Foundation of an image: visual dominance

Under the sign of self-definition, in an evident desire to assume the sense of the own in its condition of the different, and to advance toward the reencounter with the Dominican cultural personality, the inaugural artistic process was oriented in the plastic arts during the late nineteenth century and the first decades of the last century, under the sign of a continuity without abrupt ruptures in its visual universe. 

The process was revealed by the way in which the complex sequence of historical and social events had generated a cultural framework, also complex, in the ethnoracial and psycho-social levels, with clear repercussions for its aesthetic-artistic expressions.

In the insular Spanish Caribbean, the Dominican Republic was the first country to obtain its independence (1844). However, before and after this date, the nation lived through conspiracies and liberation tasks in unusual circumstances in relation to other Antillean territories, such as the more than twenty years of Haitian domination, which created a status of permanent unrest between both neighboring nations. . After independence, new campaigns and movements in the interior of the country motivated the request for annexation of the old metropolis in 1861 by the oligarchic sector, while a few years later the so-called Restorative War (1863) meant the abandonment of the territory by the Spanish. The struggle for the constitution of the Republic was intense throughout the nineteenth century and characterized - to a large extent - the enormous instability of those years and the appearance of other political and economic vicissitudes that the very young Republic went through at the beginning of the last century. with the entry into the Dominican scene of the United States in 1916. In the words of Max Henríquez Ureña, “the Dominican Republic, under American military occupation, has been practically suppressed as a nation. There can be no nation where there is no sovereignty "

The complexity of these processes gave the Dominican culture a special sensitivity to the patriotic event, which was revealed with a marked tendency in the visual arts towards local issues, and especially towards the historical ones. On the other hand, how were the plastic arts placed before, according to words of Marcio Veloz Maggiolo, "a miscegenation that includes old African, Spanish, and indigenous histories, as if it represented the ideal genetic mixture that should be the Dominican and Antillean model"? 2 This ethno-racial aspect created another polemical dimension for that founding moment of the Dominican arts, precisely in the sense of how to reveal that mestizo society in which the spirit of the new nation was also centered.

Other controversial axes appeared associated with the own contradictions that the events had generated in the Dominican psycho-social constitution in terms of the neighboring Haitianity, which was the carrier of a threatening and contemptuous charge installed in the national collective imaginary, whereas the Hispanic was claimed as belonging by the dominant sector. That polarity was sealed by the contrast of the color of the skin: the black identified as Haitian and the white as of Spanish origin.
On this subject, Veloz Maggiolo himself mentions other areas of conflict, which states: "Suddenly it was wanted (for the sake of a Spanishness that was synonymous with the people to create their own beliefs and cultural values, a rampant racism and outdated) erase a long process and unify the Dominicans around ideals of Spanish historical greatness that the great majority of the people did not know ".

The investigation in the past, "which sought roots in a historical awareness", 4 has said Danilo De los Santos, also gave birth to an indigenismo that had strong roots in literature and the arts. In this way, what was intended as an integrating notion, the mestizo, revealed new confrontations in the spheres of social and cultural thought in the Dominican Republic. Reaching the visuality of this miscegenation was presented as an area of ​​cultural tensions that had to be explored from the multiple prevailing prejudices and to distinguish a collective sensibility, based on the popular, as a support for the nutritional sources of Dominicanness from the creole universe , that gradually investigated its image to build the national versions. It was a cultural process that encompassed other spheres of thought and creation.

In general, in the visual arts during the XNUMXth century and the first years of the XNUMXth, the European paradigmatic model took over, with an interesting aspect in the Dominican case: that of an academicism without an Academy. Few artists were trained in European countries and they were mostly self-taught. The first school of painting and drawing in the country was founded by the Spanish artist José Fernández Corredor without the rigid and demanding criteria of art academies, according to the European benchmark. Some Dominicans created their own schools with a similar character. They acted as teachers and formed artistic workshops. And although the works of some reveal certain characteristics that allude to other styles or tendencies of European art - such as the impressionist insinuations in the work of Luis Desangles, for example -, in the words of Danilo De los Santos, it was "by evolution professional more than by the influence of the French school ”.

It was a path followed by artists from the models that defined the concept of fine arts in the history of art and a type of reception that extended well into the last century and then began - gradually and with greater force - a modern plastic process that became more and more intense and coherent. A spirit of national preservation strongly permeated the society and all this was verified in the prevailing taste of the sector that was the comitente and consumer of these visual expressions. The elitist and hedonistic scheme of the plastic arts, according to the canons of the predominantly Hispanic tradition and in some authors also of French origin, was equivalent to distinguishing legitimized art. Doing it as in Europe opened the way to the very existence of the fine arts in our historically dependent countries, in which other visual productions were excluded from the systems of artistic values.

However, in the creators who began the foundational process of the plastic arts, all that language was revealed useful to distinguish the allegories of the new Republic, as occurs in the Dream of Juan Pablo Duarte (1890), made by Luis Desangles (1861 - 1940), or to revere the patronal meanings of Catholic religiosity in the Virgen de la Altagracia (1895), by Alejandro Bonilla (1820-1901). The interesting thing is that, in both pieces, that founding Dominicanness is evident by the way of establishing the contrast that is not expressed - yet - sensibly, in the how but in the what, in the expression of something own and different than It was where the gaze of the artists was directed, which in its time was of great scope. For his part, Abelardo Rodríguez Urdaneta (1870-1933) –from a more immediate historical perspective– testified in a striking work due to its expressive force, the moment of August 1916 when the battleship Memphis, of the United States Navy, he was surprised by "a sudden swell [that] threw the ship with unusual violence against the coastal reefs." In frank allusion to that event, El Memphis y el Castine (1917) is an interesting example of an updated perspective –artically– of Dominican themes, as were those where Enrique García Godoy (1886-1947) was inspired by a free and unprejudiced way in the simple beauty of the Dominican woman, concentrating more on her than on the spaces or attributes that distinguished her due to her social condition. Meanwhile, new visions of the landscape and nature showed a reality that was beginning to be novel on the artistic and social level.

 Taken from the Book Braiding a History in Progress, Contemporary Dominican Art in the Context of the Caribbean

Yolanda Wood, Historian, critic and Art Researcher.
Full professor at the University of Havana

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