Gerardo Mosquera: Beyond the fantastic, contemporary art criticism from Latin America

Book review

Edited by Gerardo Mosquera, Cuban historian and art critic, the anthology, Beyond the Fantastic, presents the most important art criticism of the past ten years written "from" Latin America. This criticism has shaped a vision that goes beyond the notion of the fantastic, the 'bad' name that Andre Breton gave to Latin American art.

Today's Latin American art boom started in the 1980s and has to do mainly with the imperatives of postmodern aesthetics. The success of some of Latin American artists like Ana Mendieta, Andres Serrano , Kcho or Meyer Vaisman, is no more than a reflection of a "tutelary" access to the mainstream, the power structures of a self-appointed hegemonic culture, on the part of a group of artists who are not amongst those who produce and support what is considered "mainstream" art.

This publication in English is, in the first place, of enormous interest because it brings plural and independent voices to the centre-periphery debate-a debate which is still discussed exclusively in terms of centredness and ethnocentrism. In the same way, this corpus of essays provide an update of Latin America's own critical discourse of the 1960s and 1970s, which was strongly influenced by Marxism and dependency theories, and it avoids simple and Manichean interpretations. In the third place, these writings clearly go beyond the purely visual by taking into account socio-cultural, indigenists, popular, postmodern and feminist issues. Beyond the Fantastic is important then and not just because it represents a serious revision of our notions of the multicultural issues which are of crucial significance to us all.

We should remind ourselves at this stage that the artistic creations of the "others", that is, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania have always been interpreted by the Western artistic canon in terms of duality. Notions of Centre – periphery (or North-South if you will) reality – fantasy, independent art – political art and (post)modern art – primitive art basically shape the different viewpoints of the said analysis. And in the middle of it all is the myth of “the good savage". Today this canon, as Mosquera points out in his introduction, is breaking down from within as a consequence of a questioning of old values, a questioning underpinned by the enormous pressures brought to bear by culturally diverse groups including homosexuals, feminists and ethnic minorities, in their search for a 'piece of the cake'. Also, the increase in migratory movement, as well as the consolidation of Latin American communities in the United States have contributed to the displacement of that perspective, which in its turn results in a displacement of key concepts in the dominant language. If resistance, socialisation, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and revolution were the ingredients that marked the earlier rhetoric, today's dialogue has opened the doors to concepts like mestizaje (the racial and cultural mix of European, Indian and African descendants typical of Latin American society), hybridisation, re-articulation, decentralisation, negotiation, margins, borders and appropriation.

The writings of Nestor Garcfa Canclini ("Modernity after Postmodernity"), Gabriel Peluffo Linari ("Crisis of an Inventory"), Paulo Herkenhoff ("The Void and the Dialogue in the Western Hemisphere"), Tomas Ybarra-Frausto ("The Chicano Movement/The Movement of Chicano Art"), George Yudice ("Transnational Cultural Brokering of Art") , Carolina Ponce de Le6n ("Random Trails for the Noble Savage"), Andrea Giunta ("Strategies of Modernity in Latin America"), Nelly Richard ("Chile, Women and Dissidence"), Mirko Lauer ("Populist Ideology and lndigenism: A Critique") or Ticio Escobar ("Issues in Popular Art") bring into question the complex relationship between the hegemonic centre and the periphery, a periphery fragmented into thousands of pieces where art, contrary to what happens in the First World, is intimately intertwined with its socio-cultural and political situation.

Once again we should look back at (art) history not in anger but in surprise. If at the beginning of the century and the naissance of the vanguard, artists like Picasso , Gauguin and Brancusi searched for a formal and aesthetic but in no way a philosophical-renovation of their vocabulary in primitive and exotic artefacts, nowadays we also experience a similar process of de-contextualisation and 'ornamentalisation' of peripheral art. The notion of the new, which has been one of the most important motivating factors in art throughout the twentieth century, is still as valid as ever and provokes a methodic and cruel pillage in the search for primitive cultures' bearers of the spiritual and the spontaneous in humankind-"the good savage", which will rejuvenate a Western world whose veins have been adulterated by postmodern and neo-liberal shots.

And although the mainstream has become more accessible for artists like Jaar, Bedia, Serrano, Kuitca, Kcho, Vaisman or Alvarez, there is nothing that indicates that in the short term the rhetoric and the mechanisms of power will be the subject of significant change. On the contrary, the mainstream will absorb and swallow all exotic and even dissident artistic production, guided by a post-post madness.

The only thing that remains for us to do is to re-write our own history. Because, as Mosquera points out, alongside globalisation and decentralisation, poverty remains the same. And he has not yet heard of "postmodern poverty". But I'm sure this concept will make his fortune ...