Pablo Puig, Staff Writer
There seems no better way to truly understand people than through their art.
And so, to better appreciate the many-faceted gem of Latino culture on this Hispanic Heritage Month, why not become familiar with a few of its artworks and artists?
But where to begin? Much like Spain and other Hispanic countries, our art has no shortage of influences and effects. Spain’s Golden Age had all artistic mediums flourish. In literature, there was Lope de Vega, Spain’s Shakespeare whose literary output was both profound and prolific. Other notable works include “Lazarillo de Tormes”, the first picaresque novel and a forerunner to stories like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and “Don Quixote”, a staple of Hispanic culture often distinguished as “a founding work of Western canon”, “the first modern novel” and even “the greatest literary work ever written”. Painting saw “El Greco” (the Greek), an artist that defies categorization, and Diego Velazquez, a model for both contemporary and modern artists and whose “Las Meninas” (The Ladies-in-waiting) is one of the most widely analyzed works of Western painting. Though less renowned, Spanish music, sculpture and architecture also underwent significant advances during both the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Beyond the Golden Age and Spain itself, one can look to any Hispanic context and discover great artistry. There was Pablo Neruda, Chile’s national poet and a diplomat in various countries, whose efforts in both peace and literature won international regard. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a founder of magical realism and the Latin American Boom, is often held as one of the greatest writers of the 20thCentury, Spanish canon, and his homeland of Colombia. Mexico’s notable artists include: Frida Kahlo, who survived impalement by iron bar to become a renowned painter focused on nationalist and indigenous traditions, as well as feminist and LGBTQ+ themes; Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz, the Spanish Empire’s most widely published poet; Octavio Paz, another poet-diplomat whose efforts in both fields have had international influence and recognition; and Carlos Fuentes, widely admired, translated and published as novelist and essayist, whose final Twitter post read, “There must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.” Although Fuentes addressed all humanity with this message, he also touched upon one of the largest cornerstones of the Hispanic psyche.
As with most peoples, war has left its scars on all Hispanics. Four Spanish literary movements – known as the Generations of ‘98, ’27, ’36 and ’50 – were defined by how each crop of artists reacted to any of several conflicts, including the Spanish-American War, the Spanish Civil War, and the two World Wars. In Latin America, all sovereign nations have suffered military dictatorships, leaving a stamp of blood on their identities. Artists in these countries, near-universally dissenting voices, have endured persecution, exile, arrest, censorship and assassination. Neruda’s death is now suspected as orchestrated by Augusto Pinochet’s regime. Federico Garcia Lorca, youngest and emblematic member of the ’27 Generation, was assassinated by Nationalist forces at the Spanish Civil War’s beginning; his body’s location is unknown.
But there may be no greater example for the indomitability of Hispanic artistry than Miguel Hernandez. An artist of Spain’s ’27 and ’36 Generations, he was repeatedly arrested for his anti-fascist sentiments. Although his death sentence was reduced to a lengthy prison term by Neruda’s diplomatic intervention, Hernandez died of tuberculosis in 1942, scrawling his final verse on the wall next to his bed: Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends: let me take my leave of the sun and the fields. Powerful as that is, I prefer another poem of his: “Nanas de la cebolla” (Onion Lullaby). Possibly his best known work, it is a reply to a letter from his wife in which he learned that she survived on bread and onions. In the Onion Lullaby, Hernandez envisions his son breastfeeding on his wife’s “onion blood”, harnessing the harrowing reality into a work that poignantly contrasts despair and hope, twin emotions that humanity knows all too well.
Though the catalogue of Hispanic artistry can be browsed in further extent, there are simply too many to give them all their due time or credit. This article would never end if I were to discuss in any detail: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Diego Rivera, Francisco Goya, Miguel de Unamuno, Luis López Nieves, Mario Vargas Llosa, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Luis Buñuel, Pedro Almodóvar, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, Carlos Santana, et cetera.
There is truly no end to the talent of Hispanics. Pick a medium, and throw a dart; there will be someone and something worth examining.