Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    In this text, Martí Casanovas responds to a letter by Franz Tamayo considering the question of what direction the development of Indio-American culture should take. Distinguishing his philosophy from Tamayo’s, Casanovas explains that he believes that indigenous sources of expression should constitute the vitality of this new culture, while Tamayo believes that it should be constituted by indigenous forms. Casanovas writes that their differences really come down to different approaches to the basic question of what constitutes culture, which he argues must be the expression of living people, not form. In Mexico, he explains, culture is most alive in the hands of the Indians making works of art in the Open Air Schools, not in past civilizations. He questions the contemporary relevance of Tamayo’s valorization of classicist form, of the values of equilibrium and balance. Contemporary culture, he explains, cannot immediately be expressed in the formal terms of either high art or aesthetics. Instead, he argues, we must look to humble, popular culture and in this process, new aesthetic forms that truly reflect the spirit of people of the Americas will be invented. Artists and poets who have successfully created genuinely Indo-American culture have done so by expressing essentially American emotional qualities in their work, not by portraying picturesque or anecdotal aspects of America. Casanovas concludes by affirming his “mexicanismo,” and by suggesting that Mexican culture can serve as a model for all of America because it has so successfully incorporated the “masas de población indigena” [throngs of indigenous population] into its new post-Revolutionary culture.

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    Martí Casanovas—the Catalonian origin Cuba-based writer and critic—wrote this letter in response to a text on Indo-American culture by Franz Tamayo, both of which were published in the Lima-based journal Amauta. Published under the heading “Polémica: Autoctonismo y europeismo,” [“Controversy: Autochthonism and Europeanism”] this exchange demonstrates how the heated issue of Pan-Latin American culture was rigorously debated among intellectuals in Latin America. (Casanovas is writing from Mexico City, and Tamayo from La Paz, Bolivia.) Amauta, a journal published in Lima and edited by the Peruvian poet and critic José Carlos Mariátegui (1892-1930), was a vital forum for such debates during the mid- and late-1920s. In this text, Casanovas acknowledges the kind of heated debate that had been generated among such intellectuals regarding the question of the development of Indo-American culture. He lauds Mexico’s post-Revolutionary program of offering art education to the so-called masses, and questions Tamayo’s (and, implicitly, other Latin American intellectuals) desire to locate an American classicism in pre-Colombian civilization. In addition to praising the Open Air Schools and the proliferation of art instruction to laypeople in Mexico, he identifies Diego Rivera (1886-1957), José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), Fermín Revueltas (1901-35), and Fernando Leal (1896-1964) as examples of artists who have successfully expressed the Mexican spirit. On the other hand, Casanovas criticizes cosmopolitan tendencies among Latin American poets, arguing that themes of modernity have no place in an Indo-American culture.