Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters, 1927-1950

By Juan A. Martínez | Go to book overview
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The Vanguardia Generation and the Re-creation of a National Identity

As in the rest of Latin America, the Cuban vanguardia generation was more effective in carrying out its modernist and nationalist ideological program in the cultural-artistic arena than in the arena of politics. As cultural critic Néstor García Canclini has explained, "We [in Latin America] have had an exuberant modernism and a deficient modernization."1 While artistic vanguards proliferated throughout Latin America in the 1920s and 1930s, literacy, democracy, and industry grew ever so slowly.

Beginning in the 1920s Cuban artists of all disciplines immersed themselves in the drive to re-create a cultural ethos out of diverse elements that included national-popular themes and imported modern forms and ideas. Writers, musicians, and painters were highly successful in creating works that reflected the traditions of the Cuban experience while also renewing them. They inherited and then reinvented a repertoire of Cuban images, narratives, and sounds to express a multifaceted, collective self-identity.

The quest to express cubanidad in the visual arts was concerned mostly with the thematic and the iconic. As critic Guy Peréz Cisneros has recognized in his brief but perceptive discourse on the issue of nationalism in art: "We possess a vigorous art, truly Cuban because of its themes."2 The most prevalent of the themes borrowed by the vanguardia painters from popular culture, history and tradition, and the natural environment were the representation of the peasant, or guajiro, the countryside, and the Afrocuban tradition. The vanguardia artists' concentration on these themes provides the major point of contact between the ideology of the sociopolitical vanguard and its artistic expression.

The vanguardia painters' representation of a national identity also re


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