through paintings and photographs either idolized or satanized. This book takes a closer look at why.
How do paintings and photographs of public figures in politics and cultural life contribute to and influence the creation of an affective memory and an idealization or directly deformed perception of these figures?
In the book Public portraits: Painting and photography in the construction of heroic images in Latin America since the XNUMXth century by the Uruguayan writer and professor of literature, Laura Malosetti Costa (Montevideo 1956), she tackles this subject for Latin America since the 1800th century.
Directly translated, the book title means: «Public portraits. Painting and photography in the construction of heroic images a Latin America since the 19th century».
From heroes and heroines of the independence wars of the Latin American republics against the European colonial powers in the early 1800th century, to the 1900th century Latin American global "mega-stars" such as Argentine Ernesto Che Guevara and to a lesser extent Cuban Fidel Castro and Argentine first lady Eva Perón, known as Evita.
Costa focuses his analysis of paintings and photographs on selected heroic figures. She also critically examines the almost total absence of, for example, the heroine Juana Azurduy, who fought for the independence of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata (today Buenos Aires) from the Spanish throne.
Costa thus illuminates the problematic nature of the absence of female hero figures throughout almost the entire 1800th century and the first half of the 1900th century. Only with Eva Perón, née Duarte, the Argentine first lady to President Juan Domingo Perón in post-war Argentina in the second half of the 1940s, do Latin American women and men get a public female heroine.
Hero worship and hatred
Various photographs and paintings help to maintain a hero worship – i.e. an idolization – but at the same time, depending on the recipient, the opposite: A satanization and hatred of some public figures. This satanization has occurred over decades with particularly political and religious reasons to satanize, for example, communism's relationship to free abortion and religion – and thus used by religious right-wing parties and the Catholic Church against, for example, the Peronist party in Argentina.
Laura Malosetti Costa herself says that «the analysis of these portraits of heroes and heroines and Latin American mentors, who have influenced many generations, tries to understand how these became part of the collective memory and reality. How it was perceived and received, and what power these people have – also the selected paintings and photographs – to triumph and to this day be the most well-known and recognized", she says.
In other words, these heroes and heroines are up to this day part of the self-concept of Latin Americans, and their virtues are perceived as distinctly Latin American core values such as sacrifice and unconditional struggle for total freedom and independence – according to the author, almost alliance-freedom or -neutrality vis-à-vis the world's superpowers and major political and economic blocs.
The Latin American military and political protagonists in connection with the region's wars of independence from Spain and Portugal in the first three decades of the 1800th century are examined from Manuel Belgrano in Argentina to the two greats Simon Bolívar and José de San Martin. The author concludes, among other things, that these iconic front figures in the wars of independence from the European colonial powers have been used for centuries as examples of Latin America's legitimate self-determination. But she also concludes that this absolutely patriarchal social order, especially in the last few decades, encounters resistance from Latin American younger generations who are very keen on equality.
The interesting thing, according to the author, is that often the truth, or the accepted truth, about these people is not always fulfilled in the paintings and photographs that are dominant right up to today. Instead, the author concludes that these are the versions that best personify the ideas for which each hero and heroine is remembered.
Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and Eva Peron
An interesting part of the book is the author's explanation of how certain portraits manage – or not – to maintain affective and thought groupings. Both fanatical supporters and hateful opponents. And here are two people right up to today who really divide the waters and polarize not just in Latin America but also the rest of the world – Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and Eva Perón.
Various paintings and photographs of Evita polarize today between love and hate.
Precisely with the latter two from the second half of the 20th century, the author concludes that both are today on t-shirts and in books and the internet and are thus not just icons but, for example, in the case of Evita, the face of an entire nation. In this case, Argentina. Eva Duarte (1919-1952) married the up-and-coming general and politician Juan Domingo Perón, whose so-called Peronist party has since been dominant in Argentine politics. The book concludes that although Eva – called little-Eva (Evita) – has since represented the symbol of a strong woman who stepped out of the shadow of her strong husband, various paintings and photographs of her today polarize between love and hate.
According to Laura Malosetti Costa, these extremes, heaven and hell, are still part of the public hero worship in the region, where all countries today have two political wings and population groups that stand more and more sharply against each other on vital issues such as civil rights, sexuality, including freedom abortion, climate change and fundamental values. This is also reflected in today's icons, where spin doctors and marketing departments just help create these icons in real time.
The author comes with a raised index finger: That Latin America, despite an existing showdown with macho culture in favor of women's rights and sexual and ethnic minorities – has still not found a less extreme way to portray and interpret public figures.
The book is interesting as a retrospective, but is even more relevant for understanding today's Latin America – which is still struggling to find more equal and peaceful role models.