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Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

05 May 2016

The principle of the process of creation: Adolfo Best Maugard

In Diego Rivera’s 1913 portrait, Adolfo Best Maugard appears as an elegant though somewhat angular figure, a gaunt giant surveying the steel and smog and bluster of Paris. Born in 1891, Fito Best as he was known to his friends came of age as Mexico was emerging for the porfiriato period (1876 – 1911) and was part of a generation of Mexican artists and writers who sought inspiration in both Mexico’s pre-Columbian past and the European avant-gardes in order to fashion a new national identity. Many of his contemporaries – Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias, Rufino Tamayo, JosĂ© Vasconcelos – have themselves become part of the fabric of Mexican cultural identity, whereas Best Maugard’s work remains decidedly less celebrated.

A method for creative design (1926) is arguably Best Maugard’s most well-known work. In it, the author provides a series of lessons on how to draw utilising instinctive methods and simple forms. Far from being a dry, didactic text, the book is full of imaginative and creative designs through which the student “will dream his work out of his own imagination, and his work will be the only one of its kind on earth.” [1]


Adolfo Best Maugard A method for creative design [Shelfmark: W49/7342]

Best Maugard’s designs bear the influence of both classical and pre-Columbian art, and indeed he was fascinated by the art of indigenous Mexicans, seeing in it shared structures, which he referred to as ‘archetypes’, upon which the artistic will of the individual could impose its own creativity: “the archetype is the essential idea of a certain thing.”[2] Best Maugard’s pedagogical methods became influential in the Mexican education system, but his ideas were also important for his more illustrious peers – in its synthesis of the classical, the pre-Columbian and the avant-garde, Best Maugard’s methodoloy is redolent of the central concerns of many Mexican artists during the first half of the twentieth century, sensing that â€œin the period in which we are now living, a new form of art expression is to appear.”[3]


Adolfo Best Maugard The simplified human figure: Intuitional expression [Shelfmark: 7864.pp.31.]

According to Best Maugard's concept, all visual represenation can be reduced to a small number of elements which take their inspiration from the forms of nature. In this respect, Best Maugard sees the artist as something like Levi-Strauss's bricoleur, reorganising and recombining these same essential elements in order to arrive at new forms of creation. It is this preoccupation which underpins Best Maugard's most ambitious work El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza (1949), in which he outlined his three principles of nature - namely the principle of the process of creation, the principle of the procedure of conversion, and the principle of the formation and gradual transformation of reality. This is a dense text, as might be imagined, in that it attempts to present a "theory of the origin of the creation, conversion, formation, transformation and realization of existence and physical reality."[4]


Adolfo Best Maugard El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza [Shelfmark: YF.2016.a.9298]

Best Maugard’s graceful diagrams appear several times in El nuevo conocimiento, providing an illustrative counterpoint to the abstract ideas, and neatly demonstrating the author’s own commitment to the pedagogical system he set out in A method for creative design.


Adolfo Best Maugard El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza [Shelfmark: YF.2016.a.9298]

Best Maugard also worked as an assistant to Sergei Eisenstein during the ÂĄQue viva MĂ©xico! project, and would later go on to direct his own films, including 1937’s La Mancha de Sangre, which was heavily censored by the Mexican authorities. This might lead us to presume that Fito Best was something of a renaissance man, but perhaps it is more accurate to say that he was, in his own words, striving to “find the means for a complete expression of the true spirit of our times”.[5]


[1] A method for creative design p. vi

[2] Ibid. p. 145

[3] Ibid. p. 170

[4] Nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza p. 13

[5] A method for creative design p.171

References / further reading

Best Maugard, Adolfo, A method for creative design (London: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) [W49/7342]

Best Maugard, Adolfo, El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza (Mexico City: El Instituto de Investigaciones Cientificas de la Exegesis de la Existencia, 1949) [YF.2016.a.9298]

Best Maugard, Adolfo, The simplified human figure: Intuitional expression (London: Putnam, 1937) [7864.pp.31.]

Pomade, Rita From a Mexican perspective: The vision of Adolfo Best Maugard – available here:

22 March 2016

Langston Hughes translates Nicolås Guillén

Langston Hughes is well known as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, primarily for his poetry. However, there is a side to his work which has received comparatively less attention: his literary translations.


