Short Research Assignment

In her article¬†Fragmented Borders, Fallen Men, Bestial Women: Violence in the Casta Paintings of Eighteenth-century New Spain¬†(2009), Evelina Guzauskyte dissects violent casta paintings in eighteenth-century New Spain. She introduces her article by describing the structure of casta paintings as a series of sixteen consecutive scenes, portraying racially mixed individuals. These racial combinations derive from the three dominant races present in New Spain: the Spanish, Africans, and indigenous. The paintings were organized by hierarchical consideration, attempting to create the false illusion of stability in the colonies. Guzauskyte states that the casta paintings “suggest that each of these races and the castas had their own clear, unmovable place in society.” However, as social, racial, and cultural borders are transgressed, misrepresentation begins to take hold.

At the beginning of her article, Guzauskyte indicates the calm and peaceful composure of the characters in each casta scene, with the exception of one noticeable portrayal. Common to most casta paintings, one scene out of fifteen is of evident violent nature. These scenes depict degenerate individuals engaging in a physical and verbal conflict, surrounded by a hostile environment. This raises the question: what message were these images trying to encompass? Guzauskyte emphasizes that these vicious illustrations were various; displaying a multitude of racial combinations and socioeconomic classes.This suggests that every individual, regardless of background, was prone to aggressive behaviour. Therefore, violent casta paintings do not necessarily label particular backgrounds as aggressive. Rather, violence is a result of the transgression of gender and racial identity. Furthermore, most of the violent casta paintings include at least one parent with complex and untraceable ethnicity. This reinforces the notion, believed by the Spanish elite, that marriage between races caused rupture in society.

Perhaps the most prominent feature in violent casta paintings is their distinct portrayal of women. Guzauskyte states that “women, more so than men, are shown to be associated with or responsible for belligerence, disorder and destruction.” These scenes present women as unattractive beings who deliberately disrupt family relations and dynamics. Women are depicted as revolting throughout the scenes, completely disregarding any sign of beauty or erotic desire. In addition, they convey the idea that women are a threat to the male population, which can be traced from old-fashioned misogynous European and Latin-American traditions. Evidently, women play the role of the aggressor in violent casta paintings, rather than men.

Ultimately, Guzauskyte suggests that the violent casta paintings symbolize racial and gender-based prejudices, and reflect the elitist view of interracial marriage of the time. She bases her argument off of the misrepresentation of different racial backgrounds, as well as women illustrated in violent casta paintings. All in all, these attributes shape the entirety of these paintings.




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