This text pertains to the controversy that occurred due to the article by Marta Traba (1923–83), the Argentinean critic based in Colombia, entitled “El arte latinoamericano: un falso apocalipsis,” published in the literary supplement of El Nacional newspaper of Caracas, on May 2, 1965. The controversy continued until approximately September of that year and participants included, in addition to Traba and others, critics J. R. Guillent Pérez and Roberto Guevara, and painters Alejandro Otero and Alirio Rodríguez, as the principals. The debate extended to other outlets, such as the Revista Nacional de Cultura, radio, television, live conferences, and debates.
The articles that appeared in the literary supplement of El Nacional were recompiled in the Colección Delta Solar as Modernidad y postmodernidad. Espacios y tiempos dentro del arte latinoamericano (Caracas: Museo Alejandro Otero, 2000). A selection of those texts that appeared in the Revista Nacional de Cultura was published in Roldán Esteva-Grillet, compiler, Fuentes documentales y críticas de las artes plásticas venezolanas. Siglos XIX y XX (Caracas: CDCH/UCV, Vol. II, 2001).
The importance of Traba’s article resides in the way it reveals the disagreements that the debate participants had with regard to the criteria they used to evaluate and characterize the idea of “identity” and the “Latin American problem.” Traba spends the majority of her article laying out the specifications of her concepts, above all with regard to the terms “apocalypse,” “false apocalypse” and that which would be deemed original content and that which is also deeply identifiable with Latin American expression. In relation to this last concept, it is interesting that the author finds in the literature of the region the best means of indicating what “should be” authentic Latin American expressions: Julio Cortázar in Rayuela; Juan Rulfo with Pedro Páramo; Mario Vargas Llosa’s La ciudad y los perros… According to the author, these are the works to take as examples. Perhaps she intended to preempt Guillent Pérez’s objection through this exemplary list of artists (with clear local ties) as is the case of Colombian Alejandro Obregón and Peruvian Fernando de Szyszlo, who were mentioned by her in her first article. In this way, she would avoid being accused again of promoting a nationalistic art in favor of identity. A great part of the controversy stimulated by this article—and of the debate in general—arose from the fact that the proposed concepts were formulated in absolute or even dramatic terms. This is what made the debate aggressive and highly cynical. In short, it resembled “a dialogue of the deaf.”
Traba identifies the possible origin of the identity of Latin American art as an awareness of the misery, suffering, and ignominy of its peoples; in her opinion, these would be the fuel to shape an appropriate aesthetic. Within these parameters, the role of the critic is to develop and monitor the creative processes of identity, because he is outside “limbo,” given that he conscientiously monitors the “should be,” and consequently, has an enlightened perspective. These are the concepts that characterize Traba’s argument.
For more on this debate, see the texts by Guillent Pérez that touch on Traba’s ideas: “El falso apocalipsis del arte latinoamericano” , and “América y el nihilismo: Respuesta a Marta Traba” .