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    Alvarez Sanz, Félix, 1945-
    La emergencia de lo popular / Félix Azofra
    El Comercio (Lima, Perú). -- Feb. 12, 1976
    Newspaper article – Essays
    Alvarez Sanz, Félix. "La emergencia de lo popular." El Comercio (Lima, Perú), February 12, 1976.

In this newspaper article Félix Álvarez, the Spanish historian who lived in Peru, discusses the divide between popular and elite culture from the perspective of Marxist social theory. He explains that this dichotomy is not a capitalist invention, but can be traced back to the emergence of classist societies in antiquity in which the dominant classes sought to monopolize production, as happened in ancient Egypt, classical Greece, and medieval Europe. Álvarez believes that although traditional (popular) art is “always authentic in the sense that it is a true expression of a people’s feelings,” it is inevitably engaged “in a permanent struggle for survival” because “in a classist society, traditional art is overshadowed and impoverished by the dominant class’s system of exploitation.” In Peru the situation is even more complex because it involves relationships and conflicts between Western culture and native cultural expressions. He argues that cultural issues should not be separate from social issues since “there is a risk that an acritical reappraisal of traditional indigenous art could fail to come to grips with the problem and thus lead to a fermentation of nationalist chauvinism.” Álvarez proposes raising the cultural level so that universal culture might be accessible to the people. “To reappraise merely for the sake of reappraising is,” in his opinion, “to promote the implementation of demagogic, reactionary cultural policies.”


This article makes a significant contribution to the national debate over the decision to award the 1975 National Art Prize to an artisan from the Andean region of Peru. This opinion piece about the recognition of “popular (traditional) art” was part of the debate. It is interesting to note the author’s cautious approach to the reappraisal of “popular art” from a Marxist perspective. The name “Félix Azofra” was a pseudonym used by Félix Álvarez Sanz (1945–2006), a Spanish writer from Madrid who lived in Lima, Peru from the 1960s to the 1990s. He was a teacher at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos; he was the director of the Biblioteca de España at the same university, and worked as a researcher at the Museo de Arqueología. He also wrote articles for magazines and newspapers such as La Crónica, La República, El Comercio, La Prensa, Expreso, and Correo


An announcement on December 26, 1975 confirmed that the National Culture Prizes (for the 1973–74 biennium) had been awarded by the Peruvian government through the Instituto Nacional de Cultura to honor the greatest contributions to the development of Peruvian culture. The jury’s decision in the art category (which had traditionally included painting, sculpture, music, and architecture) ignited one of the most heated debates in the history of Peruvian art. The ensuing controversy underscored simmering tensions and suspicions regarding the cultural policies of the revolutionary government of the armed forces led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–75). This administration claimed to be committed to a progressive agenda, a claim supported mainly by the Agrarian Reform of 1969 which was accompanied by the government’s enthusiastic attempt to glorify the image of the peasant population and lifestyle at the expense of other forms of cultural expression that were considered more “Western.” On this occasion the prize was awarded to Joaquín López Antay (1897–1981), who was chosen over well-known visual artists such as Carlos Quízpez Asín (1900–83) and Teodoro Núñez Ureta (1912–88) and the German-born academic musician Rodolfo Holzmann (1910–92).   


[Regarding this conflict, see the following articles in the ICAA digital archive: by Alfonso Castrillón, Leslie Lee, and Carlos Bernasconi “Fundamentación para el dictamen por mayoría simple a favor del artista popular Joaquín López Antay” (doc. no. 1135896); by Alfonso Bermúdez “Premio a López Antay suscita controversias. Unos: consagración del arte popular. Otros: una cosa es arte y otra artesanía” (doc. no. 1135879); by Francisco Abril de Vivero, Luis Cossio Marino, and Alberto Dávila “Artistas plásticos cuestionan premio” (doc. no. 1135960); and (anonymous) “‘No todos nos quieren ni en Lima ni en Ayacucho’: así comentó sobre cuestionamiento a premio” (doc. no. 1135930)].

Gabriela Germaná Roquez
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru