Tristiana: Portraits

by: Jonathan Marcantoni

Tristiana, portraits, and the theory of visualism: a preview of Jonathan Marcantoni’s forthcoming novel, Tristiana, coming out Summer 2016 from Floricanto Press. Within these portraits we stumble upon weightless shadows and heavy shadows. Shadows that evoke tranquility and those that suffocate the souls which they afflict…

Tristiana

Tristiana is a novel I conceived after reading the first chapter of Portuguese author José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. The opening of that book recounts the history of Christianity through the analysis of a stained glass window. The narrator not only evoked the image itself, that of the Virgin Mary holding Christ after his crucifixion, but also told a story that was based on both the actual image and what that image has come to represent two thousand years later. I never read the entire book, in fact, I read that one chapter in a Borders in Atlanta in 2006, and after putting it down, I became obsessed with the implications of not only writing a chapter describing a piece of artwork, but going a step farther to create a singular image based on a particular style. Could a painting manifest through words the way music could? Given that music and writing are both esoteric, whereas a visual is tangible and concrete, the idea seemed sort of ridiculous. But I couldn’t let it go….

Fast forward five years later, and after failing at several attempts at making this idea a reality, with me either becoming too beholden to the image or completely losing the image, not to mention the large amount of research required to determine how exactly one captures a painting style with words in a way that is both interesting and innovative, I finally had the style down. Four years after that, the book I had developed to utilize this unique style was finally finished. The book jumps back and forth between a traditional narrative centered on a community of artists, and the portraits which supplement both their story and the story of their country, across the past, present, and future.

I grew up a stage actor, and like many young actors I was drawn to method acting. The principle of fully absorbing and embodying the emotions and experiences of your characters has stayed with me as I shifted my focus to writing. This practice was challenged by the portraits I was crafting for Tristiana, since the nature of artwork is to compress time and space, to concentrate emotion into a pure expression that both captures a moment and an eternal state of being, and as such, I would become so wrapped up in the image, its story, and the struggle of the people within it, that many of these portraits left me in tears. A few, such as one that depicts old people and children fleeing a war zone and another that depicts soldiers tossing people out of helicopters into the ocean (as was done during Argentina’s Dirty Wars), haunted me to such a degree that I cannot read them without crying even now. Painting is a melancholy act, the way in which memory, even when it is happy, is tinged with sadness due to the knowledge that this moment in time is gone forever, but there is a real beauty to that melancholy, the kind that makes you reflect on life and your place in existence. Painting and photography are tools for reflection, which we as a species sorely need more of.

Tristiana, is a combination of the Spanish word for “sadness” (Triste) and Triana, the gypsy district of Sevilla, Spain, best known for originating flamenco music and dance, and less known (outside of Spain) for an early battle in the Spanish Civil War where the district’s population of radical artists, activists, and minorities fought valiantly against Franco’s forces only to see their home and way of life crushed by his army.

Melancholy and courage would be the driving forces of the book, which is both an ode to the people and cultures lost in armed conflict, and a call to arms for Latin Americans, who in spite of centuries of hardship, continue to celebrate life and fight against injustice.

While the book will be published in Spanish, I have shared with Across the Margin three translated portraits, along with explanations regarding my approach and purpose for each one. Also included is the text in Spanish, which can be compared to the translation, and enjoyed even by those who are not fluent.

 

