Nationalisms in Latin American Art

Nationalisms in Latin American contemporary art

A debate on this topic organized by J. Velasco and L. Karp took place at the "Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte" on the 23rd and 24th of September 2019.

Sometimes explicitly justified, very often accepted, the nationalisms in the Latin-American art seem for many people a "natural" (even a necessary) form of the local artistic expression. This condescension towards a region considered peripheral appears all the more "acceptable" as the forms of these nationalisms are often very complex, even contradictory, ranging from the picturesque trait to the resistance to the hegemonic cultural ambitions of the United States. If a certain number of artistic productions question (often with humorous traits) these various nationalisms, it is much rarer that they are studied and analysed. This research aims to lay some foundations that allow us to begin this study and analysis, because the theme of nationalism in the art of Latin America, which appears very early in all the countries in the region, raises very specific questions.

Thus, unlike what happens most often in Europe, among artists as in all societies of Latin America, nationalism is found as well in the sympathizers of left as in those of right. In the same way, these nationalisms constitute, paradoxically, a common characteristic and a unifying element of the art of the subcontinent. Nevertheless, it would be very adventurous to assert, on the one hand, that in the art field, these questions go beyond political divisions and to forget, on the other hand, that these same nationalisms were, as all nationalisms, a populist instrument used by the existing political powers against their close neighbours.

The studied period begins in the 1960s, when the centre of gravity of the art moves from Europe to the United States, and thereby pose new questions. While these nationalisms (especially for the left) feed on anti-North-Americanism, part of the artistic scene thinks that only new forms of creation are able to reflect the cultural reality of Latin America.

Conversely, other artists turn to local popular traditions to meet the profound and "pure" expression of "the national spirit" and they find themselves faced with another debate, which involuntarily takes on a social dimension: even more than in the European context, art is used by the dominant groups in Latin America as a sign of class recognition, a class to which most of these artists belongs (including a group closely linked to popular social movements like Mexican muralists).