Spanish Influences on Latin American Art (at the LACMA)

As a Los Angeles based blogger and student, I am blessed to be immersed in an amazing art scene. Though I have yet to really explore deep into the current art culture of this city, I have been able to visit the well-known local museums. One of which is the highly famed Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA. Upon my visit today I was able to tag along for a tour of the Latin American Art rooms. This has always been a cultural interest of mine, but I have yet to take any classes on any specific region south of the United States.

This specific tour, led by a docent named Judith Benson, dealt primarily with the changes seen in Latin American art at the time of the Spaniard conquistador conquests (started around 1519 in Mexico). She lead us through the four rooms, starting with the native Mesoamerican pieces and some primary examples of native Mexican narratives (done through pictures). As we proceeded to the second room she showed us a few different pieces that were made to show the Spaniards back home how the “new world” civilizations are adjusting to their arrival. They depicted diversely featured people, due to their multicultural genetic makeup. This shows us how the natives of that area were marrying and procreating with not only the new Spaniards but also peoples from Africa that wound up there (Morifca was the name given to peoples of both African and Spanish makeup). A key identifier for who has cultural roots with what region, is their clothing. These paintings clearly exemplify a region by their wardrobe, and some even label at the bottom the nationalities of the family members pictured. Through these pieces we can see the spread of the conquistador’s ideas and mannerisms.

Their ideas spread further as religion takes root and inspires artists to create in new ways by narrating various biblical readings. There are several religious, more specifically Catholic, paintings done by natives. They are proof of how the ideals of Catholicism, which the Spaniards set out to “enlighten” the natives with, did stick. It is logical to assume that the natives, at least to an extent, did convert to and practice Catholic traditions. One religious piece that Judith pointed out to us was a late 17th century painting (by an unknown artist(s)) titled “La Educacion de la Virgin” which depicts exactly what the title says (“The Education of the Virgin”). Not only was the subject of this piece influenced by the Spaniards, but the media used to create it was as well. Inlaid into the paint you can see the luminous effects of shells. Shells were commonly used to decorate the outside of wooden boxes, but using them as a detail in a painting was a new and innovative concept. This particular piece used Mother of Pearl to create a dazzling aura to their sacred subject. This painting hangs as a beautiful example of what the crossing over of ideas and cultures can produce.

The conquistadors wiped out what is thought to be close to 90% of the original Latin American population, due to occurrences such as war, the spreading of disease, overworking etc. It wasn’t until about 300 years after the Spaniards arrival that Latin America gained its independence. From there we see further shifts in styles of art as the regions reestablish their economic and social definitions of what their culture means. Though the conquest did not always paint a “pretty picture” there is no denying that the actual paintings derived from this time period did.


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