The City – Impressionistic

This blue is not the sky, it is the color of the moon reflecting off a building in the café district. The blue melds with the yellow lights of the coffee shops and tea rooms cafes, exploding and expanding over the heads of chatting patrons while walking shadows pass by the windows, their arms pulled tight to their chests, their bodies huddled together. Maybe they are lovers, relatives. That shadow is a small child, maybe a little girl who looks into the café while her mother pulls her along, so she cannot fully comprehend the carefree cheer of those inside. The moon has already made its presence known even though it is only a few minutes past dusk. And so on the horizon we see a small patch of light revealing the shadings of an alley that runs along the side of the café, a strange place where the shadows make their ascent into nothingness. Below, we can make out the beginning of a bridge and a suggestion of water, and closer, the bank of a river. Off in the distance, we see the lights of the other boroughs, large buildings and small houses dotted about beside bare bones apartments and wide streets with narrow alleys. Shopping centers, bodegas, corporations and local markets disappear into the horizon. It’s a port city with bridges to connect the two islands separated from the mainland by the Txectliana River. Are we in the Old City? This seems to be a typical neighborhood there, with balconies overflowing with flowers and brick-paved roads. Bridges to the east connect the borough with Barrio Gitano and to the southeast La Tristiana, named after the aforementioned river that separates the federal district from the residential section of the borough.

For years the Old City was famous for its rivers and canals to such an extent that around the world it was known as the Venice of the South. You cannot see all of the Old City’s grandeur within the frames of the portrait, but what you can see offers a glimpse at the reality of life throughout. In this sense, the city is a street. A city is more than stones and trees and grass. It is more than tourist traps and government mandates and initiatives. Look, look at the clothes of the people indoors. Look at the jewelry shining in the electric lights of those sitting in the comfort and warmth of the cafes. Look at their fashionable silk shoes and pearl necklaces. Look at their pale faces. And, finally, look at the periphery, at the other side of the streets, at the couples and the children that descend into the darkness of the alley, with their dirty, old clothes, their hidden faces and the prominence of their backs facing the spectator. You don’t know their skin color, their age or if they are ugly or handsome. Even though there are more of these people than those inside the cafés, you know nothing of their existence, while the rich and famous enjoy the night in full view. They celebrate their good lives with little thought of the shadows that pass them by.

No, if you look carefully, you will see that not a trace of darkness touches the ethereal bodies of the rich, and the light itself retracts as it approaches the sphere of the passersby. Why does it not touch their faces as well? Is it that there are types of light for some and not for others? Who decides such things? And more importantly, how do those in the shadows tolerate such an existence? Do you recognize that this is a global reality or do you prefer to believe that such problems only exist where you are absent? Either way, in this street, on this night, the rich sit bathed in light while the downtrodden majority can only pray to be graced by the aura of illumination. These humble souls that, instead of enjoying a night of luxury, make their way home in darkness, silence, and indifference.

Realize that there are weightless shadows and there are heavy shadows. Shadows that evoke tranquility and those that suffocate the souls which they afflict. There are those that slumber and those that rage at their very existence, that pound the earth and whose fury reaches a fever pitch, growing and growing and growing until it is released like a fire bomb.

