El Rapto de las Mulatas, 1938

El Rapto de las Mulatas.jpg


El Rapto de las Mulatas, 1938


Carlos Enríquez, nicknamed “The Painter of Cuban Ballads”, was a white Cuban artist who produced the majority of his work from the 1930s to 1950s, a period marked by political turbulence in Cuba. Cuban artists of this time celebrated the country in their work hoping to augment the strength of their national identity. Enriquez’ paintings are known for their mythological depictions of the Cuban people and landscape that come together in a nationalistic celebration of Cuba. They are also marked by an obsession with the body of the Cuban mulata while simultaneously exemplifying her importance as a national symbol of Cuba.

In the 1930s Afrocubanismo emerged as an artistic, literary, and political movement that celebrated the African inspired cultural elements in Cuba and encouraged members of Cuban society to embrace all the cultures of their heritage. The 19th century works of Fernando Ortiz, Cuban anthropologist, and José Martí, Cuban philosopher, were repopularized and frequently referenced by artists and intellectuals of the period who were speaking out against the political and social climate of the 20th century. