Cuba the Elusive Nation

Interpretations of National Identity
University Press of Florida
Edited by Damian J. Fernandez
and Madeline Camara Betancourt

Lo Blanco-Criollo as lo Cubano:  The Symbolization of a Cuban National Identity in Modernist Painting of the 1940s

The self-conscious effort on the part of the Cuban educated class to define and symbolize a national cultural identity (or identities) began in earnest in the 1920s and reached a high point in the 1940s. (I use both singular and plural to note the tension between the aim for a unified national culture and the resistance of its shards to coalesce.) The interest of a middle-class elite from Havana in developing certain concepts and images to signify a national culture, supposedly for all of Cuban society, was strongly motivated by the fact that Cuba was a young republic (1902), which since its inception was often embroiled in political and economic crises. Young republics and times of political crises-not to mention the combination of both-have usually led intellectuals and artists to ask questions and find answers regarding what constitutes nationhood and cultural identity. In this more or less successful project of constructing a national cultural identity, the visual arts, especially painti!}g, played a significant role. Cuban modernist painters kept a close relationship with poets, novelists, and journalists, collaborating with the two foremost liter­ary publications of their day. The so-called 1927 generation worked closely with Revista de Avance (1927-30), and the "1938 generation" cooperated with Origenes (1944-56). These two groups of artists and writers, given their different historical contexts, privileged different con­cepts and images of lo cubano. The former favored a popular and leftist­oriented art of social commentary with emphasis on the most exploited sectors of Cuban society-the peasant and the Afro-Cuban; the latter aimed for an elitist and transcendental art with emphasis on Ibero-Cuban, or blanco-criollo, tradition. The different locations of lo cubano (the coun­tryside versus the capital, the African versus the Spanish heritage, popular versus elitist) and their shifting importance over time (the countryside and Afro-Cuban themes dominated the 1930s, the city of Havana and white Creole themes prevailed in the 1940s) suggest that Cuban modernist painters' and writers' symbolization of national cultural identity(ies), as in the case of other nations, was a subjective and selective process of con­struction and reconstruction.

Based on this premise, my essay explores the artistic symbolization of a shard of the Cuban cultural identity-the blanco-criollo ethos-as seen in 1940s modernist painting. My aim is to understand and to articulate bet­ter the complex, historically bound, and self-conscious nature of concep­tualizing and symbolizing a national cultural identity in Cuban art at a particular historical moment. The symbolization of a blanco-criollo iden­tity by the 1940s generation of artists is seen not only in their choice of subjects, but in their treatment of form. This is the first group of artists to locate lo cubano in the form, not just in the content, of their paintings. Beginning with Amelia Pelaez, some of the leading modernist painters of the 1940s-Rene Portocarrero, Mariano Rodriguez, Mario Carreno, and Cundo Bermudez-saw in colonial architectural ornamentation a seminal Cuban stylistic language, to be recuperated and transformed into per­sonal, modernist, "Cuban" styles. It was in the same architecture that these artists found the quintessential blanco-criollo theme-the colonial interior. Thus, a number of the leading modernists painters of the 1940s made the colonial homestead of the upper "criollo" families a favorite symbol in form and content of lo cubano.

Amelia Peláez
Interior with columns,1951
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Cuba

The Blanco-Criollo Identity and Tradition

"The core meaning of any individual or group identity, namely a sense of sameness over time and space, is sustained by remembering; and what is remembered is defined by the assumed identity," states the historian John R. Gillis in Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity. 1 National identities are inextricably connected to highly selective group memories, turned into traditions. The foundation stone in the conceptual and artistic construction of a blanco-criollo identity in the 1940s was remembering a particular tradition within lo cubano (that is, nineteenth-century upper­class, white, Catholic, urban, Creole culture). The physical remnants of that originating culture consisted in the 1940s of a limited body of literature, paintings, prints, architecture, and a waning way of life. At its most concrete, the recuperation of said cultural tradition took the form of ar­chitectural restoration of colonial buildings, the organization of the first major exhibition of colonial art, and studies of nineteenth-century litera­ture. In 1935, parts of the two most important plazas of Old Havana­Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza de Armas-were restored. At about the same time, studies began to appear on Cuba's colonial architecture, such asJoaqufn Weiss's classic text Arquitectura cubana colonial (1936), Martha de Castro's Contribuci6n al estudio de la arquitectura cubana (1940), and various articles by Jose Marf Bens Arrarte in Revista Arquitectura of the School of Architecture of the University of Havana. All of these publica­tions served to publicize Cuba's colonial architecture as part of the na­tional patrimony which needed to be saved and commemorated.