La ciudad – Impresionista

Este azul no es el cielo, es el color de la luna contra un edificio en el distrito de cafés. Abajo se refleja el amarillo de la luz, y las sombras que caminan frente a las ventanas de los cafés, los que se sientan en las mesas y que charlan, las sombras con brazos entrelazados sobre los codos, quizás son amantes, otros solo parientes, y esa sombra chiquita, esa debe pertenecer a una niña. Y mientras la luna está presente, es apenas un poquito después del crepúsculo, y así vemos en el horizonte, entre los edificios, un toque ligero de azul casi blanco y la calle se estrecha hacia una avenida de oscuridad. Abajo, en la borde inferior del cuadro, vemos el principio de un puente y un atisbo de agua, el banco de un río. Pero en la distancia, a su alrededor, vemos las luces de otros barrios, unos de edificios grandes con casas pequeñas, apartamentos de cemento y metal con calles anchas y estrechas. Tiendas, bodegas, negocios de corporaciones y mercados, una ciudad con puerto y puentes que conectan a las dos islas – ¿Estamos en La Ciudad Vieja? Sí, esto es un barrio típico de allá, con sus balcones llenos de flores y sus senderos de ladrillo. Así los puentes conectan al este con el Barrio Gitano y al sudoeste con “La Tristiana” llamada así por el río que separa el sector del gobierno y la parte residencial. Una isla de ríos y canales que en todo el mundo se conoce como la Venecia del Sur. Nada de esto aparece en la escena, pero contiene todo lo que la ciudad ofrece. Así la ciudad es una calle. ¿Qué vemos realmente? ¿Quién está dentro de los cafés y quién está afuera? Porque una ciudad es más que piedra y grama y árboles, es más que sitios turísticos y más que un gobierno que dicta proyectos e iniciativas. ¡Mira! ¡mira su ropa! A las joyas que brillan en la luz de los cafés de los que permanecen sentados. A los zapatos de moda, a los sombrereros de seda, a los collares de perlas. A sus rostros pálidos o de oliva. ¡Y mira! ¡mira el periférico! Al otro lado de la calle, a las parejas de adultos y niños que caminan hacia la oscuridad de la avenida, con sus camisas viejas, sucias, con sus rostros ocultos, a espaldas del espectador. No sabe cuál es su color de piel, no sabe su edad o si esté guapo o feo. Aunque hay más de esta gente, no sabe nada más que su existencia, mientras que los ricos y famosos gozan de la noche en los cafés. Se divierten sin ninguna preocupación, no saben nada de las sombras. No, en este cuadro no les toca ni un rasgo de oscuridad, todo el contorno de sus cuerpos están inundados por la luz, y las luces alrededor de la escena ¿les alcanzan las caras del pueblo escondido también? ¿O hay luces para unos y otras para el resto? ¿Quién lo decide? ¿Y cómo soportar tal cosa? ¿Reconoce que esta es una realidad global o prefiere pensar que estos problemas sólo existen en sitios donde usted no está presente? De todos modos, en esta calle, en esta noche, los ricos se sientan debajo de la luz brillante y el resto solo puede esperar a ser tocado por algunos rayos aquí o allá, mientras que caminan hacia sus casas, o apartamentos, o cajas, ¿o a quién le importa?

Pero hay sombras ligeras y sombras pesadas, sombras que inspiran tranquilidad y sombras que sofocan. Hay unas dormidas y otras enfurecidas, que hacen ruido y calor que crecen, y crecen, y crecen como el fuego de una bomba.

This portrait opens the book and was the very first one to be written. One thing I have been asked often when I have shared the portraits is whether they are actual paintings that I have just copied and repurposed. Considering that this style took years to perfect, if I were solely doing the literary equivalent of tracing that would be quite a letdown, no? With the exception of two portraits, all of them are originals. For sure, I was inspired by certain pieces within a given style, but the image itself is my own.

That being said, this portrait was especially difficult because I had to give the geography of the city as well as highlight the book’s main theme of class conflict. Aside from setting the stage, I also had to create a compelling opening with enough energy to grab the reader’s attention. One reason for writing the book in Spanish was the way in which the language naturally builds to a crescendo, and here you can see that in the final paragraph.

I cannot stress enough the importance of sound in making these portraits come alive. This is clear in the last line, which is different in each language. The literal translation is “There are those in slumber and those in rage, that make sounds and heat that grows and grows and grows like the fire from a bomb.” However, when changing languages, I found that the phrase “fire from a bomb,” like most passive language in English, lacked the punch required for that moment. For that reason, I changed it to “firebomb,” which has a visceral quality that is more effective in English.  But another quality lost in translation is the way in which Spanish phrases questions. If you look at the text, you will notice that many questions occur in the middle of a sentence, which is to say, Spanish notes when a declarative sentence becomes a question, while in English, this shift is subtler. The visual effect of this makes the language much more conversational, the same way in which the still portrait implies questions through its details, or lack thereof. This first portrait, in many ways, instructs the reader on how to read these vignettes. To notice where light hits. To notice the detailing of background as well as foreground objects. To take in the landscape. To notice the blind spots, and to regard what is within and outside of the frame. Through that, the story of the portrait reveals itself.

