Magical Realism: The Force Behind Latin American Art (Part One)
From deep within the Hispanic culture and history to modern day storytelling, fantasy has always been there to connect the mundane with the cosmos.
Latin American culture was birthed from a mixture of European and Indigenous beliefs. As Conquistadors worked to eliminate the traditions of the Mayas, Incas, Yanomamis (and many more) there was an intellectual blend. During the discovery of the New World and well into the Enlightenment, the Indigenous people embraced myths to explain the universe, while the Europeans encouraged Catholicism, science, and history. The two ways of living inevitably became intertwined. Even with the strict grip of colonialism, stories of fantasy and fiction survived. Used as coping mechanisms, these intense tales of hope, sacrifice, and sorcery revived their Indigenous predecessors to emphasize the magic within everyday life.
These stories still influence our art today.
This is magical realism.
A genre that taints every art medium, magical realism uses fantastical elements to excite audiences. Unlike other forms of fiction, this storytelling format thrives off using mundane observations to enhance the surreal experience. Contemporary fiction sticks to mythology, but ignores the realistic events of the outside world. It’s fun and creative, but lacking. There is a call to bring back the real world in order to give the most entertaining opportunity of all: the chance for everyone to be enchanted with life.
The surreality ties with history to give events a new form of expression. The origins of magical realism can be seen through the eyes of Spanish artist, Francisco Goya. Los caprichos, a series of some of his most famous works, represent the foolishness and realities of Spanish society in the late 1700s. He doesn’t display this perspective with a distorted portrait of a noble or a castle in flames, but with demon-like animals that invade realistic settings. Goya introduces a world that is visible through the imagination.
Contemporary artists do so as well. Although not as influenced by societal changes or politics, magical realism still provides the mind-bending images that make the works unique. Rob Gonsalves, a Canadian artist, creates visuals that question what is real and what is not? To do so, makes the viewer an active audience where the relationships formed are more personal.
This is the beautiful potential of the wondrous style.
Messages behind the works aren’t absent, they’re just more ambiguous. The personal interpretations are what lead to the connections between the art and what is behind it.
The Birth of Art Behind a Dying Country
Venezuela is facing a lot of political chaos. With a hyperinflation that has left the economy in shambles, people are dying of hunger and diseases. Refugees are traveling to Colombia by the thousands to escape the negligence of Nicolás Maduro, and people are demanding change. Although political opposition has been silenced by the military within the nation, people are resilient. Instead of protesting, they’re resorting to art as a form of rebellion.
From music to photography, the expression is resonant around the world. Digital Artist, Lismeth Pesce, also known as Capricuario, uses her experiences to create images that burst with color and magical elements. She has created multiple visual representations in support of peace and hope in her native country. It’s about bringing the people together to create a better future through peace rather than violence. Pesce combined the modern background of a torn city with the freedom of Lady Justice to represent her views on the social change that needs to happen.
The importance behind art and magic is that it emphasizes the optimistic view of what change can bring: a place where people are humanely treated and can return to living a good life in their homes.
The Truth Behind the Impossible
Latin American literature has a strong influence from magical realism. An award-winning short story anthology, Opio en Las Nubes by Rafael Chaparro Madiedo, is a prime example of just how prominent this style of storytelling is. Although edging on absurdism, many of the stories reveal the author’s sentiments towards disparity, inequity, and the pathological. Madiedo uses the creative perspectives to look at regular, dull things.
Then, there is the renowned writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Most, if not all, of his works include fantasy. There is this one particular short that serves as a wonderful metaphor. In “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” a family finds a strange person in their yard. It quickly becomes a spectacle in the neighborhood that ignites an ignorance of who or what the man is. An epidemic of hysteria takes over. People demand to kill it, and at the last second it flies away. Through his tale, Marquez wanted to inform his readers that society is quick to destroy, which it doesn’t understand.
“Look up “magical realism” in the dictionary, and it’ll describe a literary style incorporating fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction. Colombia is where it began. And anyone who’s spent real time here knows why. It’s a place where the bizarre shakes hands with the inexplicable on a daily basis. But just like in the novels of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, the weird shit usually pops off at certain critical moments. When the whole place is on edge. When everything’s about to change.” – Steve Murphy
José Rivera, a Puerto Rican playwright from New York City, wrote a production known as Marisol. Diving into an urban apocalypse, Rivera creates a realistic world for the divine—where Angels go to war. Marisol is a young writer who is warned about a religious revolution in the Bronx by her guardian angel. After the creature’s visit, Marisol then journeys through the streets of the city to realize that danger is around every corner: angels become men with guns; a homeless man is in a wheelchair because of his wounds; and a woman is beaten for exceeding her credit. The realization that the battles of heaven take place in the real world connects the godly to the accustomed.
Rivera uses magical realism because it connects his world in New York to his Puerto Rican heritage. He creates a universe where he can criticize and exaggerate the observations he makes, whilst also having the ability to express himself in ways that encourages others to use their imagination.
“I was exploring my cultural heritage by writing in a new form, employing the myths and legends of my grandparents. That was a real liberation for me.” – José Rivera
Magical realism progressed from paper into the visual arts; this led to its upswing in cinema.