Langston Hughes in 1936, by Carl Van Vechten

Hughes was not a professional translator, and indeed most of his translations did not do very well commercially. His translations were driven by his interest in writers with whom he felt a connection, particularly authors who explored the representation of black identity beyond European literary models. Hughes felt a kinship with writers of the African diaspora in the Americas, whom he saw as linked by a similar cultural heritage and history of racial oppression. These included the Haitian writer Jacques Roumain, whose posthumous novel Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la Rosée) was translated by Hughes circa 1947.

In 1948, Hughes (together with Ben Frederic Carruthers) translated a selection of poems by the Cuban writer and activist Nicolås Guillén. They were published under the title of Cuba Libre by the American Ward Ritchie Press, in a beautiful limited edition of 500 with illustrations by Gar Gilbert.



Cover and title page of Cuba Libre (1948)

Hughes met the poet Nicolas GuillĂ©n in 1930 in Cuba and they soon developed a friendship. Both men travelled together to Spain during the country’s civil war as war correspondents, an episode that Hughes narrated in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander (1956). While the extent to which Hughes influenced GuillĂ©n’s style is still up for debate, their works have many aspects in common. Their poetry is a celebration of black folk culture, music and use of language. Often described as ‘poets of the people’, both men were concerned with representing class inequality and racial injustice.

Below is an extract from GuillĂ©n’s well-known poem ‘Tu no sabe inglé’, translated by Hughes as ‘You don’t speak no English’. Hughes’s translation used the African American vernacular to reproduce GuillĂ©n’s experimentation with the Cuban criollo (Creole) dialect in his poetry:

Con tanto inglĂ© que tĂș sabĂ­a,

Bito Manué,

con tanto inglé, no sabe ahora

desĂ­ ye.

La mericana te buca,

y tĂș le tiene que huĂ­:

tu inglé era de etråi guan,

de etrĂĄi guan y guan tu tri.

        NicolĂĄs Guillen, Motivos de son (1930)


All dat English you used to know,

Li’l Manuel,

all dat English, now can’t even

say: Yes.

‘Merican gal comes lookin’ fo’ you

an’ you jes’ runs away

Yo’ English is jes’ strike one!

strike one and one-two-three.

Langston Hughes’s translation, published in Cuba Libre (1948)


Further Reading

Guillén, Nicolås. Cuba Libre, translated by Langston Hughes and Ben Frederic Carruthers (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1948) [Cup.510.naz.3.]

Kutzinski, Vera M., The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012) [YC.2013.a.1917]

Martin-Ogunsola, Dellita, ‘Introduction’. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol 16: The Translations: Federico Garcia Lorca, Nicolas Guillen, and Jacques Roumain, ed. by Arnold Ra``mpersad (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2003) [YC.2005.A.3285]

Scott, William, ‘Motivos of Translation: Nicolas Guillen and Langston Hughes’. CR: The New Centennial Review, 5:2 (2005): 35-71. [3486.443000]


 â€”Mercedes Aguirre

16 February 2016

On the outskirts of the world: Movimiento Hora Zero

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Movimiento Hora Zero was an avant-garde poetry movement that emerged from Peru during the 1970s. Founded by Jorge Pimentel and Juan RamĂ­rez Ruiz, the young writers anticipated a form of poetic expression that rejected what they saw as the pompous European-influenced canon of Peruvian poetry and instead channelled the language, politics, and everyday experience of contemporary Peru. Their manifesto, Palabras Urgentes (1970) tells of a need to

manifestarnos como hombres libres y como escritores con una nueva responsabilidad, con una nueva actitud ante el acto creador, ante los hechos derivados de una realidad con la que no estamos de acuerdo.[1]

[speak out as free men and as writers with a new responsibility, with a new approach to the creative act, in the face of events derived from a reality with which we disagree.]

 HZ1    HZ2
Hora Zero Oriente: materiales para una nueva Ă©poca (1970) [Shelfmark: X.902/1157]

As might be expected from the urgency of their manifesto, the movement materialised at a critical moment in Peruvian history. Mass migration from the Andes to the coast over the preceding decades had resulted in a huge increase in the urban population and this in turn meant that the previously marginalised customs and traditions of the sierra were now decidedly present within the metropolitan centres of Peru. The overthrow of Fernando BelaĂșnde’s government in October 1968 by General Velasco’s left-wing military regime led to a project of sweeping reforms which would be instituted under the term Perunaismo. There was a definite sense that the Peruvian elite were being challenged, and it was certainly a time of great social and political flux. This is exemplified by the fact that a number of the poets associated with Hora Zero had attended the Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal, which had been founded in 1963 as part of a programme to reorganise the Peruvian education system, and this naturally placed them in opposition to the radical literary movements of earlier generations, which had tended to centre around the ancient and prestigious Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.[2]

