Rhythms From SlaveryFriday, January 7, 2022
This text is part of Alternative Routes, a project that foregrounds the work of eight young Afro-Latin American and Indigenous artists and highlights the historicity of racial and ethnic relations within Latin America’s art worlds. This project was organized and edited by Bruno Pinheiro, Ph.D. candidate in History at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), and Horacio Ramos, Ph.D. candidate in Art History at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Este texto está disponível em português.
In 1963, designer Octavio Santa Cruz Urquieta (Lima, 1943), my father, was commissioned to do the illustration and layout for the booklet of the LP album Cumanana by the Afro-Peruvian folklorist and composer of décimas Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra.  This commission was his first professional job after having spent four years as apprentice to Swiss graphic designer Werner Stöeckli.  The concept for the album was novel to the local Peruvian scene, given its inclusion of widely varying materials: music, unpublished poems, recent décimas, explanatory texts on music and dances from previously unknown Afro-Peruvian folklore, illustrations and photographs. The illustrations, rather than having as their reference point Peru’s still-prevailing indigenista painting, were linked to the European avant-gardes and North American painting.  In particular, the artist turned to metaphor, used by surrealists such as Max Ernst, and the gestural abstraction of action painting artists like Jackson Pollock or Hans Hartung. In this way, he aimed to produce a design that was "as contemporary as possible."  While some of his illustrations tended toward figuration, these were the result of an almost geometric stylization, as in the case of the pair of characters illustrated in the poem "Negra." Formal abstraction was complemented with a chromatic austerity that highlighted the color black, which made reference to African skin and suggested a sense of Afro-Peruvianness.
The illustration that accompanied the poem "Black Rhythms from Peru," an emblematic text of Peruvian negritud written in 1957, was based on doing a close reading of the poem in order to develop a graphic response (fig. 1).  Indeed, it is a conceptual work. The intention of the artist was not to produce a servile and superficial illustration of the story being narrated, but rather to offer a combination of formal elements alluding to specific details. The dry stalks of sugar cane evoked toward the end of the poem, for example, are represented in the long vertical strokes. If we consider that, for the visual arts, repeated forms are the equivalent of musical rhythm (the repetition of a sound), we might say that, due to their reiteration, the spots and strokes of the illustration produce a sense of rhythm.  The clearest visual reference in the production of these illustrations is to the abstract expressionism of Franz Kline or to the very gestural style of artists like Pierre Soulages, but also to the calligraphic art propagated by French designer Claude Dieterich.  The vigorous execution of this illustration was achieved through the use of boar bristle brushes of various sizes and a mix of India ink and vinyl glue. The finish was akin to the texture of acrylic, which at the time was costly and hard to find. But while abstract expressionism was carried out on large canvases, my father’s original illustrations were executed in a modest format: the drafting table.
Recently, this 1963 design got another life in the show Pioneros de los sesenta [Pioneers of the Sixties], which took place in 2019 at the Galería de Artes Visuales in the Centro Cultural Ccori Wasi de la Universidad Ricardo Palma de Lima (fig. 2). This exhibition brought together the work of six prominent graphic designers from 1960s Peru.  Taken out of its original context (the booklet of an LP), the illustration was transported to the walls of an exhibition gallery and printed in a 1 x 1.6-meter format. These changes gave the illustration a dimension distinct from the original, removing its status as applied art and elevating it to the level of a work of art that looked like an expressionist painting. With this alteration to the format, I believe the illustration acquires monumentality and gains visual impact. Aside from my father’s illustration and its blown-up version, I can’t recall any other works inspired by the poem "Black Rhythms from Peru" by Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra. Still, it has always seemed to me to evoke suggestive images.
