This essay uses the idea of “Tropicalism”—understood as a fascination with the cultural manifestations and iconography of the (vaguely defined) Tropics—to explore the parallels between Jack Smith’s and Helio Oiticica’s artistic practice, demonstrating, in the process, the centrality of this idea to their work. The essay explains their different approaches to the “Tropical”; locates these approaches within their individual evolution and within the larger context of the US and Brazilian avant-gardes of the 1960s and 1970s; and analyzes the cultural work that “Tropicalism” performs in their respective oeuvres. In both artists, “the Tropical” involves a radical aesthetic project that pushes their art in an environmental direction; prompts them to employ degraded, culturally irredeemable materials; and encourages alignment and connection with marginal collectives: the black and Latino working class constituencies of New York City, in Smith’s case, and the favela dwellers and Latin American immigrants in Oiticica’s. In addition, Tropicalism entails for these artists diverse forms of queer sensuality and corporeality.
Suárez, Juan A.
"Jack Smith, Hélio Oiticica, Tropicalism,"
Criticism: Vol. 56:
2, Article 9.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol56/iss2/9