Rene Portocarrero
Cerro interior, 1943
Mr. and Mrs. Cernuda Collection, Miami

Whereas the colonial architecture of Havana, restored or in disrepair, represented a visible and accessible symbol of the cultural tradition in question, this was far from the case in literature, music, and the visual arts. Thus the exhibition 300 anos de arte en Cuba (Three hundred years of art in Cuba), organized by the National Institute of Fine Arts and held at the University of Havana in 1940, was a major event in the recovery of an artistic past. Cttrated primarily by the art historian Guy Perez Cisneros (who went on to write an early study of colonial painting Caracteristicas de la evoluci6n de la pintura en Cuba, finished as a dissertation in 1946 and published in 1959), the exhibition was described by the poet, essayist, and leader of the Origenes group magazine, Jose Lezama Lima, as "the first retrospective exhibition of painting ever done in our country." Then referring to a follow-up exhibition of modernist Cuban art, El arte en Cuba (Art in Cuba) held in the same locale, Lezama continued: "it reaf­firmed the permanence of the great tradition."2 By the "great tradition" Lezama meant the blanco-criollo culture of the late eighteenth and nine­teenth century. Lezama himself contributed to the rediscovery of the tradi­tion of colonial painting in his essays "Escobar y Collazo" and "La pintura y la poesia en Cuba (en los siglos XVII y XIX). "3 To Lezama and Perez Cisneros, "Cuban" painting began with Vicente Escobar (1762-1834) and reached a high point with the paintings of Guillermo Collazo (1850- 96). At the very least, the exhibition 300 aiios de arte en Cuba and its accompanying catalog provided modernist Cuban artists with the evi­dence of a practically unknown artistic tradition and the confidence that comes with such a knowledge. The symbolization of the blanco-criollo identity depended in great measure on the search for its own origins and in the recovery of a forgotten or neglected past. To this recuperation project, the poets and the artists associated with the group magazine Origenes made a major contribution. They reconstructed such a tradition from its remnants in the architecture of Old Havana and the El Cerro neighborhood; the teachings of Felix Varela and Jose Luz y Caballero; the poetry of Jose Marfa Heredia and Julian del Casal; the paintings of Escobar, Collazo, and Juana Borerro; the intellectual gatherings of Domingo del Monte; and the complete works of Jose Marti.

The importance and, to some extent, the impossibility of their recu­peration project were well expressed by Lezama when he lamented: "We have lost almost everything: the carved crucifix and the painting of the Trinity by Manuel de! Socorro Rodrfguez, the medical recipes of Surf writ­ten in verse, the fruits painted by Rubalcava, the jewels of Zequeira, all the more lamentable a loss since they never existed, the sabbatical conversa­tions of Luz Caballero, the ashes of Heredia, the gallery of portraits of the Spanish governors of Cuba by Escobar .... We have lost everything, we do not know what is essentially Cuban."4 There was enough left, however, for Lezama and the "origenistas" to formulate an influential (and to their way of thinking "essential ") tradition of lo cubano, in which fact, imagi­nation, and selective remembering played major roles. The architecture, literature, and art mentioned above represent the facts; the emphasis on certain figures and the absence of others suggest the selective character of the recuperation project in question; and exaggerations and inventions (the reference to the speculative jewels of Zequeira, for instance) attest to its imaginative dimension.

Actually, the entire modernist project of conceptualizing and symboliz­ing the nation-state has a strong imaginative element. Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities convincingly argues that nations are imagined political communities "because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. "5 This imagining of an image of communion is central to the understanding of the symbolization of national cultural identity(ies) in the modern art of Cuba, and for that matter, in the rest of the Americas.

