Contesting categories of the 'fantastic' and 'surreal': a visual reading of Tilsa Tsuchiya's and Francisco Toledo's multidimensional and complex artistic visions
This thesis provides a critical analysis of artworks from the Peruvian Japanese artist, Tilsa Tsuchiya (1932-1984), and the Mexican Zapotec artist, Francisco Toledo (b. 1940), during the peak of their respective careers in the 1970s. Both of these artists were included in the 1988 exhibition, Art of the Fantastic: Latin America 1927-1987, which categorized them as a second generation of “fantastic” artists who “invented worlds…[as a] psychological or symbolic reflection of external conditions.” Although this exhibit was laden with reductive terminology about these and other artists, it raised important questions: What defines an “invented world?” Did these artists indeed create “invented worlds?” What external conditions did they respond to? And through what visual imagery did they establish their identities to define themselves?
Tsuchiya painted her figures in a utopia of fabricated environments based on Andean and Peruvian mountain landscapes. Her series comments on the psychosocial mode of indigenous Andean culture influenced by her cultural and nationalist background as a Peruvian, but also as a depoliticized response to the social and political upheaval of the 1968’s military coup in Peru. Toledo’s works of insects, reptiles, and other creatures swarm around human figures, which morph into anthropomorphic figures – as a means to reassert the cultural iconographies of Southwestern Mexican and Zapotec identity as a sign of animation and transformation. His artworks are a symbolic reference to existentialist views but also his strong Zapotec heritage. Although through different styles and artistic strains, both Tsuchiya’s and Toledo’s artworks activate and animate the contemporary issues of sexuality and gender from a broad base of cultural signifiers within an international language of abstraction and neo-figuration. This thesis argues that Tsuchiya’s and Toledo’s work incorporated indigenous myths, the natural landscape, animism, and anthropomorphism as an attempt to illuminate the multidimensionality and complexity of their contemporary lives and realities shaped in part by their cultural roots, heritage, and both regional and cosmopolitan milieus.