority complex that we are having here and which we must totally discard.” Argentine critic Marta Traba was no less blunt when she stated: “We DO NOT EXIST either as a distinct artistic expression, nor as an artistic expression, outside the limits of our continent (…) Taking into account that the process of modern and current art has been forged in two metropolises, first Paris and then New York, and has unconditionally served an imperialist project destined to disqualify the cultural provinces and to unify artistic products in a deceptively homogeneous whole that tends to found a planetary culture, our artistic existence does not even it is posed as a probability ”. And Octavio Paz, who sent his presentation, affirmed that Latin America had been dancing “out of step” for centuries, because he did not quite admit that he belonged “not to that nebulous third world that economists and politicians talk about”, because what we are , he wrote, “it is an extreme of the West, an eccentric, dissonant extreme.” This, of course, was not the first time that the subject was put on the table. In fact, as the Cuban curator and critic Gerardo Mosquera observed, it is clear that Latin America suffers from an identity neurosis from which it can hardly be cured. Already in 1935 Joaquín Torres-García had needed to turn the compass upside down, “because in reality, our north is the South. (…) That’s why now we turn the map upside down, and then we already have a fair idea of our position, and not how they want in the rest of the world. The tip of America, from now on, stretching out, insistently points to the South, our North ”.
In what, then, does the specificity of Latin American art reside? Is it enough that it be an art produced by Latin Americans, “whatever its aesthetic or its place of residence”, as Saúl Yurkiévich thought? And if the artist were a foreigner, but who has lived for years, for example, in Mexico, like Francis Alÿs, then his work cannot be considered Latin American, although in many ways it is, and profoundly? Perhaps, then, it is an art made not necessarily in, but from Latin America – as Mosquera suggested – by artists not always residing in the continent and not always, indeed, Latin Americans. That is to say, an art that, at best, is crossed by Latin America to some extent, even when it does not make an open bet to define itself as such. In fact, it would seem that what distinguishes contemporary Latin American artists from their predecessors is that they have ceased to ask those questions openly – although undoubtedly many act them in their production. The discussion, heated in the 1970s and 1980s, about the aesthetic needs of the subcontinent, and the urgency of what was then thought possible – to achieve visual autonomy for Latin America – almost completely ceased. “The main artistic problem of our America”, wrote the Peruvian Juan Acha at that time, “lies in the non-formulation of native problems; of those capable of sprouting from our most intimate third world reality that, in itself, implies mutation and transience ”.
It is not uncommon to find in the samples dedicated to Latin American art waste materials next to hammocks, palms and fruits
Again, it is not that artists today do not give, some, an outlet in their works to problems typical of the region – social contradictions, economic dependence, political instability, colonial contamination – but it seems that many do, no longer as an act of resistance -as Traba understood it-, nor as an aesthetic response to underdevelopment -Acha-, but more by inertia, since artists from the periphery are expected to be, that: peripheral. Which seems to lead some to adopt certain strategies of what has come to be called southern conceptualisms (non-objectual practices carried out at a time when there was no market and there was a political urgency), even when their practice eventually leads to to the production of a “pure, portable and venal object”, according to Acha. For this theorist, progressive art could only come from the recognition that the world is, in itself, “full of spontaneous art and we have to learn to perceive and enjoy it.” A notion that would fit comfortably in developing countries, where this type of spontaneous cultural production could even be found, Acha warned, “in the misery belts of our main cities, in the form of behaviors, resemantizaciones, scales of values, customs and other non-objectualisms, whose totality of popular creation can be a cultural alternative ”. Poverty (“we are a continent of wretched people, everywhere”, wrote the critic Mirko Lauer), understood as one of the key features for understanding a specific sensitivity of the region, led to one of the main approaches of that time : the necessary pauperization of art. A proposal that, by the way, would end up having interesting echoes later, in the work of countless contemporary artists.
It is not uncommon to find in the exhibitions dedicated to current Latin American art waste materials next to hammocks, palms and fruits that the artists introduce into the eternal white cubes, some as a criticism, others because that is what they really have at hand. and the latter, perhaps prey to autoexoticism, to ensure their place in the next biennial. In these art encounters, diversity (of artists, countries, colors, genres) is highly appreciated, to the point that the so-called multiculturalism, as Ekaterina Degot wrote recently, “has been relegated to a market ideology of culinary options ”.
Of course, some artists in the region manage to redefine their place on the global scene without the need to fall into commonplaces or forced complacency. But what Luis Camnitzer once said about that “in Latin American countries there is no such community identity still resonates. In its place is the strange perspective of the colonizer ”. So things.
Maria Minera She is a Mexican art critic.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.