 

The Kiss—Surrealism

Joaquín: Face to face. Lips to lips. In this living room, at this party. Our mouths meet and I inhale your spirit’s breath. You smell of makeup and perfume. Of a humid air filled with specks of sand that has risen from the floor with the footsteps of those who surround us with their drunken idiocy and inane laughter. These people who philosophize and gossip like their words are life’s blood and when they touch the ears of their friends they suddenly reveal, in the depths of the listener’s minds, the mysteries of the universe. Are we nothing more than smell and sound? We talk and talk but the feel of your mouth speaks to me all the poetry necessary to sustain life as a happy man for the rest of my days. We are united, outside the periphery of these people who might as well not even exist. There is the question of whether or not we exist as we are, or are in fact, only manifested energy.

Your lips touch mine and I know that they are real, and yet I sense that at any moment someone could walk up and interrupt this moment and we would vanish like ice under the sun. What I do see is the shadow of our lips surrounded by alarm clocks ready to strike twelve. Where there should be ears are, instead, open windows and on the other side the sounds of the street blending with those of the party. Laughter and car alarms and police sirens and these people here are going to interrupt us, I know it.

My lips tremble, and I fear returning to the empty human being that existed prior to this moment. I am as light as notes from a piano, one that exists below the image of our lips and played by the beating of our hearts. Amelita. A name and a state of being. Ameltat.  A code that I must decipher before I can get a moment’s rest. The clocks merge and the window closes and I forget all of the anxieties that plague me. We are surrounded by eyes, more than I can count – all orange, violet, and yellow. Eyes that weep and eyes that laugh. Yet none of it matters to me. We are surrounded, yet apart.

Amelita: Face to face. Lips to lips. A poem to my solitude. Before I met you, my solitude was my best friend, a precious companion, the only one I was sure would not deceive me. When I kissed other people I was merely pretending, like in a performance. My kisses with those faceless others were not out of love, but rather to pass the time or satisfy my own desires. Now I am consumed with fear of your absence. When I cannot see you, the weight of longing kills me slowly, like the seconds counting down to our passing.

When we kiss I see ourselves in cubed silhouettes. In one cube we observe one another, separated by a block of white light. In another, our open mouths begin their journey toward reuniting. In the last one our lips touch, and the silhouette of one appears in the pupil of the other. All these images are superimposed over my face, like a puzzle. I breathe in your essence and while I hear the voices of others nearby, our embrace intensifies. I hold you close to stave off the relentless march of time toward our inevitable death. As we hold this moment, I am reminded that not all seconds are created equal. There are those that seem to occur outside of time, when two spirits are united to create a perfect moment, an endless moment, which justifies all those lonely nights and boring, aimless days.

Yet, without those sad days and nights consumed by the stupidities of life, we would not be able to experience and treasure the sensation of time standing still.

Amelita y Joaquín: Face to face. Lips to lips. Two images, two profiles. Two people, united in suffering, beauty, and love.

El beso – Surrealismo

Joaquín: Cara a cara. Labio a labio. En esta sala, en esta fiesta. Se reúnen las bocas e inhalo el aliento que conlleva el espíritu. Tu olor a maquillaje y perfume, de humedad en el aire, y las partículas de arena que emanan del piso con cada paso de esta gente borracha y eufórica. Esta gente que filósofa y coquetea con sus palabras son la sangre de la vida y cuando les toquen los oídos de sus amigos los misterios del universo se revelarán. ¿No somos nada más que ruidos y olores? Hablamos y hablamos pero el roce de tu boca me brinda toda la poesía necesaria para soportar esta vida feliz hasta el fin de mis días. Ya estamos unidos, en esta sala llena de gente que no se da cuenta de nuestra existencia. Surge la pregunta de que si existimos o solo somos energía manifestada. Siento tus labios. Tus labios son reales, lo sé, y parece que en cualquier momento alguien va a interrumpir este instante y nos desvaneceremos como hielo bajo el sol. Lo único que veo es la sombra de nuestros labios rodeados por relojes con campanas listas para sonar. En lugar de nuestras orejas hay ventanas abiertas y tras una apertura llegan los sonidos de la calle mezclándose con los de la fiesta. Risas y alarmas de carros y sirenas de la policía, los sonidos o la gente van a interrumpir, lo sé. Mis labios tiemblan, no quieren volver a ser el humano vacío que fui antes de este momento. Ya soy tan ligero como una nota de piano, un piano que existe bajo la imagen de nuestros labios. Uno que es tocado por los latidos de nuestros corazones. Amelita, un nombre y un estado de ser. Amelita, un código que hay que descifrar para dormir. Los relojes se funden y la ventana cierra y me olvido de las ansias que me plagan. Estamos rodeados por ojos. Más ojos de los que puedo contar, ojos anaranjados, amarillos y violetas. Ojos que lloran y que ríen. Pero no me importa. Estamos rodeados, y a la vez, separados.

