The 1970s were a time of upheaval and change in Uruguay. The military-civilian dictatorship that was installed after the June 27, 1973 coup d’état unleashed a period of State terrorism when political parties were forbidden, unions were declared illegal, the media was censored (or shut down), and members of the opposition were persecuted and, in many cases, assassinated. For some Uruguayan artists, such as Clemente Padín (b. 1939) and Jorge Caraballo (1941–2014), art was a way to denounce the crimes and misdemeanors committed by military personnel and civilian employees. Seen from this combative perspective, art action became one more tool for reflection and resistance. Other artists, on the other hand, preferred to work as teachers, shut away in private studios that were the perfect place for artistic creation and reflection at a time of adversity.
In 1966, Padín and a group of fellow artists—Héctor Paz, Juan José Linares, and Julio Moses—started publishing the magazine Los Huevos del Plata in response to the “editorial monopoly” of the so-called Generación del ‘45 (Mario Benedetti, Idea Vilariño, and Ángel Rama, among others). 16 issues of the magazine were published over the course of three years; the goal was to reject the styles that were favored in literary and cultural circles at the time, and encourage new experimental ideas in poetry, such as spatialism, concretism, visual poetry, and even the work of surrealist poets. In 1969, after the magazine shut down, Padín started another one called OVUM 10 whose poetic and visual aesthetic was reminiscent of the calligrammes produced by poets such as the Frenchman Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918), the Mexican Juan José Tablada (1871–1945), the Spaniard Guillermo de Torre (1900–71), the Catalonian Joan Salvat-Papasseit (1894–1924), the Hispano-Cuban Francis Picabia (1879–1953), and the Portuguese Mario de Sá-Carneiro (1890–1916). OVUM’s motto was: “Everyone who shouts differently is one of us, because the problems here are the structure, the forms of expression, the trash (…)”.
Here Padín describes his experiences as an artist (though only during the time of the dictatorship). He mentions the 10ème Biennale de la Jeune-Créatión, organized in Paris in 1976 by the dictatorial regime’s Ministerio de Cultura, which fought tooth and nail to hide the conflict that raged back home in Uruguay. Padín states in no uncertain terms that “the Uruguayan military command worked with French authorities to plan the 10 Biennale de la Jeune-Creation with no regard for the critical spirit and political sophistication of almost all our artists who reject this vain attempt to exchange blood for culture, and jail for information or silence.” A year later, after writing a letter back to one of the Mexican groups that supported the Contrabienal that was held after the official event, Padín was imprisoned on the ridiculous charge of “Mocking and Ridiculing the Moral Authority of the Armed Forces.”
[As complementary reading, see these other articles by Clemente Padín in the ICAA digital archive: “Arte postal en Latinoamérica” (1240703), and “La Performance desde la perspectiva Latinoamericana” (1240733)].