In September 1969, Dino Aranda, the Nicaraguan-born, American painter had his first individual show at the Pan American Union Building in Washington, D.C. The Organization of American States was headquartered in the building, and Jose Gomez Sicre was the Chief of the Division of Visual Arts. Gomez Sicre wrote the catalogue introduction for the exhibition, titled simply “Dino Aranda of Nicaragua,” presenting a factual background of the artist’s career.
However, it was the catalogue introduction written by Rafael Squirru, head of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Pan American Union that gives us a sense of the new direction that Aranda’s career has taken. After spending a few years living in Washington, D.C. and completing his studies at the Corcoran School of Art in 1967, Aranda went back to Nicaragua to visit. The situation he found was horrible, with dead bodies lying in the street, the result of the mistreatment of man by a brutal dictatorship.
The exhibition, reflecting the artistic turn, consisted of a series of works that reflected the reality of Nicaragua Aranda saw upon his return. There is a series of still lifes, titled “Still Life No. 17, 22, 23, and 24.” There is a “Still Life with Dog,” and a “Still Life with Corpse.” There is a Cage series, titled “Cage 21, 22, 23, and 24.” Then there is “Gray Cage,” “Arlington Series,” and “Christ No. 17.” The cage series consists of a number of artworks of birds in a cage. The cages are the Nicaraguan people living under this brutal dictatorship. Finally, there is the “Prisoner’s Series,” and perhaps the one most well-known today, “Three Figures,” depicting student martyrs in coffins, which is now part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
According to Aranda, the mistreatment of man can be seen in all dictatorships because absolute power without checks and balances corrupts. Aranda painted what he saw and felt to excise the sadness from his inner self. In his catalogue critic, Squirru notes the artistic change. He states he has followed Dino Aranda’s career for some time, and in his earlier stage his compositions had a spatial focus based on one point that was then played on with different counterpoints, mobilizing the rest of the canvas with intense color, or rather, color contrasts. Since returning from the visit to Nicaragua, Aranda’s contrasts have disappeared, and what was previously resolved with a counterpoint now gave way to a monotone atmosphere, resulting in a point of gloom.
Squirru writes that art belongs to the “other world,” the hereafter, and that an artist is never king of this world. Art is a transfiguration and a redemption of the here and now, and Aranda’s paintings, far from losing, actually gain aesthetic validity by portraying the reality of the Nicaraguan situation. The paintings denounce the finiteness of man. They demand love for Nicaragua and for its children.
From Washington, D.C. Aranda’s individual exhibition traveled to Guatemala, where it was presented by the Vertebra Group in September 1970. Roberto Cabrera wrote a profound critique of the work in the catalogue introduction. Cabrera is a Guatemalan post-war artist who exhibited at the IV Biennale in Paris in 1965 and at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin in 2016. According to Emiliano Valdes, writing a blog article in 2014 about Collectivity and Revolution for the Guggenheim, Roberto Cabrera was a member of the Vertebra Group, which like Praxis, was formed about the same time in response to the civil war and many decades of repression in Guatemala. He was a founding teacher at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
As an artist and teacher who had experienced the brutality of dictatorship and the violence of civil war, Cabrera understood Aranda’s work well. He states that Aranda’s work reflects the expression of man in Nicaraguan’s reality, where life is manifest with an anthropological rawness to present itself heartbreakingly in mutilated forms, shattered bodies cornered in niches or boxes, that twist in the air, tied or suspended. Beings that wrap themselves in disheveled spaces to show their remains of slaughtered flesh and bone. Visions of a world where man rebuilds himself with pieces.
According to Cabrera, Aranda’s expression starts from pictorial informalism, a total subversion, to identify with an environment and a time that is his own, and that is lived in reality and not in dreams. Expression that manifests itself with an interiority and intense subjectivism, in a search of an image of contemporary man. It is art that departs from the pure formalism of geometric abstraction and presents the other psychological face of current art, to define a realistic position that is based on everyday life, where instinct is more important that mathematical thought.
Cabrera further states that Aranda’s figurative art owes nothing to the classical tradition. Rather, it originates from a Latin American essence. It is creation that searches the immediate surroundings to find and reflect its own images. Cabrera states that what Aranda shows us is the presence of ourselves as a result of an eschatological existence, of death and the migration of the soul.
While the influential art critic of Latin American art, Marta Traba, in her book, Art of Latin America: 1900-1980, published by John Hopkins University Press in 1994, on page 162, characterized Aranda’s work as representative of a new trend in Latin American art, that of grotesque realism similar to the works of Francis Bacon, Aranda’s work is distinguishable from Bacon’s. While Bacon’s grotesque figures come from nightmares and dreams, Aranda’s figures depict reality, not fantasy.
Cabrera states that Aranda’s works show Aranda’s need to testify about the Nicaraguan reality in order to find a collective identity because art is collective and the testimony of an artist is who we are within the society in which we live. And according to Cabrera, this is the most important thing about Aranda’s work – it comes from a medium in the plastic arts, of presenting objects with three-dimensional effects, which arise from expressionism. It is expression that tends toward figuration, that defines in our time the reason or purpose for an art, that takes the plight of man as testimony, measure and force of creation. Cabrera states that the situation in Nicaragua is the same as anywhere. Cabrera might be identifying the Nicaraguan situation under Somoza with the civil war in Guatemala. Today, we can identify it with Putin’s bombing of the Ukraine. It is man’s inhumanity to man.
Following the exhibition in Guatemala, Aranda’s individual exhibition went to San Salvador, El Salvador, where it was shown at the Forma Gallery in March 1971, and for which Benjamin Canas, the Salvadorian artist, wrote a few words from his location in Washington, D.C.
By October 1971, Aranda’s individual exhibition reached Nicaragua, where it was presented by Praxis Galeria in a group show titled “Three Nicaraguan Painters: Aranda, Arostegui, and Selva.”