Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Dominican art shows the all vibrant colors and shades that the Caribbean offers.  Painting has long been the dominant form of art in the Dominican Republic since the 1800s.  And generally the styles mimicked the trends in Europe at the times they were popular.  The early styles of neoclassicism and romanticism of the 1800s eventually became realism and impressionism of the early part of the 20th century. Common scenes during these times tended to be landscapes, still art, portraits, and historical depictions. Some of the artists emerging from this era were Celeste Woss y Gil, Jaime Colson, Yoryi O Morel, and Darío Suro. 

by Yoryi Morel

The country went through another change during the 1940s when President Trujillo opened up their country to accept refugees from Spain escaping the Spanish Civil War.  A number of these refugees were artists.  Many subjects reflecting the conflicts in Europe became commonly painted during these times, based on the influences from these newcomers to the island.  For the next couple of decades after this, Dominican artists turned their efforts to creating paintings that show social and political struggles, how tough life really is, and to make a point about it.  Many of these utilized modern techniques, genres, and styles, such as abstract art, geometrical shapes, and cubism.  Some of the main artists from this era include Paul Guidicelli, Clara Ledesma, Eligio Pichardo, Cándido Bidó. 
by Eligio Pichardo
Much of the architecture is based on European styles, and some of these buildings still standing are among the oldest in the Americas.  The Dominican Republic is home to the oldest fortress, the oldest monastery, the oldest castle, and the oldest cathedral in the Americas – all located in the Colonial Zone and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  The use of mahogany and thatch is something that originally was used by Taíno people for construction of their homes. Now, mahogany, thatch, and even hammocks are now used in combination with Spanish-style architecture. 

The world of fashion is not the same without the Dominican Republic’s own Oscar de la Renta. While he was born on the island (and eventually became a US citizen), he studied in Spain under famous designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (I first came across his name when I listened to the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the novel by Argentine author Manuel Puig). He also went to work in Paris before starting his own line.  Although he eventually did establish his company in New York, he would often donate money to his native Dominican Republic for various causes and charities. 

One of the most famous authors from the Dominican Republic is the author of a book I read years ago (and still have on my shelf): Julia Alvarez.  Her most famous novel is How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.  I really liked this book.  This book did for Dominican-Americans what Amy Tan’s book The Joy Luck Club did for Chinese-Americans.  Although Alvarez was actually born in New York, she spent her first ten years living in the Dominican Republic.  Her family was forced to flee the island back to the US after her father participated in a failed coup of the Trujillo administration.  Her time there was part of the basis for this book and the inspiration for a lot of her writing.

 Junot Díaz (whose birthday was yesterday) was born in the Dominican Republic but now teaches writing at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and works as an editor at the Boston Review.  Díaz also wrote the book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the next year.  Like Alvarez, he moved to the US to the state of New Jersey when he was about six years old – his father was already working there when he joined him.  He’s written other short stories and is the recipient of numerous awards. 

Pedro Mir was an important poet and writer in the Dominican Republic, the son of Cuban and Puerto Rican parents who immigrated to the DR.  He started publishing some of his poems in the newspapers, but it wasn’t until a friend of his took some of his poems to an established writer at the time who saw the potential for Mir to be the next huge social poet of their time.  In 1984, the Dominican Congress honored him with the title “Poet Laureate of the Dominican Republic,” and has received many awards for his works. 

 Up next: music and dance

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