Mario Carreño
Interior, 1943
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Cuba 

The Blanco-Criollo Identity Expressed as Form 

The 1940s generation of artists and writers, particularly those interested in the symbolization of a blanco-criollo identity, found inspiration in certain colonial artistic expressions, principally in architectural ornamenta­tion. Cuban colonial architecture developed a rich decorative scheme seen in the use of the classical orders in porticos, iron grilles with a wide variety of design for windows and balconies, stained-glass windows and interior dividers or "mamparas" with geometric and floral designs, and an abun­dance of furniture. This architecture and its ornamentation, which repre­sent an eclectic mixture of styles, is most often referred to by the problem­atic term " baroque." The term is problematic because the colonial buildings of Havana, with few exceptions, do not follow any of the European ver­sions of baroque style architecture.6

Their baroque quality, according to the novelist and cultural critic Alejo Carpentier, lies elsewhere: "The superposition of styles, the innova­tion of styles, good and bad, more bad ones than good ones, created in Havana that style without style which in the long run, through a process of symbiosis, of amalgam, erects itself into a peculiar 'barroquismo' that acts as a style, inscribing itself into the history of urban development. "7 Carpentier offers a new definition of the baroque for Cuba and the Ameri­cas: Its essence lies not in a mimicry of one or another European seven­teenth century styles, known collectively as "baroque," but in an excep­tional Latin American tendency toward mixing and superimposing styles. This particular Latin American aesthetics (neither mimetic nor original) is also characterized, according to Carpentier, by an inclination, seen in Havana's colonial architecture and the city's architectural profile "to ac­cumulate, to collect, and to multiply" styles.8 The artistic tendency for superposition and plenty found in Havana's architectural cityscape, which Carpentier has referred to as "baroque," was a major inspiration to mod­ernist painters in the 1940s.

In Cuba the major exponent in literature and theory of a Cuban and Latin American baroque, or barroquismo, was Lezama, whose essay "La curiosidad barroca" ("La expresi6n arnericana," 1957), is a dassic on the subject. In that text, he laid out one of his most complete definitions of the baroque in the Americas:

Our assessment of the baroque in the Americas is destined to state with precision: First, there is a tension in the baroque; secondly, a plutonism, an originating fire that breaks and unifies the fragments; third, it is not a degenerating style, but plenary, which in Spain and Hispanic America represents language acquisitions, perhaps unique in the world, furniture for the home, ways of life and inquiry, mysticism that adjusts to new modes of prayer, ways of savoring and processing exquisite food, that exhale a complete, refined, mysterious, theocratic, and introspective living, wanderer in form and rooted in its essences.9

Cundo Bermudez
Barber Shop,1942
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Lezama views the baroque as a generating, rather than a degenerate style, and defines its form and concept for Spain and Latin America. His views on the formal characteristics of the baroque-tension, energy (heat/ passion), and forged unity-are relatively standard; it is his description of its practices and attitudes that are specifically relevant to Cuban and Larin American barroquismo. He distinguishes it as a term for more than just the classification of a European historical period or aesthetics; it amounts in Latin America to no less than a complex "way of life and inquiry," which expresses itself in activities as diverse as the decoration of the home, modes of praying, and the manner of savoring a dish. And it is also about (white Creole) tradition-"rooted in its essences."

The interest of modernist Cuban writers and artists of the 1940s in defining a blanco-criollo identity through an Americanized barroquismo was part of a larger Latin American cultural phenomenon. In their the­matic study of contemporary art from Latin America, Drawing the Line, Oriana Baddeley and Valerie Fraser put it this way: "Latin Americans are often very ready, even if with self-conscious irony, to accept the term ba­roque as descriptive in some ways of themselves and their culture as a whole; it suggests a style, an idea, a way of life that is rich and strange, riddled with impossible paradox and incredible realities, grand, flamboy­ant and macabre." 10 In the second quarter of the century, many Latin American artists and writers found in the colonial baroque of their respec­tive countries a formal language and a cultural content, which they rein­terpreted as part of a modern project to symbolize their national cultural identities. Cuba, with little to no colonial baroque art of its own that could remotely compare with that of Mexico or Peru, was at the forefront of the reinterpretation of the baroque, or barroquismo, in the modern literature and art of Latin America. What at first appears to be a paradox, actually affirms the strong role played by the imagination in the conceptualization of barroquismo and, by extension, in the construction of collective identi­ties based on that concept.

