- Simón Bolívar: Travels & Transformations of a Cultural Icon ed. by Maureen G. Shanahan and Ana María Reyes
Simón Bolívar: Travels & Transformations of a Cultural Icon explains why Latin America's great liberator was such an important cultural icon. Maureen G. Shanahan, a professor of art history at James Madison University, and Ana María Reyes, an assistant professor of Latin American art at Boston University, have brought together twelve scholars to discuss the topic of cultural Bolivarianism. [End Page 437] These scholars make compelling cases for why each aspect of Bolívar's life was so significant and how his life was used to develop the Bolívarian cult. The authors set out to demonstrate Bolívar's relevance as a "political and cultural sign" for the ideals of the enlightenment, such as citizenship, the republic, and liberty (2). Although they are aware that much of Bolívar's political ideology coincided with centralist authoritarianism, they are interested in the appropriations and reworkings of Bolívar's ideas and ideals into what they have become in the contemporary world (2).
Emily A. Engel discusses the importance of the portraiture of Bolívar and why it was significant to many people, especially his supporters. Engel presents a detailed argument about why the early portraits of Bolívar are historically significant. Highlighting the importance of the portraits after his departure from the political realm, Engel that these portraits have the presence of an "anti-imperial" ideology (44). Paul Niell, who specializes in Spanish colonial art and culture, argues that Bolívar was a figure whose image was used for "nation building" (75), noting that several other powerful leaders conspicuously displayed Bolívar's likeness in their offices.
Several authors strengthen the idea that Bolívar was more than just a political figure. Luis Duno-Gottberg details how Bolívar's body became a symbol of lasting cultural significance. He compares Bolívar's final resting place to that of Roman Catholic saints and the great explorer Christopher Columbus. He examines the Hugo Chávez's motives for unearthing Bolívar's body to test it for traces of poison, arguing that Chávez likely did so as a political ploy to align himself more closely with Bolívar. The incident highlights the continued importance and relevance of Bolívar in Venezuelan society. Tomás Straka, a professor of history at Andrés Bello Catholic University, examines Bolívar's role in the nation-building process. Placing his discussion within the context of the evolution of Venezuela's Liberal Party, Straka demonstrates how political figures manipulated Bolívar for their own self-serving agenda.
Simón Bolívar: Travels & Transformations of a Cultural Icon is well structured; each chapter presents a new cultural tool that uses Bolívar to convey political messages or the power of his imagery. This book shows how important Bolívar was—and still is—in Venezuela, regardless of one's political persuasion. Both the left and the right have tried to coopt Bolívar's image for their own self-serving needs. His image has been used by politicians, artists, writers, musicians, [End Page 438] historians, anthropologists, and journalists. Bolívar has repeatedly been used to construct Venezuelan national identity. The journey continues.