Art Imitates Art: “La nuit espagnole” in Lower Manhattan

A small group of artists decided to run with the concept of multimedia performance in a show called “La nuit espagnole: Flamenco and the Spanish Vanguard” in the Between The Seas Festival in Lower East Side Manhattan (DROM) on July 24, 2013.

I attended virtually from my laptop since it was streamed live. This was not equal to witnessing this event live since the image was blurry and it was hard to see some of the performers’ expressions. They also did not capture the projections of art work on which this mélange was based. However, the sound was quite good.

The show was an interpretation in music,  dance and images of the “La noche española” exhibition at the Reina Sofia in Madrid from December 2007- March 2008. (For more information on that exhibition: )

The performers for the evening were: Anna Tonna, a lovely mezzo-soprano, Rebeca Tomás, flamenco dancer, Anna de la Paz, dancer, María de los Angeles Rubio, pianist, Pedro Cortés, guitarist, and Barbara Martinez, flamenco singer.

The dancers were phenomenal. I studied flamenco in New York City, so I know how challenging it is to get your “roll” on the castanets and to coordinate arms and legs while playing an instrument. Unlike some other dances, feet do one thing and arms and hands do something else. It takes training to build up the muscles in the legs and feet. The feet function as another instrument, providing a contrasting rhythm, “zapateo” in the special flamenco shoes. Head, expression and carriage are extremely important to reflect a Spanish style and stance.

It was surprising to see a female dancer dressed in pants and vest, and dancing a farruca, which is traditionally danced by men. This reminded me how far Spain has come in bending traditional gender roles, from the Franco era. At that time women’s behavior was tightly modeled and controlled. Nowadays there are even female toreadores! (bullfighters).


“Córdoba,” by Celeste Mann 2012

Both singers sang with gusto and technique and expression appropriate to their genres. Even though there was a mix of music—from popular/folk/flamenco to the opera/ballet of Manuel de Falla and the “Córdoba” of Albéniz, the music blended well from one number to the next. This attests to the very strong dance rhythms inherent in Spain’s musical traditions. De Falla was also inspired by popular/folk music (i.e. Siete Canciones Populares) and elements of “cante jondo” from flamenco singing are evident in his operas and ballets.

One can view the show at the DROM website. It won’t be live but it will give you a little taste of Spain, wherever you are!

Related Links: (Julian Bream playing “Córdoba”)


Eating Garbage in “Lixo Extraordinário” (Wasteland) — Documentary

             Cuban art critic, historian and curator, Gerardo Mosquera,  has made a career of defining Latin American Art. In articles and conferences he recognizes and explains Brazilian modernist, Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófogo” (Cannibalistic Manifesto), yet asserts that “Antropofogia” is no more and that it was a temporary movement that no longer fits contemporary Brazilian art.  According to Mosquera, Brazilian art has outgrown it and has become globalized, universal and abstract.  He also asserts that this cannibalism has negatives that have not been explored enough in more than 70 years, since its inception in 1922. Instead, antropofogia has been considered a positive way for Brazilian (and Latin American as a whole) artists to justify their use of imitation as a form of post-colonial resistance against the colonizer, the “center/metropolis” or the European/United States model. I translate that Mosquera cautions: Following the cannibalism metaphor, it is necessary to highlight the digestive battle that is implicit in this relationship: sometimes the consequences are addiction, constipation, or worse yet, diarrhea.” (Contra el arte latinoamericano:entrevista, 2009  latinoamericano.html)

Nevertheless, Vik Muniz’  “pictures of garbage” is a 21st century example, par excellence, of Andrade’s “antropofogia,” (cannibalism).  It takes discarded items that are the culmination of years of colonization, imperialism and environmental degradation, involves some of the most marginalized people in Rio de Janeiro, parodies beloved paragons of European art, and combines them all to make a new Brazilian aesthetic. The artists figuratively ingest the garbage, transform it, and excrete it in the form of high art that revitalizes the lives of several individuals living on the margins of Brazilian society, making their livings by picking through the toxic refuse of an entire city.

A few years ago, Muniz, who now lives in New York City, decided to do an art project that would involve the people in a certain space and transform them through the art itself. He did not know what the result would be but he desired to give back to his Brazilian people with this project. In the documentary he states that he was ready to do art that would affect other people directly. He no longer needed to buy things or concern himself with money. He had immigrated to the United States after being shot in Brazil (and subsequently receiving a monetary settlement), and had made a good artistic career in New York City. In 1996 his exhibition  “Sugar Children”, photographs of Caribbean children filled with sugar, got him noticed.

