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In this interview the painter Leslie Lee discusses the reasons behind the founding of SUTAP (Sindicato Único de Trabajadores en las Artes Plásticas) [Sole Visual Arts Workers Union], explaining the group’s disagreements and subsequent break with ASPAP (Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos) [Peruvian Association of Visual Artists] as a result of the controversial decision to award the 1975 National Culture Prize for art to Joaquín López Antay, the altarpiece artist from the Andean region of Peru. Lee acknowledges the artisan’s role in society and, as regards artistic practice, states that “what we need is a democratic environment in which we are all artisans; that is, people who work with their head and their hands.” Referring to the theoretical ideas espoused by the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács, Lee also proposes the establishment of a functional relationship between art and politics, agreeing with SUTAP’s plans to create an organization that includes artists from all movements, allowing them to position themselves “in terms of class and politics” in order to change their worldview and align themselves with the working and peasant classes and with the people’s struggle for the development of a socialist society.  


The board of directors of ASPAP (Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos) [Peruvian Association of Visual Artists] violently opposed the jury’s decision. The resulting disagreements between the members of the association led many of them to leave ASPAP and start SUTAP which, however, did not last long. The Union’s name was an attempt to associate it with SUTEP (Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Educación Peruana) [Sole Peruvian Education Workers Union], a group associated with the radical left wing. Leslie Lee (1932–2014) was a member of the jury that voted to award the art prize to López Antay, and was one of the dissident artists at ASPAP who helped to organize SUTAP.


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).   


[As complementary reading on the subject of SUTAP, see the following articles in the ICAA digital archive: (anonymous) “El arte y el deber social: declara Ciro Palacios, dirigente de los trabajadores de las artes plásticas” (doc. no. 1136396); by A.B.C. “Contra toda manipulación en el arte” (doc. no. 1136349); by Juan Gargurevich “Deslinde en la pintura: progreso vs. reacción” (doc. no. 1136301); by Alfonso Castrillón Vizcarra “López Antay: significación actual” (doc. no. 1136495); by Luis Freire Sarria “López Antay levanta polvareda” (doc. no. 1136317); and (anonymous) “Manifiesto: acta de fundación: Sindicato Único de Trabajadores en las Artes Plásticas” (doc. no. 1136267). On the subject of the debate over the Premio Nacional de Cultura [National Culture Prize], see the following articles: 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