“Casta paintings can help us understand the historical underpinning of many notions that persist to this day. In this sense, it is essential to view them within the specificity of their own historical and artistic context, keeping in mind their contradictions and complexity.” — Ilona Katzew, Curator of Latin American Art, LACMA
In Colonial times, Latin America was inhabited by Indigenous People, Spaniards, and Africans. Unlike in North America, race-mixing, or “miscegenation,” was a common practice throughout the Spanish and Portuguese colonies.
In the 1700s & 1800s, art in Latin America often featured mixed-race families. At first glance, they appear to portray harmonious family life. However, these paintings served a distinctive hierarchal social purpose.
Take Casta art for example.
In Mexico, “Casta” artworks were a series of 16 paintings or panels that portrayed interracial families. Each painting was labeled with numbers and textual inscriptions documenting the “mixing” that occurred between Black, Indigenous & Spanish.
The real stories they tell.
These artworks portray a racial taxonomy from the most “superior” pure European families to the least pure – Black families. The latter were often portrayed as disgruntled and downtrodden.
About “The Redemption of Ham” in Brazil.
In Brazil, Modesto Brocos y Gómez’s infamous paingint “The Redemption of Ham” features a Black grandmother praising God that her grandson is white as she stands over his mixed-race mother and White father.
This is called blanqueamiento.
While Europeans mixing with people of African decent was viewed as a “decline” in purity, blanqueamiento – the gradual “whitening” of certain races through mixing – became a popular racist ideal in places like Brazil.
What these artworks tell us.
These paintings bring to light the origin of racial thought of the modern world, as well as notions and belief systems that were passed on through civilization and that play a huge role in our system to this day.