For me, this poem also has echoes in my work, and it served as a source of inspiration for the development of a work titled Rhythms From Slavery, which I created in 2011. The piece was a small diptych on poster board executed using artisanal techniques like ink transfer, linen printing and stenciling.  Two years later, I once again took up a reading of that poem by Nicomedes and started to do a series of works executed in silkscreen on Bristol board. The idea of producing screen prints on a light medium came out of my interest in moving my works to different types of spaces in different cities. At times, I was looking to tie my visual work to my activities as a guitarist and my growing interest in my family legacy and in Afro-Peruvian music. Even more, I was interested in exploring the open possibilities for a "total work of art" based on interdisciplinarity.  This is why, whenever I’ve exhibited this series, I’ve chosen to accompany my works with the projection of a documentary and a recital about Afro-Peruvian music.
In this series, I represent sections of the poem "Black Rhythms from Peru," Afro-Peruvian musical instruments like the box drum, the jawbone, the tiny box; and iconic people of African descent such as Muhammad Ali, Malcom X, or Peruvian percussionist Ciatro Soto.  The series also has repeated motifs such as hands and chains. Chains are the leitmotiv of this series, alluding to the chained hands of enslaved Black people.  These chains appear only partially broken, alluding to the idea that slavery has not been completely overcome, given the persistence of racism. Due to their rhythmic repetition, they suggest the prevalence of racial discrimination in contemporary societies. The series showcases the vestiges of an Afro-Peruvian community that is minoritarian and invisibilized, but whose cultural legacy can be seen. One of the lines from the poem illustrates this suggestion:
"The old black men passed away,
but in the dried stalks of cane
you can still hear their zamacueca
and their panalivio from far away." 
While the theme of slavery and the Afro-Peruvian music developed by Black slaves is the central axis of the series, I am also interested in opening up a wide range of possible themes. Among others, for example, I emphasize the triangular trade responsible for the deportation of millions of African slaves to the Americas, the civil rights movement in the United States, and most of all the contributions of people of African descent to society and the struggle for equality against discrimination(s).
On a visual level, the works in this series are in dialogue with sixties-era pop art, which is evident in their bright colors and flat inks. I also use thick lines and, in some cases, patterns that evoke the work of Roy Lichtenstein. The visual elements are largely freehand drawings, which are refined and then vectorized to facilitate the reading of the image by the viewer. Unlike my father’s illustrations for the LP Cumanana, the visual elements are almost entirely figurative. Nevertheless, both designs have certain things in common, such as the stylization of the figures and the emphasis on black ink. Likewise, in this series we initially see written texts in the form of handmade calligraphy, the technique in which I got my start through my father. The simultaneous use of traditional techniques with digital retouching and other contemporary techniques of serial reproduction such as photographic printing is no coincidence.  In my case, I am seeking to find a balance between tradition and modernity, between the manual and the mechanical.
For me personally, this work has allowed me to approach the literary work of Nicomedes Santa Curz Gamarra, and to learn more about the radical meaning of his proposition. To put it another way, this series allowed me to better get to know one of the most representative members of my family through his work. This series was first exhibited in 2018, as part of the Week of Memory in Bordeaux, the event through which the city of Bordeaux recognizes its participation in the slave trade and pays tribute to the African slaves sent to the Americas.  In 2020, as in previous years, the Municipality of Bordeaux hosted a competition on the theme of Memory. For this occasion, I presented a project similar to the one from 2018, but this time I included some of the illustrations from the LP Cumanana printed in large scale, and a screen-printed version of the illustration from the poem "Black Rhythms from Peru." 
While I cannot say that the illustrations from the LP Cumanana influenced the production of my series Rhythms of Slavery, I can say that there are several aspects that my father and the paternal side of my family inculcated into me. Among other things, I would point out my aesthetic preferences (the stylization of the figures), a simultaneous interest in visual arts and music, and my own interest in diverse Afro-Peruvian artistic and folkloric traditions. All of these ingredients have allowed me, and continue to allow me, to shape myself as an artist and as a person.
