Self-Interview on the Function of the Artist in Latin America

What is, in your opinion, being an artist today in Latin America? Is it the same as being an artist anywhere else in the Western world? Should the artist think of himself first and foremost as a universal man and then Latin American?

In my view, there is no “Man” (as abstract universal being). This “Man” is the ideal image of the Western bourgeois society; a way of sublimating a socially unique case (precisely the one that is in crisis today). In my view, a Latin American artist is, above everything, a man facing a particular situation whose hallmark is dependency. A society which is economically dependent is also culturally dependent, for it has not asserted itself in any way (this phrase also works backwards, given that we know the causes for their effects). A Latin American artist (with or without talent, this is not important in this case) is conditioned by a cultural dependency. That he himself does not like this state of affairs it not enough for him to overcome it. This will only happen through a core political process that aims to decolonize: a revolutionary process, a process of complete reversal of the situation. This is about turning everything that today is nothing but evidence of weakness into an element of power (in the sense of something that has the power of being). And this act, before taking political-cultural power, is by itself a revolutionary act, and above all, a culturally revolutionary act.

Do you currently see the role of the artist as the role of a revolutionary? Can artistic experience by itself add anything unique to political action?

Yes, inventiveness. But it so happens that artists are deformed on the inside to such a degree that, more than dominating the mechanisms of inventiveness, they are professionals of the execution of well-done pieces, pieces with preceding cultural values and which can be easily monetized.

So, is it useless to show Argentine art in Europe or the United States, to show what we are creatively doing?

If art is a way of giving image to ourselves, there can’t be a record without a previous act. The image that any civilization provides through its art has been preceded by a social process that has meant to (paradoxically) conquer its own image. For the time being, every expression of our painting that is interesting in the United States will be organized and selected by Americans. But also, if we have an exhibition of American art, it will be they themselves who will choose how they want to be shown. It is always they who choose the way of showing themselves and seeing us. And they want to see us similar to them in order to feel we are colonial, or, otherwise, just folklorically original. As long as there isn’t a revolution, we will not be able to choose our own face, and how we present ourselves to the world.

And regarding our being beneficiaries of Western culture, I believe that what is actually happening is that we have been informed that we belong to Western society. But we have done nothing to be a part of it. We are mistaking culture for information. Nowadays an artist, if he does not want to be colonial or depressed (that is to say, one who acknowledges the situation which ties him down and which he rejects, which he feels in his skin and in his paralyzing nostalgia, all of which makes him constantly reference other cultural centers), he can only be an activist of the cultural revolution and against colonial conscience.

So what is art to you then?

Art is the articulation of a culture, for we know different cultures through art. It is in this way that we know the civilizations of the past. Art is not the work, but is in it. And what is in it is the individual record of a social collective attitude.

But don’t you think that image can move and help in creating awareness?

Yes, I believe in the need of depending on every communication media in a society where they rule. But I was talking before of the image that will configure our face as a people. What I don’t believe in is worshipping the work of art. This is reduced to being artistic culture and being an article of trade. I insist: what matters is inventiveness in activism, activism for stopping being something other than what we want to be.

But you speak of activism and what is known about you is that you are not an activist of any political group

There is something in me that never changes, but has expanded in its field: the awareness that it is necessary to turn things upside down. I believe that the cultural revolution starts with oneself and that activism in the cultural revolution means trying to think and act as a Latin American man, and seeking a socialist destiny.


"Autorreportaje sobre la función del artista en América Latina", en Cuadernos de Arte Latinoamericano, con el titulo "El arte de América Latina es la Revolución", Santiago de Chile, Editorial Andrés Bello, 1973