Monday, August 20, 2007

The old and the new

In looking through Tom Lehman's pictures of PR in the 40's and 50's, I realized that some of these images were, in a way, familiar. Not because I had seen them in person, but because they are prominent in Puerto Rican art.

When country life is portrayed in art, it often has an air of romanticism. Rustic life can seem like it can bring back color to your cheeks, to promote vim and vigor. The reality can be much different. The depiction of the jíbaro in Puerto Rican art can sometimes lean towards that tendency, but in these pictures I saw that our artists oftentimes came much closer to reality than one may think. Below are some comparisons between pictures from Lehman's collection, and works of art by Puerto Rican artists.

Left: Rafael Tufiño, Cortador de caña, 1951

Right: Amolando, undated

Left: Rafael Tufiño, Goyita, 1953

Right: Woman with hoe, 1944-1947

Left: Rafael Tufiño, Vita cola, 1961

Right: Girl in pink dress in front of house, 1950's

The images in the paintings may seem somewhat nostalgic to a boricua, because the evoke another time and another way of life - one that our grandparents may still tell stories about. But a closer look reveals a kinship with reality which may be a bit softened by memory and aesthetics, but still bears resemblance to what life really looked like. The man in Amolando could be the same man as in Cortador de caña; not only is the job the same, but so are the surroundings, the attire, and the sense in both images of back-breaking work. Goyita (who is actually Tufiño's mother) shares the same skin color and look of determination as the Woman in Woman with hoe. Skin color in PR is varied, and the issues faced by those with dark skin were not only very close to Tufiño's experience, they were ones he chose to explore in his works. The girls standing in front of wooden houses in the last images share a similar sense of shyness mixed with curiosity as well as a similar background.

All three paintings above were done by Rafael Tufiño. I didn't concentrate on his works solely because they're good, but because his seemed to be the most available. It was disappointingly difficult to find a good number of images of Puerto Rican art on the internet, especially by those who worked in the earlier part of the 20th century. Many artists are referenced, as are their works, but not many images are available. Even images of works by Francisco Oller, PR's pre-eminent artist and close friend of the likes of Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne, are in short supply. Oller is a painter who should be more recognized internationally, but if we don't work harder to make sure our talent shines, he will remain a footnote in the biographies of his friends.

I know that part of the sadness that the photos in Lehman's collection may evoke is a sense of loss, that not only are some of the faces and customs disappearing, but also some of our landscapes. But some of them should also serve as reminders of things we should never return to, such as the poverty of slums like El Fanguito:

But in order to show that in some way we still have the island our antepasados knew, and to perhaps show that we need to fight to preserve what is left, I would like to compare a couple of pictures I took recently to the Lehman images.

Left: Entrance to Guanica Bay, 1950's
Right: Beach, Aguadilla lighthouse, 2005

One thing we all lament is the encroachment of development on our coastline. Although we may have to search for clear coastline more than our ancestors did, we still have managed to keep some areas free of development.

Left: New hilltop house with garden and view, 1950's
Right: Casita en Moca, 2005

Just as our coastline is not all lost to the Marriots and the Hiltons, our countryside and its dwellings are not all lost to new cookie-cutter developments sprawling into once-green and lush landscape. We're more packed in, even out in the countryside, but we can still enjoy views that were also enjoyed by abuelo and abuela. Although the power cables are indeed not part of the bucolic landcascape of yore!

Left: El Morro and walls of the fort, 1950's

Right: El Morro, 2005

Lastly, we still have El Morro to protect us from pirates.

1 comment:

Olga said...

Very well said. There are things that are not in our control, but one thing is: that is to pass on to the next generations the love for our island, respect for our culture and pride in how much we have achieved.