Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Allan Pero


This study proposes a rethinking of the word-image relation through an examination of Joaquin Torres-García’s Constructive Universalism (ca.1934-1949) and the Brazilian Modernist movement of Antropofagia (1928-ca.1934). By placing both in the close relation of a ‘diptych,’ I argue for a new reading of Torres-García’s visual work as well as a different understanding of Antropofagia.

In the first part of this work, I argue, through a close reading and viewing of Torres-García’s work, that the constitutive instability between word/image has been overlooked in favour of, on the one hand, an appropriation in terms of a ‘deviation’ from the canon of Geometric Abstraction and on the other hand as a paradigm of Pre-Columbian, Inca abstraction. Both discursive gestures repress the matter of visual aesthesis. Against this strategy of legibility, I propose a counter-reading through the concepts of ‘graphism’ (Leroi-Gourhan), ‘manuscription’ (Sarabia), the ‘sensory field’ (Lyotard) and the hypericon. These concepts allow contingency to find its way back into Torres-García’s oeuvre in opposition to neo-Classicist misappropriations. Throughout my argument, it will become evident that Torres-García’s paintings bespeak an irrepressible mestizaje, an intertwining of the figural with the abstract. It is this tension animating Torres-García’s work that has been neglected by the disciplining of discourse’s ‘logic of illustration.’

In the second part of the study, I take Antropofagia not so much as a historically determinate period in the narrative of Brazilian Modernism, but as a heuristic for the thinking through of the ‘inconstancy’ of the relation between word and image in its New World Baroque vertigo. This vertigo is politically charged, and amounts to a ‘counter-Conquest’ (Lezama Lima) of the clear and distinct distribution of legibility and visibility inherited through coloniality. The metaphoric economy of cannibalism in Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago” (1928) in conjunction with the visual work of Tarsila do Amaral and the ‘re-discovery’ of Barroco Mineiro by the Brazilian avant-garde deconstructs the narrative of rupture so as to engage in a complex ‘route to roots’ highlighting the artifice of origin. This same artifice marks Torres-García’s oeuvre, and by ‘closing’ the diptych, I show how abstraction folds back into a Baroque superimposition.