Antonio Caro, Colombia
Selling Colombia: Caro's Critique of Imperialism
According to many art historians, Pop art is inherently American, or, at most, Western. Those who claim Pop Art as solely Western believe it exists due to the post-war growth of the middle class and its industry-based consumer culture. To many critics, the lack of a solid bourgeoisie in Latin American countries during the mid twentieth century makes true Pop Art from this region nonexistent. The Colombian artist, Antonio Caro, engages and challenges this notion with his piece Colombia (1976) in a fashion that epitomizes the Latin American Pop Art movement of the previous decade.
Caro’s Colombia uses an aesthetic that is recognizably Pop. It uses two bight colors: red and white. “Colombia”, the name of Caro’s native country, is written in a script immediately identifiable as the font used in the Coca-cola brand label. The entire name of the country is written in this style with slight imperfections, namely the lack of a dot over the “i” and a slight downwards slope to the word. This form greatly resembles advertising and techniques used by famous American Pop artists like Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein (Helguera).
However, the variation between American Pop Art and Latin American Pop Art is clear due to the audience that Caro’s work is directed at, in comparison to the audience of the famous American Pop Artists. An artwork in reference to Coca-Cola in America would be typically evoke feelings of happiness and neutrality. On the other hand, in Latin America, dominant capitalist brands such as Coca-Cola would evoke feelings of distaste for the imperialistic systems that such brands have come to represent. Caro grew up and experienced the beginning of Colombia’s narcotic-focused economy before 1976. For most of the country’s history in the twentieth century, it remained in civil war and violence between polarized factions. The nation was pushed into much greater vulnerability when the U.S. supported the brutal, corrupt oligarchical regime in fear of the leftist opposition (Henderson). Many Americans are unaware of the perpetuation of Colombia’s instability as a result of the consumption of cocaine, making it a form of commodity. The negative consequences Colombia faces as a result of the drug trade are, in the eye of the consumer, distanced from the products.
Caro’s art responds to this ignorance. In his interview with Víctor Manuel Rodríguez, Caro says of his art, “[my] secret weapon [is that] the elements of my discourse are valid, real, and concrete in society, specifically in Colombian society” (Holmquest, Caro, and Rodriguez 23). When Caro paints the name “Colombia” in Coca-cola script onto tin, he asserts that Colombia’s desperate state is the result of corporate multinationalism and American imperialism that strips it of its sovereignty. Colombia becomes a product of American imperialism much like a Coca-cola can. But, by making the script imperfect, Caro shows how Colombia may not fit into the Western Imperialist system. Thereby, like most Pop Art, he reclaims Colombia in an attempt to show that a national identity cannot be produced like a commodity, and restore Colombia’s individuality.
Although Caro’s Colombia (1976) is late to the Latin American pop movement, it is an example of the culmination of ideals held from the time period through the references to Pop via flat color and popular images combined with the charged Latin American political memory and iconoclasm. Caro both acknowledges a strong American influence and strives to define the style of his art as his own, and specifically Latin American, paralleling Colombia’s tendency to be both subject and rebellious to American influences.
Helguera, Pablo. "Define Context." Art Nexus. 2001. Print.
Henderson, James D. "A Time of Transition, 1957-1965." Modernization in Colombia: The Laureano Gómez Year, 1889-1965. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001. Print.
Holmquest, Brandon, Antonio Caro, and Víctor Manuel Rodríguez. "Antonio Caro." BOMB 110 (2010): 16-23.
Petras, James. "Anti-Imperialist Politics: Class Formation and Socio-Political Action." Journal of Contemporary Asia 34.2 (2004): Print.
Villar, Oliver, and Drew Cottle. Cocaine Death Squads and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011. Print.