In Cuban barroquismo, the image actually came before the theoretical word, and that image was created by Amelia Pelaez. 11 She was the first to develop a visual language and a content that can be classified as Cuban barroquismo, opening a new venue for the signification of lo cubano in painting and other cultural expressions. In her early 1940s paintings, Pelaez developed a highly personal style, inspired in form by Cuban colo­nial architectural ornamentation. In her own words: "After casting aside typical [Cuban] themes I had only one way to proceed, that of still life. I have no doubt that Braque, Picasso, and Matisse had a lot to do with my choice and approach, but the reason I paint my still lives based on fruits and architectural elements is because it has been evident for some time that our colonial architecture developed some of its own motifs, or better, its own manner of employing certain motifs that are found in the architec­ture of other countries."12 In consciously adapting the language of Cuban colonial ornamentation, Pelaez rehabilitated a more or less forgotten vi­sual language and privileged it as the first concrete expression of a Cuban style. 13

She saw this Cuban style or manner not only in the designs of the iron grilles, stained-glass windows, dividers or mamparas, and the furniture of colonial architecture, but in the cumulative effect of all these elements. Pelaez's still-life compositions of fruits, flowers, and fish in colonial-styled interiors, such as Marpacifico (1943) and Frutero (1947), translate into painting not only the salient features of Cuban colonial domestic architec­ture, but that architecture's "baroque" tendency to accumulate, to collect, and to multiply. Actually, Pelaez's barroquismo far surpasses its model in complexity of form and color, as seen in the arabesque of black lines and the luminous rainbow palette of her paintings.

In her 1940s paintings, Pelaez proposed a new way to manifest lo cubano, as form and language. Pelaez's aesthetics of profuse ornamenta­tion and brilliant colors, her barroquismo, manifests, besides a highly personal signature style, a Cuban visual language or "own manner" by association with its sources. By conferring upon colonial architectural ornamentation the status of a seminal Cuban style and then translating its formal vocabulary into painting, she presented certain forms and colors and a certain visual language as essentially Cuban. Pelaez's reclamation of the past was a complex project that, as noted by the curator and Pelaez's specialist Ramon Vazquez, was not ''archeological" or "picturesque": "She takes the vestiges of the past and brings them, giving them a new meaning, to modernity. "14 Pelaez's appropriation of the artistic language of Cuban colonial architecture to symbolize a national cultural identity suggests a modernist approach in which the past is used to imagine and visualize the nation.

Portocarrero, an insider of the Origenes group magazine, was the fore­most exponent of Cuban barroquismo and the blanco-criollo identity. Unlike Pelaez, his inspiration was only partially drawn from colonial ar­chitectural ornamentation. Beginning in 1943, he developed a complex barroquismo in form and iconography, working in series such as lnter­iores de[ Cerro (1943), Festin (1943), Figuras para una mitologia imagin­aria (1943), Brujos (1945), and Naturaleza Muerta (1945). Formally, his paintings partake of the baroque elements described by Lezama Lima as tension, energy, and unity of fragments, and they also relate to Carpen­tier's definition of the baroque will to accumulate, collect, and multiply. More specifically, he appropriated the language of modern European ex­pressionism (from van Gogh to Matisse), mixing it with his own and his culture's taste for abundant ornamentation that takes over as composi­tion. (The European roots of Cuban modernism are as evident as those of colonial architecture, the national character in the case of both residing in the creolization process of translating and mixing it with other traditions.) Portocarrero's taste for profuse ornamentation, as in the case of Pelaez, is an essential aspect of his barroquismo. He actually went further than she did, in that the ornamentation takes over the figures, objects, and space (or lack of it), thickening into an impenetrable surface. This impenetrabil­ity can be seen as a metaphor for the way barroquismo leaves no room for other shards of the Cuban identity(ies) to mix or to be.

To the 1940s generation and the origenistas in particular, lo cubano, for the first time in Cuban art, was suggested to reside in form, not just in content. One of the best definitions of such form, and by extension of barroquismo in Cuban modernist painting, was offered by Perez Cisneros as early as 1943, when he described the taste of the painters of his genera­tion for "[s]incere thematic happiness, delight in color, and a twisted and baroque struggle with form." 15 In agreement with Lezama, Perez Cisneros believed that modernist Cuban painting of the 1940s had certain qualities that gave it its own identity, such as the strong attention paid to light/color, a taste for contorted form or ornament, and a predilection for a joyful view of things. These qualities, which suggest an optimistic representation of the nation in early 1940s modernist painting, are the building blocks of Cuban barroquismo.

