What boundaries? Design history in Latin America

Lara-Betancourt, Patricia (2013) What boundaries? Design history in Latin America. In: 'Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives; 5-8 Sep 2013, Ahmedabad, India. (Unpublished)


The debate about the nation being still a valuable framework for histories of art and design depends on which area and period are taken into account. A national perspective would seem relevant when discussing Latin American countries in the nineteenth century. Although Latin America tends to be seen as a unit, and there are merits for this approach, there are also significant differences between the North, the South and the Caribbean, and between countries, in terms of geography, climate, language and history. In spite of global forces, a national approach would appear unavoidable if we wanted to examine the impact that these differences had on the material culture and the arts, at the time of the emergence of republican nations with their new political boundaries and their struggle to implement free commerce and Liberalism. A national approach would consider and question the political, social, cultural, and linguistic homogeneity of the region. One of the difficulties researchers face in Latin America is the absence of the design historical discipline within its universities and academia. There are though a handful of pioneering scholars and publications which have contributed to the study of industrial and graphic design in the contemporary period. This paper will make reference to these studies and will also address the methodological issues and challenges I have encountered in carrying out research on the design and decorative arts in Colombia and Latin America for the period 1830 to 1910. It will examine the complexity of design historical research in a postcolonial society, and will ponder whether it is useful or appropriate to discuss the design history of a whole continent taking into account the virtual absence of national or Latin-American design historical discourses.

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