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Opening Remarks | Rethinking Latin American Art and Cultures


"Rethinking Latin American Art and Cultures", event organized by Alex Alberro and Graciela Montaldo (Art History Department, Columbia/Barnard and ISLAA) Participants: Rachel Price (Princeton University), Mariano Siskind (Harvard University), Pedro Erber (Cornell University), Karen Benezra (Columbia University), Daniel Quiles (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Samuel Steinberg (University of Southern California), Natalia Brizuela (University of California, Berkeley), Fernando Degiovanni (CUNY Graduate Center)

As part of the modern design of the world, Latin America has, over the last two centuries, played an active role in generating and reformulating new cultural discourses and projects that have sought to interpellate hegemonic voices. “Rethinking Latin American Art and Cultures” will explore decisive moments in this history by focusing on geopolitical relations and cultural articulations between modern centers of aesthetic production and circulation. We are especially interested in rethinking the relationship between art and culture in modern Latin America with our guests, who come to us from a variety of disciplines and bring with them very different geopolitical expertise.

What was our starting point? We knew that thinking about the idea of Latin America or “lo latinoamericano” would require us to adopt a point of view and take a position. What we tend to call “Latin America” in our research is the product of a negotiation between many agents in the cultural field; we agree that it is not an identity, but rather a position that is taken and a strategy that is adopted. For that reason, the term “Latin America” does not guarantee security, but rather and to the contrary can best be thought of as a problem that must be redefined situationally.

It was difficult for Latin America to become Latin American studies, that is, to become a field of study. As a marginal corner of international humanism, Latin American studies began their life “backwards.” They fought to enter the humanities at a time when the humanities were identified with the matrix of belles lettres and the fine arts. In literature, the “pariente pobre” (poor relative) of peninsular studies, they were eclipsed by the always unattainable model of the Spanish Golden Age. And peninsular studies, with the exception of the Golden Age, were themselves the “pariente pobre” among European studies.

Latin American studies, in general, had to develop specific strategies in order to constitute a field that could survive within the humanities, an area from which Latin American studies seemed “naturally” excluded. What was—and is—interesting is that in overcoming a lack of humanist values and no so much recognized aesthetic/cultural status in the past, Latin American studies developed a strengthened transdisciplinary and political (politicized) perspective. The resulting intersections gave rise to the challenge of interpreting new places of enunciation. This was probably the advantage of having developed outside of traditional humanism, and of having been seen—and disparaged—as the product of constant efforts on the construction of community.

But the idea of Latin America and “lo latinoamericano” was not problematized just in academia; it has also become a complex “framework” for consumption of a wide array of products by different social sectors: music, food, art, literature, tourism, and fashion. The analysis of the construction of these “tastes” and cultural values entails considering the characteristics of all those “works” in combination with institutional and market interests. And what we find when we examine these combinations is that these intersections encompass very different things within a general category that is itself undergoing a constant process of assembly and reassembly. We believe that one of our challenges is to try to understand, together, this new global demand and its relationships to a sophisticated tradition in permanent discussion with what lies outside it.

In this sense, we think that we must be able to understand our activity as a practice more than a discipline. Rather than describe that practice, we want to position it as something that occurs in academia but can only defend itself through its relationship to the outside, including what is outside of itself. It is our hope that this afternoon provides us the opportunity to think through some of the questions that are posed by the aesthetics and cultural productions of a Latin America that exists within and beyond its territory.

We have invited notable scholars from very different fields and cultural experiences to this discussion so that we might together debate and continue to question our work.

Last Updated 1 year ago


Graciela Montaldo, « Opening Remarks | Rethinking Latin American Art and Cultures », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on October 3, 2015. Full URL for this article

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