Latin American Research Review 40.3 (2005) 244-253
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Visual Arts, Development Narratives, and Performance in the Americas
Katherine M. Hedeen
The struggle against the colonialism of yesterday and the neo-colonialism of today has defined Latin American culture. In this way, the conscious or unconscious quest for decolonization is present in all kinds of artistic production from the region. This process, as post-colonial theorists explain, exposes and dismantles colonialism in all its forms, including "the hidden aspects of those institutional and cultural forces that had maintained the colonialist power and that remain even after political independence is achieved" (Ashcroft et al., 63). These less obvious elements are most often metropolitan cultural models that privilege, among others, "the imported over the indigenous: colonial languages over local languages; writing over orality and linguistic culture over inscriptive cultures of other kinds" (64). The four books reviewed here examine different artistic and literary tendencies from the Americas and their struggle to not only reveal, but to rebel against neo-colonial dominance. This essay will explore how the complex practice of cultural decolonization in the region is presented in each. [End Page 244]
David Craven's Art and Revolution in Latin America 1910–1990, is not only a valuable contribution to the scholarship because of its impressive collection of drawings, paintings, and posters from "las tres grandes," namely the Mexican, Cuban, and Nicaraguan revolutions. It is also an exhaustive examination of the cultural policies employed by these transformational processes, an affirmation of the worldwide impact of the visual arts produced under their leaderships, and a defense of them as autonomous struggles against U.S. imperialism and Soviet influence. Indeed, as he argues, it has been a Cold War definition of revolution, in which historical actors are assumed to be either "the capitalist West or the communist East, with no nation outside this narrow, if also worldwide, conflict having the right to determine their own separate destinies" (2) that has undermined conventional scholarship on the topic.
In this way, Craven's objective is ultimately political; a revalorization of often misunderstood cultural policies in order to stress the significance of these revolutionary movements for future ones. Opposing East-West binaries, he highlights their localness as well as their contributions to revolution on a global scale. Key to his study are Che Guevara's ideas on socialism and the New Person ("el hombre nuevo") in which, among other important contributions, the revolutionary hero boldly opposes socialist realism. It is this open declaration of cultural independence that is emphasized in the work by artists influenced by three Latin American revolutions.
Craven expertly narrates the Mexican Revolution and its accomplishments, intellectual rifts, and distinct political and artistic tendencies. The work of the major muralists (José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueros) is discussed, along with important artist collectives like the Taller de Gráfica Popular. What specifically comes to the fore when referring to projects of cultural decolonization is Rivera's work. Pointing out that recent scholars have noted that these artists expropriated and bent the European variant of modernism to their own ends (37), Craven stresses appropriation and transculturation in Rivera's art, particularly in reference to El abrazo and Campesinos (39). Just as compelling is his exceptional analysis of the chapel at Chapingo in which he proposes that Rivera pictorially diverges from conceptions of history that...