Tag Archives: avant-garde

Poems, Magazines & Manifestos: Exploring Literary Vanguardism in Early 20th-Century Latin America

A new exhibition at the Benson Latin American Collection highlights the cultural production of the region’s avant-garde artists and thinkers

By Veronica Valarino

The early decades of the 20th century in major Latin American cities saw the explosion of publications and writers in a movement fueled by a growing access to publishing and an increasingly educated readership. The movement, known as vanguardismo, produced some of the region’s most celebrated writers, and reflected the dynamism and complexity of contemporary reality. These vanguardists embraced avant-garde techniques, experimental forms, and bold thematic explorations, capturing the turbulence of a rapidly changing society.  

Two magazine covers side by side. On the left, the black-and-white cover of "Revista de Antropofagia" (Cannablism Magazine) displays an archival drawing showing almost naked Indigenous people wearing feathers and carrying spears. They are leading around naked European men and are also shown eating their body parts and preparing a cooking fire. On the right is the graphically bold cover of Klaxon, a monthly modern-art magazine. The layout of the cover features black letters, several bold fonts, and a large red A, which fits into several words on the cover, including the magazine's title.
Magazine covers from Revista de Antropofagia (Cannabalism Magazine) and Klaxon, a monthly modern art magazine. Both were published in São Paulo.
Excerpt of a poem by the Brazilian Mário de Andrade appears typed on a yellowing piece of paper superimposed upon a enlarged grayscale photo of the poet. His name appears signed at the bottom of the poem, as well as in two other places on the exhibition poster.
Brazilian poet Mário de Andrade, exhibition board and poem excerpt

The term vanguardism originates from the military concept of the vanguard, which refers to soldiers at the forefront of a formation. In the context of the arts, avant-garde, or vanguardia, denotes innovative and provocative artistic and literary movements that emerged in Europe and the Americas during the 1920s and 1930s. These movements arose amidst a tumultuous era marked by significant events such as World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, and the Spanish Civil War. The combination of societal dissatisfaction, technological advancements, and political upheaval prompted reflections on the contemporary crisis and an uncertain future. Avant-garde artists, or vanguardistas, distinguished themselves by their pursuit of innovation and experimentation, deliberately breaking away from established artistic traditions. 

Black and white photo of Peruvian poet Magda Portal wearing a broad-brimmed stylish hat across the top. Lower half shows the cover of the Peruvian literary journal Amauta, with a stylized figure of a pre-Colombian man on the cover who is planting seeds, along with a brief description of literary manifestos by Latin American vanguardist poets.
Top: Peruvian poet Magda Portal; below: cover of the Peruvian journal Amauta
A copy of Amauta magazine with old, stained and yellowing pages is open to the title page. Prominent on the righthand page below the magazine's title in large all-caps lettering is a large red-and-black head drawn in the style of the Incas. On the facing page there is a full-page ad for malt liquor, text only.
Amauta January 1928 issue, Lima, Peru. The issue contains an article by the magazine’s founder, José Carlos Mariátegui, a leading voice in the country’s avant-garde movement and an outspoken Marxist.

Latin American vanguardismo, characterized by its unified yet distinct cultural development, arose almost simultaneously in major cities across the region, like Havana, Lima, Mexico City, Montevideo, Santiago, São Paulo, and, especially, Buenos Aires. Vanguardists’ intellectual, artistic, and political debates were documented in numerous periodicals and magazines, which also provided a platform for vanguardist manifestos. These publications articulated expansive poetic visions, engaged in political activism, and advocated for social and political change. 

Poster in background colors of white, pinkish, and blue pastels shows the covers of two publications and the photos of Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier and poet Nicolás Guillén along with biographical information about the two and pieces of text they authored.
Exhibition panel about Cuban vanguardists Alejo Carpentier and Nicolás Guillén

Latin American vanguardismo is a significant cultural movement that gave voice to a relatively unified and distinctly Latin American art. It is also part of a larger, international movement. Hence, Latin American vanguardismo should not be seen as a mere reproduction of the European avant-garde. It was a continent-wide development, simultaneously international and autochthonous in its orientation as it grew out of and responded to the continent’s own cultural and social concerns. 

Magazine cover for "Revista de Avance" has black lettering and designs printed on an olive-green background. The cover is very graphically interesting, with all of the letters and numbers done in creative typefaces, using the black and green to offset each other in the design.
Magazine cover of Revista de Avance, 1930. The magazine was published in Havana, Cuba, between 1927 and 1930.

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection has steadily expanded its archival materials and rare books related to the cultural history of Latin America over the years. Recent additions, such as the collections of César Vallejo, Magda Portal, and Pablo Antonio Cuadra, have significantly enhanced the collection, making it an invaluable resource for research. This exhibition delves into a pivotal historical moment shaped by visionary literary luminaries. By exploring their poetic works, magazines, and manifestos, we celebrate these influential figures. 

Poems, Magazines & Manifestos is on view in the Ann Hartness Reading Room at the Benson Latin American Collection (SRH 1), 2300 Red River Street, during summer and fall 2024.  

Library hours: Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm. Closed July 4 and Sept. 2. 

This exhibition was developed by Veronica Valarino, Benson Exhibition Curator.