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This is a biographical sketch of Pedro Alcántara written by the Colombian Nadaísta [Nothing-ist] poet Jotamario Arbeláez on the occasion of the retrospective exhibition Alcántara 1960–1980 at the Museo de Arte Moderno [Museum of Modern Art] in Bogotá. Arbeláez describes his astonishment as he tours the exhibition that presents “works that are brimming with brave implications.” Arbeláez reminisces about his years of friendship with Alcántara when they were both members of the movement called Nadaísmo [Nothing-ism] in Cali, Colombia. He remembers that Alcántara joined the movement in about 1963, and participated in the first two Avant-garde Festivals, but then left the group “with no explanation or fuss” around 1967.
The “Nothing-ism” mentioned in the article, El Nadaísmo en el museo. La retrospectiva de Pedro Alcántara [Nothing-ism in the Museum: A Retrospective of Works by Pedro Alcántara] refers to the antiestablishment literary movement that resorted to scandalous provocations (such as sacrilege, blasphemy, and book burning) to disrupt cultural life in Colombia to an extent. The movement was founded by the Colombian poet Gonzalo Arango (1931–1976) by distributing the Manifiesto Nadaísta [Nothing-ist Manifesto] (Medellín, 1958). Arango was living in Cali when Pedro Alcántara (b. 1942) returned from Europe in 1963. The article by Jotamario Arbeláez (b. 1940), who was also living in Cali, is one of the few texts that document Alcántara’s involvement with the Nothing-ism movement. This movement that cobbled together aspects of Surrealism, French Existentialism, and the North American Beat Generation, attracted young Colombian artists, who called themselves “nadaístas” [Nothing-ists]. The group’s demythologizing, iconoclastic attitude expressed the members’ rejection of contemporary conventions and frustration with the repressive policies of the Frente Nacional [National Front] that fielded alternatively liberal and conservative candidates for President of Colombia for a period of sixteen years (1958–74). From 1964 through 1966 the Nadaísta group organized avant-garde festivals that included theater, music, visual arts, lectures, and poetry recitals, all presented in the group’s trademark controversial style. Alcántara organized those festivals as an alternative to the national art festivals held in Cali, what Arbeláez called the “Festival Oficial” [Official Festival] in his article. At the first Festival de Vanguardia [Avant-garde Festival], Alcántara and Norman Mejía (b. 1938) “created a monstrous, indigestible painting as the horrified public watched this irreverent pair of maniacs in action,” according to Arbeláez. Commenting on this event, the art critic Miguel González (b. 1950) wrote that “like theater of the absurd, the first happenings and such activities took place here.” (Cf. Apuntes para una historia del arte en el Valle del Cauca durante el siglo XX [Notes for a History of Art in the Cauca Valley During the Twentieth Century], 2005, p. 36). The poet Juan Gustavo Cobo Borda (b. 1948) reported that the Nadaísta proposals had also influenced other visual artists such as Álvaro Barrios (b. 1945), who at the time declared himself to be a Nadaísta painter. The art historian and critic Álvaro Medina (b.1942) published “Nadaísta” essays which he signed with the pseudonym “José Javier Jorge.”