America Inverted

January 20, 2019: América invertida (or My first tattoo)

If I remember correctly, I first saw América Invertida in Montevideo in the Torres García Museum maybe two months after I had moved to Buenos Aires in February of 2002. All I remember clearly was that I was immediately drawn to it. When it comes to art, afterwards one can try to explain, to justify what the works means, why one likes it, but in the moment it is often just an attraction, a recognition, like being called by a familiar voice that you have never heard before.

Joaquín Torres García, the artist, said, “Our north is the South.” (Nuestro norte es el Sur.) in a lecture he entitled, “The School of the South” in 1935, eight years before creating América Invertida.

In 2007, I was back at the museum, returning to Torres García’s map and saw a book entitled New York, a collection of his journal writings from his time in the city where I was born and raised. It has become a small obsession of mine to read about New York as seen by Latin Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My father was a boy in East New York and the Lower East Side in the years that Torres García was there. In one part of his journal, which he edited in 1930, he wrote, “Do you want me to concede that this is the greatest nation in the world, because of its art, because of something else? Well, then I will. However, this is not reason enough for the whole world to like it. For me, for example, it is unbearable. –Bring here to me the best American that you can find, the nicest, the most just, the most ‘gentleman’. He will be my mortal enemy. Why? I do not try to figure it out, because it is impossible to understand why. It is something that is deeper than work and makes it so that the smallest sympathy cannot be established; it is to the contrary even beforehand, immediately a spontaneous hatred and the most irreconcilable repulsion is developed. – There is nothing I can argue with you, but you must also not pretend that I should like what I do not like.”

But, of course, I was attracted to the work before reading any of this. I believe I was taken by its simple directness and of the possibilities it evoked for me: another way of seeing, of thinking, another language. Why do we say “down” south? And “up” north? As if we had to climb up a ladder or go into a hole. And why was I taught in the United States that North America and South America are two continents, but in South American nations children learn that América is a single continent? And América Invertida is a beautiful question for me, like something a child would ask.

Lucila, or Luli as most people call her, works on the weekends at a café I frequent. Her body is a canvas covered in tattoos of flora and fauna, and our politics are aligned which is important here. One day, I saw her sharing an artist notebook with other staff at the café. It was full of wonderful drawings: mythical creatures with flowers for eyes, crescent moons with roses, runes and symbols. Luli told me I could see more of her work on her Instagram page and there I saw among the sketches and tattoos of flowers and creatures, my América invertida.

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