Beatriz González, The Misfortunes of Royalty

The Misfortunes of Royalty

Beatriz González, The Misfortunes of Royalty, 1974.

Royal Taste: Britain’s Influence on Colombian Cultural Identity

The vibrant work of Beatriz González demonstrates the merging of Colombian heritage and Western culture.  Her contextually rich images, such as the 1974 silkscreen print The Misfortunes of Royalty, show the artist’s desire to directly engage with and expose the current issues of her nation, away from idealized imagery.  González’s satirical representation of the British royalty questions their place in modern Colombian culture, and their influence on Colombian identity.

González immediately identifies herself as a contemporary artist by employing the medium of silkscreen, which demands flat color and a reduction in form. The pale skin tone of the royal couple is juxtaposed against the black silhouette of the landscape, while the eclectic color palette creates combinations that are uncomfortable for the majority of viewers. These colors also associate her work with Kitsch, a style characterized by reproduced, unpretentious images that are often considered cheap or rude (Dutton). The vulgarity of the color is in tune with the vulgarity of the image, which exposes the woman in an undignified position, particularly for a member of the royal family. The Colombian fixation with British royalty was a major component of popular culture, as seen in another González print, Illustrated Current Events (Ponce de Léon, 30). González’s satirical depiction pokes fun not only at the royals themselves, but also at her nation’s admiration of them.

The national fascination with British royalty was most prevalent among the country’s upper class, dating from the beginning of the nineteenth century, when England gave funds to Colombia to support their war of independence from the Spanish crown (Ponce de Léon, 30).  The centralism of the 1850s allowed the sovereignty to be strongly influenced by British and American interests and influence (Adelman, 115). In the Bogotá of the late twentieth century, country clubs, prep schools and the annual Derby were favored by upper Colombian society (Ponce de Léon, 30). Because of the British monarchy’s dependence upon a classed society, adoration of royalty had the potential to cultivate the same class divides within Colombia. By using satire to avoid her work becoming didactic, González offers a critical Colombian perspective that urges her audience to look beyond the surface glamour of royalty to consider a more holistic view of the monarchy and society of Britain.

Other art movements from the 1960s such as Conceptual art and Feminist art share the critical nature of González’s work. Conceptual Art demonstrated a desire to achieve communicative interaction through art (Alexander), while Feminist art showed the power of art as a form of activism and protest, with both exemplifying the shift from objects as art to ideas as art.  In The Misfortunes of Royalty, González both literally and figuratively exposes a layer of imperfection that is not seen beneath the typically flawless appearance of the royals.

Without becoming didactic, González reminds the audience of the humanity of the British royalty, which questions the legitimacy of their celebrity status over any other Colombian leader or figure. The conceptual characteristics of her art proved to be highly influential on younger artists. As Carolina Ponce de León points out, “The critical nature of González’s art is the precursor of younger generations of Latin American artists who create, from a political – not didactic – point of view, a conceptual art that comes fully into its own by the middle of the 1970s.”(Ponce de Léon, 48).  

González's shift to figuration, away from the abstract art that prevailed in 1940s and 50s Colombia was atypical. Alluding to the country’s industrialization, abstraction offered a nationalist project of modernization, while combining the geometric patterns of Colombia’s ancestral cultural legacy, thus reconciling the two sides (Ponce de Léon, 18). By choosing figuration, Gonzalez employs a more direct artistic language, which demonstrates her rejection of an idealized image of Colombia to deal with the realities of a national identity embedded with contradictions.  

The Misfortunes of Royalty offers a unique insight into the ongoing effects of colonial powers on Colombia, not only in politics, but also in culture.  Using humor and a kitsch aesthetic, González engages directly with the current issues and history of Colombia in order to question the role of Britain within modern Colombian society.

 

- Charlotte McKay and Zarah Udwadia 

Works Cited:

Adelman, Jeremy. Review of “The Struggle for Power in Post-Independence Colombia and Venezuela, by Matthew Brown”. The Americas, 70 (2013)          

Alberro, Alexander, et al. "Conceptual Art." Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t234/e0126.

Dutton, Denis. "Kitsch." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press,   accessed March 11, 2015, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T046768.

Ponce de León, Carolina. “Beatriz González: The Extended History of Colombia,” In Beatriz González: What an Honor to Be With You At This Historic Moment, New York: Museo del Barrio, 1998