South and About! Adriana Obiols and Lesdi C. Goussen Robleto
South & About! is a student-organized research workshop on the arts from Latin America and the Caribbean. This program invites graduate students and emerging scholars in art history and related disciplines to participate in informal discussions amongst their peers.
To register for the online event, please fill out this form.
“¿Qué es el Indio?”: Indigenismo and Photography in Guatemalan Print Culture
Adriana Obiols, PhD student, Art History, University of Chicago
Revista Alero was a magazine published between 1970 and 1980 by a group of artists and intellectuals affiliated with the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala. My research investigates the relationship between the cultural and political programme of Alero and the particular vision of the Guatemalan nation that intellectuals affiliated with the University of San Carlos developed during the twentieth century, which historian Heather Vrana has defined in her work on Guatemalan “student nationalism.”1 I argue that, through its many phases, Alero employed visual strategies including photography, photomanipulation, and photomontage in order to validate and give force to these intellectuals’ vision of the nation.
This essay centers on the photographic representation of indigenous people in Alero. I place these images in conversation with developments in indigenista scholarship as well as with preceding models for the imaging of indigeneity in Guatemala. I argue, first, that photographs in Alero challenged previous visual models by foreclosing access to ethnographic details and by emphasizing the arduousness of agricultural labor. Alero presented images of indigenous people in aesthetically innovative ways, displaying a clear interest in abstraction and formal play, and including them in vanguardist forms such as photomontages. At the same time, these photographs were conditioned by the intellectual environment they emerged from and therefore conformed to the very specific understanding of indigeneity that indigenista scholars developed at this time. Images that made visible those aspects that the indigenistas considered inherent to indigeneity – poverty, especially, and its roots in the country’s economic dependency – thus granted credibility and power to USAC social scientists’ vision of the nation’s ethnic, social, and economic character.
1 Vrana, Heather. This City Belongs to You: A History of Student Activism in Guatemala, 1944-1996. California: University of California Press, 2017.
Toward Feminist Poetics in Central America: Articulations of Desire in the Work of Patricia Belli
Lesdi C. Goussen Robleto, PhD candidate, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley
This talk foreshadows the first chapter of my dissertation, “(Un)Mending Bodies: Patricia Belli and Feminist Artistic Praxis in Central America, 1986-2000s,” by situating Patricia Belli’s return to Nicaragua in 1987, amidst the ongoing U.S-backed Contra War and feminist tensions in the public sphere. Tending to shifts within her practice, I consider how Belli’s return is marked by formal and thematic transitions between painting and writing that foreground a dialogic relationship between body and text. Going against the ethos of the Sandinista revolution and the entanglements between masculinist literature and nationalistic painting traditions that had emerged in the preceding decades, Belli introduces a highly charged visual and textural language that unravels revolutionary aesthetics by challenging mediums of official memory. By mobilizing a series of short stories alongside drawings and paintings during this period, this talk explores the ways in which the erotic becomes a counter-revolutionary instrument for self-determination that takes shape along the textures of the body within the everyday, revealing the liminal and intimate spaces in domestic life that create apertures for pleasure and experimentation by disrupting normative structures and behavioral codes. These openings are also marked by somatics of pain and processes of healing that are rooted in mechanisms of the body, and most specifically articulated through epidermic surfaces and allusions to textile. Taking these dialogic threads as my point of departure, I am interested in how Belli’s works align with rising feminist discourses and literary practices in Nicaragua, including the emergence of autonomous feminist groups, such as the “Partido de la Izquierda Erótica” (Party of the Erotic Left, PIE) in the late 1980s, which challenged the masculinist discourse of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) by foregrounding women as agents of their own bodies and political agendas. These efforts pay homage to earlier feminist practices in the region by citing the Guatemalan poet, Ana María Rodas, whose work Poemas de la Izquierda Erotica directly influences the emergence of PIE.1 Through Belli’s interventions between painting and literature, text and the body, and feminine and feminist forms, I also begin to explore the centrality of (text)iles in her work, as it becomes entangled with the work of other Central American women artists mobilizing feminist poetics at the intersections of the body, text, and textiles.
1 Miguel A. López, “Patricia Belli and the Political Alchemy of The Body: Art and Feminism Between Revolution and Neoliberalism,” in Patricia Belli: Equilibrio y Colapso (San José, Costa Rica: TEOR/ética, 2018), 36.