Commentary on The drama (El drama)
“I need my painting to be a dramatic echo of the moment I live in”, Raquel Forner stated after presenting Mujeres del mundo (Women of the World) in 1938, one of the works that makes up the long saga of pieces that she produced from 1937 onward related to the drama of war (first the Spanish Civil War and later the World War). She put her work at the service of the Republic, freedom and respect for human rights. It was at that time that her production truly unfolded; she developed a powerful form of figuration that sought to represent deeds by way of a symbolic-plastic synthesis that would denounce mankind’s crimes against humanity. In this sense, Forner emerges as a key Argentinean artist in the midst of a repositioning process in the face of the world’s contemporary reality; she produces her Serie de España (Spain Series, 1937-1939) and El Drama (The Drama, 1939-1946) series in this context. Her works resolve tensions between life and art and between art and politics in a very particular way, and they stand on their own accord with new responses thanks to a new way of looking at things; her condition as a woman constitutes no minor detail, given that this is precisely what leads her to diverse revelations regarding the world’s contemporary crisis.Forner had set out in her artistic career in the twenties, in the midst of an effervescent climate of reconstruction in the period between the two Wars. At that time, novelty was gaining ground on several fronts within the field of culture. The realm of visual arts in Buenos Aires in which she was working at that time was going through a process of growing consolidation at the same time that tensions resulting from the impact of modernity and the advent of “new art” were also being actively felt. Words like “modern art”, “avant-garde”, “new sensibility” and “young generation” appeared with increasing frequency in the pages of the newspaper. Echoes of European exhibitions arrived by way of specialized correspondents, who transferred artistic debates from European centers to the local papers. In the context of this process, traveling to Europe constituted a necessary step for any young artist. Forner was no exception: she toured Spain, Italy and Spanish Morocco and settled in France, in Paris to be exact (1929-1931). As early as 1928, in response to her presentation at the Salón Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Buenos Aires press already indicated: “Forner is an artist who pays close attention to the rhythm of her era, she defines herself with a clear outline as part of the avant-garde […] she expresses her reality, which does not mean a literary re-interpretation of a world of reference, but a conscious reliance on sensible things” (1).Upon her return to Buenos Aires in 1931, she found an environment where space was being affirmed for the arts, and within it there was a place for “new art”, whose construction needed to be continued. During the course of the twenties and entering into the thirties, the number of exhibitions involving Argentinean and foreign artists who represented these new tendencies was continually growing. In just a few years, Buenos Aires had become a fruitful battleground between what were recognized as consecrated aesthetics—19th Century naturalism inherited from impressionism and Spanish regional painting—and new plastic proposals that bore the mark—underlying all their variations—of a different way of comprehending form, a figuration that revised classic teachings and the legacy of Cezanne along with the experiences of the first avant-garde from a modern perspective. On the other hand, the same national and international realities that progressively flooded into artists and intellectuals’ awareness during the thirties also invaded Raquel Forner’s mental panorama: the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War obliged observation of the world’s chaotic landscape, creating a turning point toward a greater commitment to current events. She identified with the struggles embodied in the Frente Popular—the international anti-fascist front—and gave her work a new direction, constructing powerfully expressive iconography focused on images of women as protagonists. A sense of drama pervades her work during this period. In 1937 she began work on her Serie de España, and in 1939, on El Drama, which would have continuity until 1946, the year she began the series titled Las rocas (The Rocks). Both Serie de España and El Drama are permeated by pathos, installed directly within a tragic, violent landscape that tears its inhabitants apart. In Forner’s work from the thirties and forties, color gives way to contrasts in value and the dramatic intensity that resides in the production of heart-rending landscapes and figures. Confusing landscapes are overshadowed by the dense atmosphere that follows after an explosion. The earth, trees, traces of architecture and human beings are all elements that construct these visions of horror: scenes that embody a dense synthesis between outdoor landscapes and the inner devastation and landscapes of desolation, hopelessness and despondency of man, or to be more precise, of women, based on the emphasis she places there in the face of an estranged world.The 1942 work El drama presents itself as a synthesis of several other pieces that integrate the saga of contemporary human suffering. A series of simple, monumental preliminary drawings lead to this complex work, teeming with figures and elements that, joined together, look to establish a narrative sense that leaves no room for doubt regarding her position with respect to the drama of war. Several women occupy the foreground. The image itself is fractured in the portrait that is abandoned on the ground with other elements like the globe, a bunch of papers and a hand that is wounded like Christ’s. Toward the middle ground there is a desolate panorama: consumed bodies, humanity incarnated in death, charred trees and land laid waste, all submerged in the atmosphere that is breathed after a bombing. This is a declaration of principles, with the vocation of stating “nunca más” (never again).
by Diana B. Wechsler
1— “El XVIII Salón Nacional de Bellas Artes”, La Vanguardia, Buenos Aires, September 30, 1928.
1942. ROMERO BREST, Jorge, “El XXXII Salón Nacional de Bellas Artes”, Saber Vivir, Buenos Aires, a. 3, nº 27, octubre, p. 15-16.
1946. AMORIN, Ricardo, “Raquel Forner”, Orientación, Buenos Aires, 9 de octubre [s.p.].
1968. SQUIRRU, Rafael, “Raquel Forner”, Américas, Buenos Aires, vol. 20, nº 9, septiembre, p. 6-12, reprod. byn p. 8.