The cover design of Nativity/Nativité/Natividad, a new poetry book out of St. Martin, appears to be asking us to enter the epic poem through a portal of two towering sculptures by Fernando Botero.
The images that dominate the cover are of the colossal Adán and Eva bronze statues, measuring 222x110x63 and 226x90x75, housed at the Museo de Antioquia in Medellin, the Colombian city where the great artist was born in 1932.
House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP) published Nativity, a trilingual volume by Lasana M. Sekou in 2010. It might be the first book published in the Caribbean with cover art by the acclaimed painter and sculptor. Botero has been called a most “Beloved artist of the Americas” and as one of the world’s most successful contemporary artists, his iconic paintings sell for millions of dollars. (Artcity 21)
The “presence” of Botero’s work in St. Martin—standing relief on the book cover of a St. Martin/Caribbean literary text— probably should not be taken lightly.
“We all expand through this connectivity,” said Laura Richardson, director of the island’s important Roland Richardson Gallery. To the art director there is an essential connection between publisher, author, an artist’s work in relation to the book’s presentation, and the cultural consciousness of an “emerging nation” like St. Martin.
Regionally, the Botero images on a Caribbean book could stir conscious and subconscious questions, discussions, and casual comments about “what is art.” In St. Martin, recognizing beauty or emotional power in the masterpieces, can cause some to find new meaning in the exciting promise and serious production of the native art scene.
If the book in any way increases the amount of people who would see the art, especially in the home, then the Botero pieces could also relate to the value of art, to greater appreciation for and comparison with the works of the island’s own great painters, Roland Richardson and Cynric Griffith to name some.
Imagine that by “taking in” artistic images, while handling and consuming a cultural creation or product like Nativity, wider interest could be generated in art. In this regard, the art of an artist of the magnitude of Botero, viewed from the forum of a book cover, could also inspire further wonder and excellence in producing art in St. Martin, in the Caribbean. All of this while representing artistic and cultural identities that will last beyond the “don’t player-hate” mediocrity competing for prominence in our times.
HNP has placed work by outstanding artists on and in a number of its books. The mastery of Roland Richardson and the late Romare Bearden; the nouveau art genius of Cozbi Sanchez and Ras Mosera; the avant-garde and multimedia art of Drisana Jack and Angelo Rombley, tell of a few artists whose works have represented an essential art link between publisher, author, artist, book, and the cultural and creative consciousness of reader or nation. The cover of Nativity continues building this gallery of “connectivity.”
While HNP was wrapping up the “use permission” protocol with the Museo de Antioquia for the Adam and Eve images, the Dominican Republic had already cleared the way for the maestro’s work to be in that Caribbean country – launching the UNESCO designation of Santo Domingo as the American Capital of Culture for 2010.
This would be the first major solo exhibition by Botero in the Caribbean. I specify solo because of group shows at the University of Puerto Rico in 1970, and recently at FIART in the Dominican Republic. And I am mindful not to say the Caribbean “region” as that would include parts of Colombia and Botero’s early history at Tolu. Of course there are art experts far more knowledgeable than I who claim Botero as “one of Latin America’s, or the Caribbean’s – depending on which geography you follow, most famous artists.” (CAW magazine; Latin American Art)
The exhibition – “Fernando Botero: el dolor de Colombia” (Fernando Botero: Colombia’s Pain) – was on view at the National Gallery of Fine Arts in the historical capital from February 4 until April 4, 2010. The 25 oil paintings, 36 drawings, and 6 water colors were reviewed as the “artist’s denunciation of the history of violence in the last few decades in Colombia.” (listindiario.com; repeatingislands.com)
Botero is known for speaking his mind and for his generosity, which can be robust as his gorgeously fat paintings and sculptures. His “Boisterous, Provocative Artwork” (ChicagoSunTimes.com) can be elegantly playful as The dancers, which by the way is mentioned, “todas gorditas gorditas,” in Nativity (p. 133). Botero’s art can be powerfully iconic as the paintings of the Abu Ghraib tortures that caused uproar in the USA and that in 2006 were said to evoke “images of Christian martyrs.” (nytimes.com)
The exhibition of Fernando Botero in the Caribbean in 2010, is an art happening. Whether on a book’s cover, in a national gallery, or through news of the exhibit, it should stimulate some aspect of the human relationship to art. An aspect of that relationship is how people come to know each other across borders through art.
In polyglot St. Martin, while discussing the Botero images and the French translation of Nativity alongside its new English original and Spanish translation, Frantz Gumbs observed that, “the size of countries and territories does not prevent the networking and exchange among cultures, cultural works, and artists in the pursuit of excellence and coexistence.” (thedailyherald.com) Gumbs is president of the Collectivity of St. Martin, a colony of France. The Southern part of the island is a territory of the Netherlands. Sekou and his work advocate “independence and unification” for both parts of his St. Martin nation. (mtmkobbe.blogspot.com)
We may quicker understand great art on display in a gallery or in a museum, but what might art do for literature? According to literary critic Fabian Badejo, Nativity/Nativité/Natividad is a revolutionary text, written in the canto general style of the Americas. Botero’s Adam and Eve may be just the illustrative match to help light up new meaning about what this poetry is attempting to say … and what can be done with poetry, or any other genre of the arts, for life’s sake.
Ed. Note: Jacqueline Sample is a former president of Black Dimensions in Art, Inc. New York; and president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).