Artist as Witness
Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture
After creating a substantial corpus of art that was political in the sense that the female body and social justice are political, but which had not dealt with national politics, the Colombian painter Débora Arango (1907–2005) embarked on an extended series of works that chronicled and critiqued politics and politicians during the undeclared civil war known as la Violencia (c. 1946 to 1965). This essay examines Arango's first five paintings about the national politics of Colombia and, by
... n, the role of the artist as witness. Arango's earliest political paintings represent the Liberal politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the rioting that erupted after his assassination in Bogotá on April 9, 1948, and the government's suppression of Liberal rebels in Antioquia. This essay documents her personal connection to Gaitán, considers the cultural politics of the era, places the paintings in historical context, and analyzes the stylistic changes and international sources Arango employed to visualize the abuse of power. The undated watercolor Gaitán (by 1948), which portrays the politician speaking to a vast, enthusiastic crowd, is the only political painting she ever created that does not criticize its subject. After Gaitán's murder she switched to a more expressionistic visual language to condemn the violence that followed, first in Masacre del 9 de abril, then in three paintings that depict the transport of rebels in railroad boxcars in ways that evoke the Holocaust. The five images are the matrix from which her incisive political satire of the 1950s evolved.