Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this seminal text from the mid-1950s, a young José Luis Cuevas criticizes the cultural policies of the Mexican government three decades later for still favoring nationalist art, especially as pictured in murals. Cuevas tells an ironic story that shows the artistic impositions of the Mexican State on young artists. In the story, in order to obtain support for launching a career in the art world, the young artists have to give up their avant-garde pursuits. Instead, they have to adopt the style of the old muralists, Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, etc. Cuevas points out that nationalist close-mindedness erects a kind of “prickly pear curtain.” By preventing the young artists from knowing what is going on in the international art scene, it hinders their participation in it as well. Thus Cuevas concludes that for the good of Mexican art, a curtain as such has to disappear. Moreover, paths must be created through which Mexicans can communicate with today’s worldwide art scene.

Annotations

La Cortina de Nopal [the Prickly pear Curtain] is a manifesto published in 1956 by Jose Luis Cuevas (b. 1934) in "México en la cultura," the cultural supplement of the daily, Novedades. In 1959, the text was also published in English in the Evergreen Review and would later be included in his autobiographical book, Cuevas por Cuevas [Cuevas by Himself] (1965). 

This text has taken on a symbolic meaning for different reasons. First, it has a highly effective way of stating the ideas and theories related to the group’s emancipation from the Mexican School of Painting as well as its growing desire for internationalization. (Subsequently, the group would come to be known as la Ruptura.) Another specific reason is that the writer is not only a fellow colleague of the avant-garde artists, but one of the harbingers and most persistent spokesman of that movement. In other words, the writer was a person with first-hand knowledge of this problem, from which he had suffered personally at the outset of his career.

Regarding the drafting of the document, we can see that the ironic language and informal tone have a double effect. On the one hand, as a rhetorical strategy, they make the manifesto more persuasive. In addition, they lend the text a defiant tone; it is a kind of call to arms against obsolete traditions in Mexican art in the mid-twentieth century.

With the Cold War in full swing, the name of the manifesto refers indirectly to—or we could say, finds a version of the Soviet Union’s "iron curtain," though in a new location.

Researcher
Alejandro Ugalde : CURARE A. C.
Team
CURARE, Espacio crítico para las artes, Mexico City, Mexico
Credit
Courtesy of José Luis Cuevas, Mexico City, Mexico
Location
Biblioteca Justino Fernández del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México