Amelita: Cara a cara. Labio a labio. Un poema a mi soledad. Antes de ti ella fue mi mejor amiga, una compañera preciosa, la única que nunca me engañó. Los besos con las demás eran imitación, como en un espectáculo. Los hacía como una forma de pasar el tiempo o para apaciguar algo fastidioso. Pero ahora lo que temo es tu ausencia. El peso que me aflige cuando no te veo me mata lentamente, como los segundos restantes para el momento de la muerte. Así cuando nos besamos veo que somos como sombras en cuadros. En uno nos observamos, con un bloque de luz blanca que nos separa. En otro nos acercamos con las bocas entreabiertas. En otro nos tocamos los labios, y aparece una sombra en tu ojo. Todas las imágenes están sobrepuestas en mi cara en pedazos, como un rompecabezas. Inhalo tu esencia y aunque oigo las voces más cerca de nosotros, te abrazo con más intensidad, por un segundo, antes de seguir la marcha al regreso de nuestras vidas y responsabilidades y las cosas que nos distraen de nuestra vejez y muerte inevitable, dentro de este segundo recordamos que no pasamos bastante segundos iguales, segundos que expiran fuera del tiempo, cuando los espíritus de dos seres humanos se unen y comparten un momento perfecto, valen la pena todas las noches solitarias, todos los días aburridos y perdidos que pasaban. Todo valió la pena porque sin las estupideces de esta vida, no podría estar aquí para experimentar la sensación de que el tiempo se detuvo.

Amelita y Joaquín: Cara a cara, labio a labio, dos imágenes, dos rostros. Dos personas, unidas en sufrimiento, belleza, y amor.    

One of the challenges I faced was in deciding whether or not all of the images would be presented in the same way. That is, a lengthy description followed by a narrative. The more of these I wrote, and the more styles I explored, including photography and cinema, the more restrictive I found that structure. So if you’re going to break tradition, surrealism is probably the best place to do it. The important thing with surrealism is understanding that merely throwing a bunch of weird objects at a canvas is not how you do it. Surrealism is actually very deliberate. Even when an artist, like David Lynch, goes completely opaque in rendering a specific meaning from their work, the overall theme and tone matches the material that is less decipherable. We may not get why a man with a vulture’s head is in the edge of the frame, but it fits the feel of the overall image.

So keeping that in mind, I had to think a lot about how the images conjured up by these monologues applied to the characters of Joaquín and Amelita. At this point in the book, this is their second date, and Joaquín has just embarrassed himself in front of Amelita’s father, a famous scholar and journalist. On their first date, their conversation was interspersed with a mutual fantasy where they tango in an ornate dancehall. Amelita, who is a dancer and Joaquín, who is a muralist, met at one of her performances, where the show was interrupted by a political spectacle. So their relationship has its roots in the off-kilter and dream-like. For their first kiss, I wanted to capture that dream quality, as well as the sense that all young lovers have of being unbound by time. Here are two people who are able to block out every distraction, every unpleasantry, and tune out all of reality to focus solely on themselves, not in a narcissistic way, but in a lovingly possessive way. This world is the one they have made for each other, out of love and out of desire, but mostly out of desire.    

