Week 3 Reflections

In Casta painting, groups are distinguished from one another in a variety of ways. Clothing is one way in which this is achieved. The whiter the person, the nicer, or more elaborate the clothing. The depictions of a Spanish family of entirely European descent show figures with the most refined wardrobes considering the fashion of the era. This includes things like a gold-rimmed hat, a white wig for the father and child, and overall, clothing that is suggestive of royalty. This subtly changes as the figures who are depicted are further away from the elevated European whiteness. The clothing becomes less ornate, less complicated, and less colorful, with the final panel depicting a man who, instead of wearing a shirt (like every other person shown), simply has a robe draped haphazardly over his back. Similarly, as a juxtaposition to the gold-rimmed beaver hat of the Spanish man, or the tiara-like headdress of the Spanish woman, an indigenous woman is depicted with a hat that holds a variety of exotic fruits. Although this hat likely had a significant practical purpose: extra capacity when selling fruit, it is placed in dialogue with European styles, and thus serves to further exotify or other non-white people living under colonial rule. 

This leads into another way in which figures are distinguished from one another; the labor they are performing. The more whiteness between a couple seems to denote more of an opportunity to experience luxury. The children of whiter parents appear to be dancing, which is in stark opposition to the child of a black and indigenous woman who appears to be hiding from his father (who is about to strike him). At the bottom of the image we have non-white figures in scenes of labor. This includes the aforementioned fruit vendor, as well as working in fields, or doing things like sewing. The actual work that is being done in these images is being completed almost entirely by non-white figures.

A clear social hierarchy is established within these images, the net sum of which is essentially: “the more white/European, the better.” These families are happier, more stable, and enjoy all sorts of free time. Despite the not-so-subtle hints of a sort of white supremacy, ironically, these images show that the luxury enjoyed by these whiter families derives from the labor of the less-white families. More troubling is the fact that all characters depicted appear to be striving towards a sort of European ideal. Although the clothing progressively abandons the bells and whistles of European regalia as we descent the image, the styles are all decidedly European. This is best observed in the men’s tights/black buckle shoes, and the women’s large, basket-like skirts. Do these images betray themselves by showing where the labor in this society comes from? Or would this simply reflect the notion of “natural slaves” that enjoyed popularity among Europeans in this period? Ultimately these images are quite interesting; they are decidedly clunky, trying to other or exotify non-Europeans, while simultaneously depicting them in European styles.



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