Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    In this text, Marta Traba rejects the notion that Latin American art exists as a distinct form of expression. She begins her essay by explaining that the global culture generated by the industrialized nations move within certain established frameworks. She further explains that consumerism has robbed art of its “specificity and its representative character.” Traba blames the avant-garde, going so far as to say that the avant-garde itself has promoted “entertainment” to the “manipulating elite.” Traba argues that Latin American artists are of no importance whatsoever to this global culture and that—in order to be counted by the Western world—they must “fuse totally with a European project.” Traba asserts that contemporary Latin American artists deal with this issue in one of two ways: the first, by placing distance between themselves and the project; and the second, by “seeking to coincide mimetically” with the project. The former group is described by Traba as the culture of resistance, who argues that this group should return to a figurative art that reconnects with their regional surroundings and uses art as language. Traba asserts that Latin American societies are largely underdeveloped and that this global art aimed to delay the formation of a national identity. At the same time, she further objects to the avant-gardists, describing them as terroristic and deceptive, stating that the art of the resistance both “fulfills an epistemological function and offers a political service.”

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    Marta Traba (1930–83) was an Argentine-born critic and art historian active in Bogotá, Colombia, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. During the 1950s she advocated international modernism in Latin America, but by the 1960s she became a critic of the homogeneity of this kind of visual art when the cultural influence of the United States rose in the region. In this paper, Traba expands on her opinions about the deceptive technological culture and highly industrialized societies that she condemned in her book, Arte Latino Americano Actual (1972). This essay was delivered at the symposium that accompanied the exhibition, 12 Latin American Artists Today/12 artistas latino americanos de hoy, at the University of Texas at Austin, organized by the Archer M. Huntington Art Museum (September 28–November 2, 1975). This symposium was to continue a dialogue about the notion of a Latin American aesthetic that had been addressed in the previous decade by artists and critics. 

    The obsessive idea of “resistence” is a theoretical approach that Traba took from Theodor W. Adorno in the late- 1960s, and remains unnoticed up to date since she refused to make any sort of notes in her writings.