 

The Mother of the Nation – Muralism

She is not within the painting, she is the painting. Thirty five feet high and seventy feet wide, her body is bathed in the colors of fire yet her eyes project icy depths. She appears to be screaming, her sharpened teeth and serpent tongue ready to devour her subjects.

She reaches outward to the masses, with a crucifix in her right hand and two crisscrossed rifles in the left, and behind each image, in the center of her palms, blue flames anoint the ancient institutions.

Between the breasts of this tortured goddess emerges the face of an indigenous miner covered in coal and dust. His eyes carry within them the suffering of centuries that weigh on him building with every passing moment. Over the mouth of the miner is the flag of Tristiana. A foreign flag for this man, who comes from a people whose history on this island extends to a time beyond the limits of memory. His tribe is as much a part of this land as the trees, bushes, grasses and flowers. When the elders of his tribe die, their spirits are carried by the same wind which caressed the faces of their ancestors. The miners were a prideful people who saw themselves as more cultured and refined than the surrounding tribes, a belief which was heightened with the arrival of the Europeans, whose diseases annihilated every tribe except for theirs. It is impossible, they reasoned, to destroy what was essential to the natural order.

But just as the fields and mountains of Tristiana demonstrate every spring with the blossoming of orange flowers and sweet fruits beloved by everyone, and which prior to the European’s arrival had stretched across the Tristianan countryside in an act of domination not seen since by either man or nature, a glorious display of beauty that now is resigned to claustrophobic gardens and the most remote mountain valleys; just as those flowers solely exist in patches that blend with newer species brought from across the Atlantic, a mockery of its former self, so does this man’s tribe. Their traditions have been incorporated into those of the Spaniards, select words adopted by the new tongue and bastardized of their original meaning, and their ancients food have been converted into national dishes served in tourist traps and the occasional restaurant, but lacking the original flavor, which came from the land rather than mass produced in factories. Students and surfers tattoo themselves with petroglyphs that the miner’s ancestors carved into stones in the south of the island in the name of unity with their indigenous brothers, yet they refuse to learn the actual histories and stories, nor are they taught in schools, to identify with his people is little more than the fashion of the moment, a petty act of rebellion against the Spaniards they refuse to relate to but who they embody in language, manner, attitude, and appearance.

The indigenous people continue to exist solely as miners in the eastern mountains, far from their ancestral villages. The original, pure language having been lost in the corners of the minds of their descendants. They remain mostly as an oddity for tourists to gawk at and buy shirts displaying the petroglyphs. They are ghosts, artifacts obscured by myth and distortions.

For this, the mother of the nation screams to the point of silence, one informed by a sincere loss of hope. A silence that carries five centuries of exploitation and mortal wounds. The miner looks at you with eyes that beg for recognition, for mercy, and more than that, for relief. There was a time when his tribe formed the bridge between the human world and the natural world of Tristiana. It was a bridge which many years ago fell into the abyss of forgetting, where it now lives alongside modern man.

