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The poet and political thinker Gonzalo Arango invites artists to participate in the “Primera Bienal de Las Cruces” [First Las Cruces Biennial]. The event was not mentioned at all in the media, although it took place in Bogotá in the 1960s, and included well-known artists such as Enrique Grau. The most significant aspect of the exhibition was that it was staged in a famous lower-income neighborhood, Las Cruces, which symbolically represented the antithesis of the galleries and art salons that routinely excluded people of limited cultural, political, and financial means “from the privileges of culture.” The Las Cruces Biennial, however, did not provide the members of the Bogotá aristocracy with an opportunity to “show off their jewels.” This exhibition therefore differed from the usual celebrations of culture at which art was a commodity that was owned by the elite and circulated exclusively among the financial nobility. Arango took a different approach and championed art that was “free and expected nothing in return.”    


In this document, Gonzalo Arango (1931–1976) discusses the fundamental problems at a social level that still plague Colombia in terms of art. He is referring to the fact that in this country the vast majority of people suffer “the tremendous determinism of economic need and anxiety.” In such circumstances, according to Arango, art is a “luxury” or a “solitary, platonic vice” that is only available to the wealthy class. In Colombia, according to Arango, beauty and power are perks reserved for the financial nobility whose material needs are taken care of. The exhibition at Las Cruces was therefore intended for a different audience: “the people,” as the masses that were not part of the aristocracy were referred to in those days. The exhibition was therefore a significant event, an expression of the limited cultural activism that was possible within an art industry that operated under the auspices of the bourgeois system, and represented a symbolic act of resistance in the political terrain of the arts. In Colombia, in Arango’s opinion, “art is the last redoubt of idealism.” This exhibition therefore sought to involve art with the reality of the city and its inhabitants, although “the people do not need art, they need revolution.” The paintings and sculpture at the exhibition were placed outside in the open air, so that the art would be out in the rain and the sunshine “just like any traffic light.”     


Arango, a poet and political thinker, criticized the critics as he asked the participating artists not to allow themselves “to be acclaimed by anyone other than by your own art.” He also denounced the hegemony and the monopolies of the Colombian church and state and their “democracy that imports FBI detectives,” whose armies and police forces, capitalist safes, and catholic blessings determine the course of education and art throughout the country, and who are officially conservative and exclusivist, and support the salvation of western civilization. Arango’s document also reports on the beating and incarceration of twenty young men for “the crime of expressing their solidarity with the causes of freedom and the people” in the usual government practice of stifling political freedom with guns.   


The nadaístas were in constant contact with contemporary visual artists, and worked together with them on certain projects, as in the case of the Festival de Arte de Vanguardia [Avant-garde Art Festival] in Cali (1965) and the Bienal de Las Cruces [Las Cruces Biennial] in Bogotá (1962).  


Gonzalo Arango was a prominent figure in Colombian literature; his written work has been discussed more than it has been read, and he gained great notoriety in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of his unspeakable role piloting the “chalupa pandillesca” [gang’s canoe] of nadaísta thoughtlessness, embarking sarcastically and with pleasure on a number of acts of sabotage. In defiance of the national tradition of decorum, the group made history with their aggressively scandalous antics. Their skepticism and freely expressed views on the dignity of man and the power of art—and against the dictatorship of church and state, capitalist business, and the national poetic tradition—led to exile and jail for Arango. He left an extensive body of work that includes poetry, journalism, essays, stories, and theatrical works.  


A collection of nadaísta documents were published in a special issue of Mito [Myth] magazine (1955–62) devoted to this group in the section called “Documentos Nadaístas” [Nadaísta Documents]. This document should be considered together with the one by “Amílkar U.” [Osorio Gómez] titled “Manifiesto poético 1962. Explosiones radioactivas de la poesía nadaísta” [see doc. no. 1131695]; the one by Gonzalo Arango, “El nadaísmo” [doc. no. 1131711]; and the one by the Nadaístas, “A Noel Cassady” [doc. no. 1131808].

Tatiana Arango Botero
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of Jose Mario Arbelaez, Bogotá, Colombia