The Politics of Art and Literature in Latin America

Article excerpt

Yves Aguila and Isabelle Tauzin Castellanos, editors Les ecritures de l'engagement en Amerique latine / Las escrituras del compromiso en America latina, vol. 1 Bordeaux: Universite Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3 ERSAL, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2004, 252 pp.

Yves Aguila, editor Pouvoir et ecritures en Amerique latine / Poder y escrituras en America latina, vol. 2 Bordeaux: Universite Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3 ERSAL, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2004, 254 pp.

David Craven Art and Revolution in Latin America, 1910-1990 New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002, 240 pp., 65 color illus.

Jean-Guy Rens Vlady, De la revolucion al renacimiento Prologue by Serge Fauchereau, trans. from the French by Tessa Brisac Mexico: Siglo XXI, 2005, 272 pp. + illus.

Scholarly publications on the interplay between art/literature and politics in Latin America come primarily from specialists in comparative literature, art criticism, and cultural studies. (1) While diverse in topics and perspectives, this body of academic publications conveys two important messages to readers interested in exploring the subject.

First, Latin American art and literature typically relate closely to their social and political context. (2) Until recently, it was fairly common to have literary intellectuals thinking of themselves as the "critical conscience" of their silenced and marginalized peoples. They were the "voice of the voiceless," in political environments characterized by authoritarianism, instability, and routinized deceit. (3) In this, Latin American artists and writers followed a path closer to their European counterparts--remember that for decades Paris and Madrid were the capitals of the Latin American intelligentsia--than to their Anglo-Saxon neighbors.

Second, Latin American art and literature are not merely derivative forms of West European or American trends. They constitute an original and powerfully evocative representation of something once disdained but now celebrated in the "postmodern" North: hybrid cultures. The mix of cultures--O'Gorman's "invention of America"--and the unrelenting quest for identity that this condition triggered proved to be fertile ground for artistic and intellectual creativity. In fact, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that Latin America, more than any other region of the world, realized its greatest achievements in art and literature.

The liaison between art and politics is so obvious in Latin America that one can be forgiven for overlooking how complicated and paradoxical their relations can be. Art and literature are routinely conceptualized as vehicles to transmit political messages in historical conditions (political, economic, social, and cultural) that make this pattern of transmission probable and efficacious. Questions typically remain unexplored, such as: Where exactly is the political in art? Is it to be found in the "content," the "form" (i.e., "content of the form"), and/or in our interpretation of it? In what sense can we say that art is "critical" of societies and governments? Is art still "critical," as all great art should be, when it lends itself to a particular political cause or--even more problematically--to a government? What about the impact of the market and globalization on artistic practices? And, finally, is there something that art can convey about the political life (in Latin America or elsewhere) that only art can convey? If so, what is it exactly? Can one use artistic productions as a pedagogical tool to teach our students about political life in Latin America?

The scholarly books under review express the passion of their authors for Latin American art and literature. No doubt in their mind that one can only grow in intelligence and wisdom by understanding and appreciating the visual arts and literature of the Latin American greats: Rivera, Orozco, Vlady, Fuentes, Neruda, Vargas Llosa, among many others. …