The documentary, “Lixo Extraordinário” or in English, “Wasteland”, is the story of this contemporary Brazilian artist and several landfill pickers in Rio de Janeiro.  One should note that the title in Portuguese is optimistic and inspirational, while the English is not—it is the opposite.  A direct translation would be “Extraordinary Garbage”, which in fact, it is. It is turned into beautiful art and results in a lot of money and personal transformation for the artists. The protagonist of the documentary, the landfill Jardim Gramacho, closed in June 2012, but for some 30 years had been one of the biggest and most toxic dumps in the world.  In his project, Muniz recycles garbage into stunning works that garner a high price in the contemporary art world. The pieces are auctioned off in London in 2010, earning thousands of dollars each. The pickers in the documentary are forever changed by their own work as artists, the dignity that they feel because Muniz values them and their work, and by the money that the artworks earned—it all goes back to the pickers, including money earned by the documentary. This is “Antropofogia” or artistic cannibalism at its finest.  Moreover, it clearly shows how one individual can make change in the world, and how art can transform people.

For this project Muniz chose Jardim Gramacho because he saw the potential in the garbage/recyclables and realized that the people who work there are some of the most desperate in the city. When he arrives he meets and selects subjects who later he poses in traditional ways. Some of these poses are direct “rip-offs” from famous European art. Antropogia at work: “eating the European and transforming it into something Brazilian.” (my interpretation of Oswald de Andrade). His subjects are Brazilians in a disgusting dump, and once he takes the photos, they are blown up to a gargantuan size. The pickers then fill in the photos with scraps and recyclables. Finally, another photo is taken of each and that is the finished piece. Muniz and the pickers transform refuse that others have thrown away into striking works of art that are auctioned off for high prices and also exhibited in Europe and in Brazil.

Equally significant is the exhibition of “Pictures of Garbage” at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro.  The pickers who collaborated in the works attend. Usually most pickers at a dump in the “Baixada” area of Rio de Janeiro would not have the time or the money to travel into the city to see exhibitions at this museum. The museum space itself is enlarged and classes/social statuses are leveled and equalized by this exposition—in terms of the work exhibited as well as the type of individual who views it.  Muniz is the catalyst that encourages these pickers/artists, to rediscover themselves and rethink who they are–they are more than their dirty job—they are people, humans, who have been undervalued—by themselves and society.

“tupi or not tupi, that is the question.” (Manifesto Antropófogo, Oswald de Andrade)

Just as Oswald de Andrade plays with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, subverting Shakespeare with indigenous culture and also word pun in English, the original meaning remains under the parody:  is a life of challenges and hardships worth it? “Pictures of Garbage” and Lixo Extraordinário demonstrate that it is. 

SOURCES: (Manifesto antropófogo e Manifesto da poesia pau-brasil, Oswald de Andrade) (Del Arte Latinoamericano al arte desde America Latina) (Adios a la antropofagia)

Arráncame la vida – film

Music is weaved into the drama of this film which is  based on the novel by Angeles Mastretta. The title of the movie is also the title of a famous song by Mexican composer/singer Augustín Lara. This song is  sung in the film by a “famous” singer. At this point the protagonist, Catalina (played by Ana Claudia Talancón) sings along and this annoys her “caudillo” husband. 

Breathtakingly beautiful, Catalina catches the eye of a General (Daniel Giménez Cacho) early on. She was only 15 when the General took her on a trip to the beach, and is her first lover. At this time in the early 20th century  this is a bit strange but Catalina is attracted to the General. She doesn’t know what she will do with her life so she goes along with the General’s subsequent marriage proposal. Little does she know of his past and his ambitions that later make her abhor the sight of him.

Music appears again in the form of “Cielito lindo.” This is a favorite song of Catalina’s father. Carlos, the orchestra conductor, uses it to publicly woo the married Catalina, unbeknownst to her husband Andrés (General) who is now Governor.

Drifting in and out of the period cinematography, is the theme song, Danzon No. 2 by Mexican composer, Arturo Marquéz. For the music alone, this is  a lovely historical romance. (Director: Roberto Sneider, Mexico 2008).