La Madre de la Nación – Muralismo

Ella no está dentro del cuadro, ella es el cuadro. Treinta metros de altitud y sesenta de ancho. Su cuerpo se baña en los colores del fuego pero sus ojos proyectan frialdad. Su boca forma un grito con dientes afilados y lengua de serpiente. En sus manos aparece un crucifijo en la derecha y dos rifles en la izquierda que cruzan para formar una equis y de las dos palmas emanan llamas azules. Entre las tetas de esta diosa torturada emerge la cara de un indígena cubierto en carbón y polvera. Sus ojos contienen el sufrimiento de siglos que pesan más y más a cada segundo, creando hondas arrugas bajo los párpados. Sobre la boca del indígena la bandera de Tristiana. Una bandera extranjera de un pueblo cuya historia en esta isla se extiende detrás de tanto tiempo que la memoria de otra tierra se ha borrado. Su tribu viene de la isla como los árboles, los arbustos, la grama y las flores. Cuando sus viejos se mueren el viento lleva a sus almas como lo hizo con todos sus ancestros. Esta gente llena de orgullo pensaba que su cultura era superior, mejor que la de las tribus en otras partes de la isla. Esta creencia fue fortalecida con la llegada de los europeos que aniquilaron a los demás menos a ellos. No se puede destruir lo que es esencial a la naturaleza. Pero como los prados y montañas de Tristiana mostraban las flores naranjas cada primavera y frutas dulces consumidas por todo el mundo, y que antes de la colonia los sembradíos de flores se extendían por kilómetros tan lejos como alcanzara la vista y hoy en día solo existen en jardines cuadrados y valles profundos de la cordillera central; la tribu solo existe en minorías. Sus tradiciones han sido incorporadas a las de los españoles, su idioma enriquece la lengua con frases coloquiales y sus comidas son paladeadas en los restaurantes tradicionales y en hoteles con comida típica de la isla. Los petroglifos tallados en superficies de piedra en el sur de la isla aparecen en tatuajes de surfers y estudiantes universitarios; pero en ningún texto de la escuela se les enseña a los jóvenes la historia ni la trascendencia de este original pueblo de la isla. Siguen existiendo obreros en las minas del este, su idioma perdido en las esquinas más oscuras de las mentes de sus descendientes. Siguen existiendo como una imagen para camisetas que se venden en tiendas turísticas. Son fantasmas, artefactos de mitos y mentiras. Por eso la mujer de la nación grita hasta el punto del silencio, un silencio exhaltado por la falta de esperanza. Un silencio que lleva cinco siglos de explotación y heridas mortales. El indígena te mira con ojos que mendigan reconocimiento, misericordia, y más que nada: alivio. Alguna vez está tribu representó el puente entre el mundo del hombre y el mundo natural. Un puente que hace muchos años cayó en el abismo del olvido, donde vive el hombre moderno.     

This was one of the two portraits I mentioned that were based on actual paintings/photographs. The portrait is a reimagining of David Siqueiros’s “Democracy Breaking Her Chains.” Siqueiros was the inspiration for the character of Joaquín, who much like Siqueiros, feuds with his best friend and rival over what makes an authentic revolutionary and Marxist. In the case of Siqueiros, that rival was Diego Rivera, who is Santiago in Tristiana. The real Siqueiros fought in the Mexican Revolution, and was routinely imprisoned by the Mexican government, who alternately was his main employer. Unlike Rivera, Siqueiros refused money from capitalists and foreign businessmen, and that animosity fueled the rivalry between the men in real life and in my story. In the book, there is a scene where Joaquín and Santiago argue over the depiction of indigenous people in artwork, with Joaquín taking the stance that merely putting indigenous people in a painting is exploitative since the artist is clearly only doing it to bring attention to their high mindedness. Joaquín believes that no detail should appear in a painting without a reason outside of the artist’s ego (this is a direct jab at Diego Rivera’s contradictory practice of working with capitalists like the Rockefeller’s, only to then place Lenin randomly in a mural, at which point, he would suddenly play the principled ideologue). True to form, the depiction of the indigenous person in this portrait is central to the work’s main theme, making it essential rather than superfluous. Funny enough, the painter of this mural is not Joaquín, but Darío, who is based on the third and unjustly overlooked great Mexican muralist, José Orozco. Darío is a man of philosophy who seeks to pull art out of the confines of human understanding in order to achieve a transcendence equal to divinity. Darío plays the role of mediator between Joaquín and Santiago, and exposes the petty duality of their stances in order to reveal the greater issues at hand. It is in Darío that I unearth the conflict between man and nature. Between self-importance and irrelevance. Between human ingenuity and natural domination, that drives the second half of Tristiana.   

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *