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    Conscripción peruana de la pintura / por J. Nahuaca
    El Comercio : Suplemento dominical (Lima, Perú). -- May. 4, 1958
    Newspaper article – Essays
    J. Nahuaca [Juan Acha]. "Conscripción peruana de la pintura." El Comercio: Suplemento dominical (Lima, Perú), May 4, 1958.

In this article signed “J. Nahuaca”—the anagram he used as an alias—critic Juan Acha addresses the relationship between nationalism and painting in Peru. He points out “the pressure” that nationalist concerns, which he considers “external” to painting, exert on art. At the same time, he understands that situation to be a symptom of “the strength of a society attempting […] to affirm its nationality.” The author identifies three “nationalizing” forces or conscriptions that would determine the course of Peruvian painting. The first, which he describes as “sociopolitical,” is the attempt to turn art into a manifesto with no aesthetic implications. In Acha’s view, art no longer plays a didactic role (it has been replaced by film). The second, which in his opinion is the result of romanticism, implies a process of “dignifying the iconography of our reality” without formulating the national theme in aesthetic terms. Acha calls the third force “spiritual,” and he divides it into two modalities. One of them appeals to “Peruvian values that [though] universal by nature” result in the loss of “an aesthetic underpinning”; the other attempts to find formal ties between current art and pre-Columbian art. Its aim is to detect a unique “pictorialness” “by sublimating nationalizing forces.” While the author mentions the existence of painters “with an arsenal of essential and specific forces at their disposal,” they are few in number and, hence, marginal to the conservative local art scene.


Peruvian critic Juan Acha (1916–95), who lived in Mexico, was one of the main advocates of avant-garde art in Peru in the mid-sixties. In his writings—both essays and journalistic articles—he defended Pop Art and Op Art on a theoretical level and supported young artists producing work of that sort in the framework of the developmental ideology of the time. 


Acha was a central figure in debates on Peruvian and Latin American art in the second half of the 20th century. He studied chemical engineering in Munich and worked in that field when he returned to Lima in 1942. Sixteen years later, in 1958, he published his first writings on art in the influential Lima-based newspaper El Comercio, thus starting a long career in the field of criticism and art theory. In the essays and articles he wrote in those years, he provided a complex overview of the local art scene, identifying the various nationalist strains operative in the country’s art. The intense debate over abstraction was recent history at that time, and one of its central issues was the relationship between art and national identity. In the late fifties, pre-Columbian art began to be envisioned as a way out of the opposition between strictly Peruvian art and the cosmopolitanism of abstraction; Acha focused on that second option—abstraction—in his texts. Though his stance would evolve over the course of his career, his commitment to “avant-garde art” was constant, as was his interrogation of the role of “identity in art,” whether strictly Peruvian or Latin American in general.


[As complementary reading, see the following articles by the author in the ICAA digital archive: “Las bienales en América Latina de hoy” (doc. no. 1079465), “¿Está aún vigente la pintura figurativa?” (doc. no. 1097217), “Consideraciones estéticas: Szyszlo en el I. A. C.” (doc. no. 1292805), “Arte Pop: procedimientos y finalidades” (doc. no. 1107517), “En busca de un autor para Túpac Amaru: una candente polémica” (doc. no. 1107496), “La vanguardia pictórica en el Perú” (doc. no. 1142850), “El Homenaje al cuadrado de Josef Albers” (doc. no. 1293025), “El video” (doc. no. 1097190), and “Teoría y práctica de las artes no objetualistas en América Latina” (doc. no. 1088533). See as well the following texts on the polemic tribute to artist Sérvulo Gutiérrez: “Artes Plásticas: Sérvulo Gutiérrez” (doc. no. 1107586), “La pintura de Sérvulo” (doc. no. 1107534), “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo: Juan Acha responde a Juan Ríos” (doc. no. 1107568), and “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo: Juan Acha responde a Juan Ríos; hija de Sérvulo protesta porque el IAC se negó a exhibir el primer cuadro de su padre” (doc. no. 1107551)].

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of the personal archive of Mtra. Mahia Biblos, Mexico City, Mexico