The Blanco-Criollo Identity Expressed as Content

The symbolization of a blanco-criollo identity in modernist Cuban art of the 1940s is also evident in the subject matter or content of the paintings. The premier theme of that identity were representations of the nineteenth­century upper-class home interior-a subject that was actually introduced in Cuban painting in the late nineteenth century by artists such as Collazo in his memorable La Siesta (1886). Not only did the colonial interior theme in 1940s Cuban painting claim a solid economic, cultural, and fa­milial foundation for the blanco-criollo identity, but its emphasis on inte­riority and nostalgia also presented a conservative strategy for keeping such an identity alive.

Once again, the paintings of Pelaez and Portocarrero stand out as case studies in the reclamation and personal reinterpretation of the colonial past as content. Pelaez was the pioneer in the development of a thematic expression of the white Creole identity. Already in the mid-1930s, she began to paint a series of Natura Leza Muerta(s) with tropical fruits in the center, "medio-punto" stained-glass windows above, iron window grilles or another colonial architectural element on the side, and a embroidered (table) runner and/or table below. With these images she introduced the subject of the colonial interior as a Cuban theme. She was the first of the modernist artists to see lo cubano somewhere other than in the landscape, the peasant, and the Afro-Cuban. She constructed it from elements of her domestic environment and family life-that is from her home in the old Vibora suburb of Havana and from a family (Pelaez and del Casal) with deep roots in the Creole culture of the colonial past. As accurately ob­served by Vazquez: "The world of her paintings contains the poetic trans­position of a refined domestic compass-sediment that is also culture­belonging to a social sector with rooted Creole traditions." 16 Pelaez's implied position that the domestic and the familial are the cultural is very much in line with current feminist thought and practice.

The other artist of the 1940s generation who made the most of the colonial interior theme was Portocarrero in his renowned Interiores de/ Cerro series. In these interior scenes, which usually represent a partial view of a living room with furniture, vases with flowers, and often the presence of a single female figure, he paid homage to the vestiges of the colonial architecture of his birthplace (the nineteenth-century Cerro dis­trict of Havana) and to the way of life it once housed. Interiores de/ Cerro represents a recuperation of the past: memories of home and of an old Cuban way of life that rapidly was fading, if not altogether gone, by the early 1940s. Departing from the curvilinear designs of the colonial tile floors and those of the cenefas (painted decoration on lower part of wall), as well as the baroque design of the furniture and its often cluttered ar­rangement, Portocarrero developed a profusely ornamental expression­ism going far beyond its model in exuberance. His leap from the model gives his representation of the colonial interior a strong sense of an imagined, rather than an actual, place. In this respect, his Interiores de! Cerro offers powerful metaphors for the role of the imagination in the represen­tation of a national cultural identity.

Portocarrero's and Pelaez's reclamation of the baroque past, although related, is different. At age four, Portocarrero left his birthplace, the neigh­borhood of El Cerro; when he returned to it in his paintings of the early 1940s, its colonial architecture was deteriorating, and the upper-class Creole families who built the homes, as well as their way of life, belonged mostly to the past. As noted by Vazquez: "Soon he is uprooted from his childhood compass and when he reconstructs it with longing in his paint­ings, it is by that time a crumbling world. Portocarrero starts from a con­tradiction that nourishes a good part of his work, what he called 'a conflict between memory and creation'." Pelaez on the other hand: "does it with­out dramatics because she was not divested of the world of her infancy and adolescence. House and painting formed part of the same will not to re­nounce to a settled way of life that has become culture." 17 For Porto­carrero, the blanco-criollo tradition was something to be recovered from memory and imagination, whereas for Pelaez, the past flowed into the present, it was alive. This is not to suggest that Pelaez's symbolization of the blanco-criollo identity is any less imagined than Portocarrero's.