  Ramirez Ruiz 1

Juan RamĂ­rez Ruiz Un par de vueltas por la realidad (1971) [Shelfmark: X.900/13683]

Although the Hora Zero poets sought to negate much of the Peruvian literature which had come before them, there were certain of their forebears whom they considered kindred spirits in that they too were striving for a literature that could both represent and help shape a pluralist Peruvian culture, distinct from the political project of indigenismo, which ostensibly sought to improve the lives of marginalised Peruvians, but that as Marie-Chantal Barre puts it “officialised the disappearance of Indians as Indians, instead recognising them only as peasants."[3] One such is example is the work of author JosĂ© MarĂ­a Arguedas.

Although he was heavily criticised in certain quarters for his romanticising of indigenous people, Arguedas certainly seems to have made an impression on the Hora Zero writers. In an interview from 2011, Pimentel and fellow Hora Zero member Tulio Mora make reference to Arguedas’s 1964 novel Todas las Sangres, which attempts a comprehensive portrayal of Peruvian cultural life, and his 1962 prose-poem Tupac Amaru Kamaq Taytanchisman, a reflection on indigenous migration from the sierra to the city published in both Quechua and Spanish. Despite the censure that Arguedas received from some corners, the Hora Zero writers clearly felt that there was something to be salvaged from his project, and his writings would take their place alongside CĂ©sar Vallejo’s Los Heraldos Negros and JosĂ© Carlos MariĂĄtegui’s Siete Ensayos de InterpretaciĂłn de la Realidad Peruana as works from which the movement would draw inspiration.

  Arguedas 1   7 ensayos 1
José María Arguedas Todas las Sangres (1964) [Shelfmark: X.900/7132] and José Carlos Mariåtegui Siete Ensayos de Interpretación de la Realidad Peruana (1928) [Shelfmark: 8025.d.40]

Though these writers may have been similar in spirit, the Hora Zero writers still felt that there was much to be done in reorienting their poetics towards the everyday experience of ordinary Limeños. In this respect, one of the seminal works to come out of the movement is En los extramuros del mundo (1971), a collection of poetry by Enrique Verastegui. Published when he was just twenty years old, the poems encapsulate the bustling energy, confusion and absurdity of the city:

Yo vi caminar por calles de Lima a hombres y mujeres

carcomidos por la neurosis,

          hombres y mujeres de cemento pegados al cemento aletargados

                     confundidos y riendose de todo.[4]

[I saw walking the streets of Lima men and women

eaten away by neurosis,

cement men and women stuck to the cement lethargic

confused and laughing at everything.]

Later in the 1970s, the movement’s principal figures would spend time outside Peru in both Europe and other places in Latin America before Hora Zero gained renewed momentum  in the second half of the decade. In the meantine, Tulio Mora would visit Mexico, where the movement found a receptive audience amongst the infrarrealismo movement led by a certain Roberto Bolaño, whose first manifesto includes a fitting tribute to the young radicals from Peru:

Nos antecede HORA ZERO[5]

[Our ancestors HORA ZERO]

- Laurence Byrne (with thanks to Mercedes Aguirre and Barry Taylor)


[1] Pimentel (1970: 9)

[2] Vilanova (1998: 7)

[3] Barre (1985: 53)

[4] Verastegui (1971: 13)

[5] Madariaga Caro (2010: 146)

References / further reading

Barre, Marie-Chantal IdeologĂ­as indigenistas y movimientos indios, 2d ed. (Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1985)

Bolaño, Roberto "Déjenle todo nuevamente. Primer manifesto del movimiento infrarrealista"(1976) in Madariaga Caro, Montserrat Bolaño Infra. 1975 - 1977: los años que inspiraron Los detecitves salvajes (Santiago: RIL, 2010)

Huamán, Miguel Angel “La Rebelion Del Margen: Poesia Peruana De Los Setentas” in Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 20.39 (1994): 267–291

Pimentel, Jorge and RamĂ­rez Ruiz, Juan "Palabras urgentes" in Pimentel, Jorge Kenacourt y Valium 10 (Lima: Ediciones del Movimiento Hora Zero, 1970)

Juan RamĂ­rez Ruiz Un par de vueltas por la realidad - See more at:

Verastegui, Enrique En los extramuros del mundo (Lima: CMB Ediciones, 1971)

Vilanova, NĂșria “The Emerging Literature of the Peruvian Educated Underclass” in Bulletin of Latin American Research 17.1 (1998): 1-15