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Wednesday, April 30 & Thursday, May 1, 2008

2nd INTERNATIONAL AND INTERDISCIPLINARY
CONFERENCE ON DOMINICAN STUDIES

Dominicans in the U.S. Prior to 1970 - Recovering an Earlier Dominican Presence
Dominicanos en los Estados Unidos antes 1970
Dedicated to Camila Henríquez-Ureña and Tito Cánepa

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Cánepa Jiménez, Tito Enrique (1916 - )

Tito Enrique Cánepa JiménezTito Enrique Cánepa Jiménez is a unique case of a Dominican migrant who traveled to New York as a young man in the late 1930s, became a consummate painter, and remained in New York City for the rest of his life without ever losing his sense of Dominicanness. He was born in 1916 in San Pedro de Macorís, a port-town on the southeastern Caribbean coast of the Dominican Republic.

During Mr. Cánepa’s childhood, San Pedro was undergoing rapid growth associated with an expanding sugar-cane industry oriented to foreign markets, and the Dominican country Republic was undergoing its first military occupation by U.S. marines, who came to back up the U.S. government’s eight-year long take-over of Dominican customs to collect the debt owed to the U.S. by prior Dominican governments.  Soon Mr. Cánepa’s family would migrate to the Capital City of Santo Domingo, and when a few years later the Dominican Republic fell under the grip of the Trujillo dictatorship, adolescent Tito began to engage in acts of defiance against the ruthless regime, which led his family to put him out of harm’s way by sending him to Puerto Rico and then New York City. 

Once in New York, the memory of his childhood hometown and homeland would become a decades-long source of inspiration for a young man who, in New York, would discover his call for painting and become a fully committed artist with a humanistic curiosity, absorbing the multitude of twentieth-century aesthetic and intellectual currents vibrating in the City while learning intensely about the classics of Western art. Immediately upon arrival in New York Mr. Cánepa was given a post in the Experimental Workshop led by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and then with Bolivian-born painter Roberto Berdecio, after Siqueiros left for Spain.  A key influence at the time came also from fellow-Dominican and art historian Américo Lugo Romero, who while in New York shared with Tito months of visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art during which they studied the Italian Renaissance classics (Rodríguez de León 1998).

Simultaneously, what had begun in Mr. Cánepa as an adolescent rebelliousness against a dictatorship in his country of origin, transformed itself into a commitment to social justice, international solidarity and a defense of freedom as principles of life. In New York, Tito Enrique Cánepa evolved.  He explored painting as a vehicle to produce aesthetic and emotional responses in others.  He also engaged passionately in the main global political struggles of his day, including the support for the republican Popular Front in Spain in the late 1930s, the anti-fascist movement of the 1940s, and the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s.  And he remained actively involved in the expatriate Dominican resistance against the Trujillo regime.  In doing so he became an unparalleled example of a Dominican artist whose aesthetic concerns went hand-in-hand with very deep civic commitments, both patriotic as well as universal.

Throughout his six decades living in New York –which make him the senior of all Dominican painters in the City by far--, Mr. Cánepa had an artistic trajectory in which experts note, alongside his own distinct personality, a strong connection with the Latin America where Mr. Cánepa first saw light, colors, and human drama.  Mr. Canepa’s work received early recognition when his works were exhibited in New York City in the early 1940s, but even in his own dictatorship-dominated Dominican Republic.  In 1943 Dominican critic Rafael Díaz Niese ‘named Tito Cánepa, Jaime Colson, and Darío Suro the three most accomplished Dominican painters’ (Pelligrini 1996). 

Art historian and critic Edward J. Sullivan locates Mr. Cánepa within ‘the second generation of Latin American modernists’ who came to the artistic fore in the 1930s and 1940s. ‘While they incorporated the achievements of the radical modernists of the previous decades, they also imbued their own art with a renewed interest in classicism and, at times, a personal and political concern for the social realities of the day’ (Sullivan 1992).  According to Sullivan, what distinguishes Mr. Cánepa’s art is ‘the manifestation of the benevolence of divinity expressed in uniquely human terms.’

Bibliography:

  • De los Santos, Danilo. Memoria de la pintura dominicana. Vol. 2.  Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic: Grupo León Jiménes, 2003.
     
  • León David. Cánepa. Santo Domingo: Galería de Arte Moderno, 1988.
     
  • Pelligrini, Elena. “Artist Biographies” In Modern and Contemporary Art of the Dominican Republic. Elizabeth Ferrer and Edward J. Sullivan, curators. Suzanne Stratton, ed. New York: Americas Society and the Spanish Institute, 1996. p. 114.
     
  • Rodríguez de León, Francisco. El furioso merengue del norte: una historia de la comunidad dominicana en los Estados Unidos. New York: s.n., 1998.
     
  • Tito Canepa: an Exhibition of Early and Recent Paintings: September 3-September 30, 1992, Step Gallery, New York. New York: Step Gallery, 1992.
     
  • Torres-Saillant, Silvio and Ramona Hernández. The Dominican Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

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