Other outstanding representations of the colonial interior theme in modernist painting of the 1940s are Mariano Rodrfguez's Retrato de Libi con sombrilla (1941), Cundo Bermudez's El balc6n (1941) and Mario Carreno 's Patio colonial cubano ( 194 3). In general, these artists used the theme of the colonial interior to locate their figures and their action, or lack of it, in a specific Cuban (city of Havana) context. They explored the baroque ornamentation of that architecture, as a compositional principle or signature style, to a lesser extent than did Pelaez and Portocarrero. Mariano (his artistic name), an insider of the Origenes group magazine, developed his own barroquismo in the 1940s. In Retrato de Libi con som­brilla, the "colonial style" of the architectural interior is barely suggested in the tile floor and the window iron grille motif. His barroquismo lies not so much in the appropriation of colonial architectural ornamentation as it does in the treatment of the female figure: monumental and energetic. Mariano's 1940s' representation of the female figure, white middle- and upper-class Cuban women, is different from that of his contemporaries and predecessors in that he endows them with a physical strength typically reserved for the representation of the male persona. The combination of large figures in strenuous and whimsical poses suggests those qualities Lezama used to describe the baroque: tension, plutonic energy, and reso­lution of fragments. In other respects-such as representing the female figure within the confines of home, or making her the centerpiece of the colonial interior (the keeper of tradition or decorative femininity?)­Mariano followed the traditional representation of Cuban women going back to colonial art.

Within the category of the colonial interior theme, Carreiio's and Ber­mudez's paintings of the early 1940s offer the most fanciful representation of the blanco-criollo identity and of its baroque past. In Patio colonial cubano, Carreno painted the alluring interior patio or atrium of Cuba's colonial architecture as the setting for a contemporary scene and figures. The gigantic planter, opulent staircase balcony, and the multicolor fan window define the patio not only as a domestic, private realm, but as a blanco-criollo cultural space, completed by the traditional presence of the female figure(s). In this painting, Carreno actually combined two themes of Cuban barroquismo: the colonial interior and tropical vegetation-the latter signifying, according to the critic Jose Gomez Sicre, "the seductive and capricious nature of the tropics. " 18 His adaptation of renaissance and baroque forms as well as rococo and impressionist color presents a highly idealized and unproblematic vision of the blanco-criollo identity in Cuban modernist painting of the 1940s.

Bermudez, who moved in the same circle as Carreno in Havana, also painted fanciful representations of the colonial interior theme. In El balc6n-one of his early and often reproduced versions of the theme­he renders, in a primitivist visual language, the most typical features of Cuba's colonial architecture. He freely manipulated these elements to cre­ate a scenic version of a colonial interior, serving as backdrop to a play about the sensual and laid-back way of life in the tropics. Bermudez's barroquismo consists in his references to colonial architecture, signifying a measure of Creole civilization connected to Spain, and in his depiction of human figures expressing certain Cuban "ways of life and curiosity." In Bermudez's representation of the blanco-criollo identity (as in the case of Carreno), the imagined nature of representing the nation is very pro­nounced.

Cuban modernist painting in the 1940s played a significant role in the conceptualization and symbolization of national cultural identity(ies) and a seminal one in regard to the expression of the blanco-criollo shard of that identity. The artists discussed above, each in her or his own way, visualized in the form and content of their paintings an originating Creole culture of Spanish descent belonging to the dominant Cuban white upper class. The symbolization of that identity as a formal language and iconog­raphy, inspired in colonial architecture, reached a peak in the 1940s; but as suggested earlier, its theorization under the "baroque" rubric by Lezama and Carpentier actually took place in the 1950s. By then, however, there was a backlash to barroquismo in the visual arts and literature as a new generation of Cuban artists and writers "went back to simplicity, to the trickle of Franciscan waters." 19

The Blanco-Criollo Identity as Exclusive

The symbolization of a national identity is not only a subjective and selec­tive construction; it is a competitive proce s for recognition and status among signs and representations that originate in different sectors of soci­ety and regions of a country in the name of national cohesion. In discuss­ing the exclusive nature of ideological representations or signs, the art historian Timothy J. Clark provides a model for framing the issue at hand: "[T]he sign of an ideology is a kind of inertness in discourse: a fixed pat­tern of imagery and belief, ... a set of permitted modes of seeing and saying, ... a way of providing certain perceptions and rendering others unthinkable, aberrant, or extreme.20 This phenomenon of excluding rep­resentations or signs of ideologies (in our case, related to identity) is aggra­vated in countries, which like those of the Caribbean, have a mixed ethnic population and a history of colonialism. In such societies, the symboliza­tion of identity is a battlefield of representations, with the descendants of Europeans claiming for themselves not only the preeminence of their rep­resentations of identity but the whole realm of high culture. Even within the rather homogeneous group involved in high-cultural production in Havana of the 1940s, the symbolization of lo cubano contained a strong element of tension as different representations of it competed for predomi­nance.

