Popular art in Panama is a masculine and working-class genre, associated with the country's black population. Its practitioners are self-taught, commercial artists, whose high-toned designs, vibrant portraits, and landscapes appear in cantinas, barbershops, and restaurants. The red devil buses are the tradition's most visible manifestation. Old school buses are imported from the United States and provide public transportation in Colon and Panama City. Their owners hire the painters to attract customers with eye-catching depictions of singers and actors, boastful phrases, and vivid representations of both local and exotic panoramas. The red devils feature powerful stereo systems and dominate the urban environment with their blasting reggae, screeching brakes, horns, sirens, whistles, and roaring mufflers.
Wolf Tracks analyzes the origins of these practices, tying them to Afro-American festival aesthetics and to the rumba craze of the mid-twentieth century. Middle- and upper-class intellectuals fled from modernization and asserted a romantic and mestizo vision of the republic. But artists such as Luis "The Wolf" Evans exploited such moments of modernization to challenge the older conception of Panama as an exclusively Hispanic and mestizo (European-indigenous) country. These popular artists enthusiastically embraced the new influences to project a powerful sense of blackness. Based on over ten years of research, Wolf Tracks includes biographies of dozens of painters, as well as detailed discussions of mestizo nationalism, soccer, reggae, and other markers of Afro-Panamanian identity.
About the Author
Peter Szok is associate professor of history at Texas Christian University. He is the author of 'La Ultima Gaviota,' Liberalism and Nostalgia in Early Twentieth-Century Panama.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments Ph.D. in New Orleans ix
1 From Whitening to Mestizaje: The Panamanian Official Identity, 1821-1941 16
2 Balboa Meets Anayansi, 1934 49
3 Rumba and the Rise of Black Proletariat Art, 1941-1990 74
4 "100% Prity": The Aesthetics of Panamanian Popular Art 111
5 Chombalizate: Re-Africanization of Sports, Music, and Politics, 1990-2010 138
Appendix: The Wolf Pack 162