Octavio Santa Cruz Urquieta (Lima, 1943) currently resides in Lima. He is a Doctor in Art History, a degree he earned in 2017 at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos de Lima. He is a graphic designer with numerous exhibitions, a guitarist, a singer of décimas, a singer-songwriter and an author of narrative literature. In 1982 he was awarded the United Nations Peace Medal. In 2013, the Ministry of Culture of Peru bestowed upon him the distinction of "Notable Cultural Contributor." In 2019, the Rectors of the National University of San Marcos conferred to him the status of Professor Emeritus.
 In 1964, Nicomedes Santa Cruz Gamarra released the record album Cumanana, which was published by Phillips. See Martha Ojeda Serio, "Nicomedes Santa Cruz: cronología y bibliografía reciente," Afro-Hispanic Review 18, 1 (Spring 1999): 25–28.
 Werner Stöeckli arrived to Lima in 1951, where he opened a studio in the city’s center. See Octavio Santa Cruz, El diseño gráfico en Lima. 1960 (Lima: Ediciones Noche de Sol, 2018), 20, 60–65.
 The persistent imprint of indigenismo on Peruvian art and visual culture has been studied by several authors. For a general framework, see Ricardo Kusonoki and Luis Eduardo Wuffarden (eds.), Arte Moderno. Colección Museo de Arte de Lima. (Lima: Museo de Arte de Lima, 2014): 105–138 [Editor’s note].
 Ibid., 249, 253
 The Spanish term "negritud" comes from the French négritude, and it refers to the political and literary movement developed in the first half of the 20th century. This movement brought together Black Francophone writers from the old French colonies, such as Martinican author Aimé Césaire and the Senegalese writer Léopold Sédar Senghor. Its aim was to reclaim Black identity and culture. By extension, the term "negritud" refers to the combination of characteristics and cultural values attributed to the Black race, along with a sense of belonging to this race.
 French philosopher Étienne Souriau defines the word "motif" as a drawing or single form that is repeated. In the musical realm, the word "motif" is associated with the ideas of rhythm and repetition. Étienne Souriau, Vocabulaire d’Esthétique (Paris: PUF, 2010).
 Claude Dieterich arrived in Lima in 1961, where he opened a studio. For more on his calligraphic work, see Santa Cruz, o.c., 65–67.
 This show was curated by Alfonso Castrillón and included works by designers Jesús Ruiz Durand, Octavio Santa Cruz Urquieta, Víctor Escalante, Ciro Palacios, Claude Dieterich and Carlos Gonzales Ramírez [Editor’s note].
 This work was first exhibited in the collective show Afrolatinos, which took place at the Museo de arte de la ciudad de Caguas de Puerto Rico, in 2012.
 The Wagnerian concept of the "total work of art" inspired generations of modern and contemporary artists who sought to create dialogues among visual arts, music and dance. See Juliet Koss, Modernism after Wagner (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010) and Marcella Lista, L'oeuvre d'art totale à la naissance des avant-gardes 1908–1914 (Paris: CTHS, INHA, 2006) [Editor’s note].
 For more on the work of Carlos Soto de la Colina, see Milagros Carazas, "Caitro Soto: ‘De canto, baile y cadenas', Testimonio y cultura afroperuana," Tesis 10 (2017): 153-174 [Editor’s note].
 In the aforementioned work Vocabulaire d’Esthétique, Étienne Souriau defines the "leitmotiv" as a musical motif that is repeated throughout a composition and which makes reference to a character or a situation. See Souriau, o.c.
 Quoted from Nicomedes Santa Cruz, "Black Rhythms from Peru," translated by Esthela Calderón, Callaloo 34.2 (2011): 269-270 [Translator’s note].
 For Walter Benjamin, "the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition" because "[b]y making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence." See Walter Benjamin, L’œuvre d’art à l’époque de sa reproductibilité technique (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2000), p. 15 [English translation: Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, translated by Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), p. 221.]
 For images, sound and video recordings of this project, see the Instituto Cervantes website, https://cultura.cervantes.es/burdeos/fr/ritmos-de-la-esclavitud/132197.
 Due to the present context of the pandemic, the show has taken place virtually, but it will be held in person in late 2021.