The origenistas and other modernists writers and artists discussed above privileged the blanco-criollo ethos and by extension the Spanish­European side of the Cuban identity(ies). The predominance of the blanco­criollo identity shard, Lezama argued, had to do with its potential for resilience and unification: "If we feared the national components that which is art when it originates in a search for the nation, which will defini­tively lead us to the Hispanic, we determined that only the resilient His­panic ethics could achieve unity .... We knew that the Hispanic could not be the norm for accomplishing the universality of our artistic expression, but if this could be achieved, the Hispanic ethics would reach its full­ness. "21 The asserting claim for the primacy of the Hispanic in Cuba's cultural identity, made by Lezama and the artists discussed above, aimed to replace the emphasis given to the African heritage in Cuban culture of the previous decade and to resist the encroaching of North American popular culture in the 1940s.

In the late 1920s when Cuban writers, music composers, and artists began to construct cultural expressions of lo cubano, through a synthesis of national content and French modernist forms and concepts, the ne­glected African element in Cuban culture was foregrounded. A movement known as "Afro-Cubanismo" swept Cuban literature, music, and art of the late 1920s and 1930s. The origenistas' turn to the blanco-criollo side of the Cuban identity suggests a conscious move away from the African and toward the Spanish component of the national cultural identity(ies). Nevertheless, the symbolization of the African shard of the Cuban identity continued strongly into the 1940s and reached a new height with the work of Wifredo Lam. His painting The Jungle (1943) alone, given its interna­tional recognition as one of the most important twentieth-century artistic expressions of Afro-Cuban/Caribbean culture, offers a strong argument for a necessary African presence in any viable symbolization of lo cubano. Lam's paintings of the 1940s also offer strong evidence of the African element's potential for resilience and cohesion.

The blanco-criollo expression also served to counter North American cultural hegemony by asserting Cuba's Spanish Catholic heritage. Through various means-which ranged from the politics of the Good Neighbor Policy, to Hollywood movies, and to the advertisement and consun1ption of North American products-the United States' influence on Cuban af­fairs, by the 1940s, reached beyond economics and politics into the world of culture. "In the revaluation of Cuban and Spanish baroque by Lezama and the Origenes group," states Leonel Capote, "was a latent act of sov­ereignty in reaction to North American penetration, accentuated after the failed Revolution of 1933. "22 From the "Protesta de los Trece" in 1923 to the failed revolutionary government of Grau San Martfn in 1933, the Cuban intelligentsia fought North American political and economic inter­vention in Cuba, helping to defeat the Platt Amendment to the Cuban constitution of 1902. The generation that followed, and particularly the origenistas, seemed to have been more concerned with North American cultural penetration and used barroquismo as a means of resistance.

Concluding Remarks

The symbolization of lo cubano in Cuban modernist painting suggests a mixed culture with diverse and competing focal points: the city of Ha­vana, the countryside, Spain/Europe, Africa, North America, the affluent, and the poor. These places, traditions, and economic conditions/relations often are presented in dialectical opposition to one another through the absence of the other. For instance, Carlos Enrfquez's symbolization of "lo cubano-as-the-countryside" left out the city of Havana, Pelaez's dismissed both the countryside and the African heritage, and Lam barely acknowl­edged the blanco-criollo tradition. The conceptualization and visualiza­tion of any one of the shards that makes up lo cubano were in 1940s painting (as in 1940s Cuban life) yet to be synthesized with the other fragments into a whole: Plutonism was actually lacking. Even in cases like Portocarrero and Carreno, who in their prolific production represented the city of Havana and the Cuban countryside, Ibero-Cuban and Afro­Cuban themes, these focal points of identity are expressed in differentiated series; furthermore, their symbolization of the African element is very su­perficial. The construction of the blanco-criollo identity and its expression through barroquismo offers a revealing case study of the process of in­heriting, imagining, and affirming a particular representation of identity within the multitude of changing opinions and influences that make up modern national cultures.