This is an open letter written by painter Antonino Espinosa Saldaña in response to the creation of an “Incan Art” course at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Arte de Lima, to be offered by writer Augusto Aguirre Morales.
By defining the idea of national identity in western terms, Espinosa directed his criticism against those who equated “the indigenous” (past or current) with “Peruvian identity.” The responses (such as that by Augusto Aguirre) had identified the indigenous past as a unique “inheritance” that could shape an “Indo-American” identity. The debate played out not only in the essay written by Espinosa, but also in the press through letters written by intellectuals (Héctor Velarde and Mariano Ibérico, among others). Beyond the artistic debate, José Sabogal’s eloquent silence revealed the mostly ethnographic interest of indigenism.
At the beginning of the 1930s, a new arts group arose in Lima: Los Duendes, a group of painters who embraced a symbolism with roots in literature that incorporated art deco elements, and whose aesthetic philosophy was founded as an alternative to the prevailing indigenous art trend. Brought together around poet José María Eguren (1874–1942), the first and only collective exhibition of these “independent Peruvians” was held in June 1931. Antonino Espinosa Saldaña was the only member of the group who sustained an artistic career, although he did not participate in the show. Perhaps because of this, his work generated a brief exchange of opinions within the local scene on the elusive categorization of this type of proposal. In December 1933, Espinosa exhibited a collection of ceramics and tempera paintings, which included a pictorial interpretation (akin to abstraction) of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. With titles such as El tiempo [Time] and La inteligencia [Intelligence], the works claimed an allegorical density in a genre and style considered “decorative.” Critic Carlos Raygada pointed out this contradiction and questioned the relevance of the timid experimentalism present in some of his “movement” studies. The as yet unidentified F. H. Dursself praised the dynamism of these works, affirming the origins of their role within a new avant-garde art.
[For further reading, see the following texts in the ICAA digital archive: by Antonino Espinosa Saldaña “A propósito del curso de ‘arte incaico’ en la Escuela de Bellas Artes” (1143553); and by Augusto Aguirre Morales “A propósito del curso de ‘arte incaico’ en la Escuela de Bellas Artes” (1143570)].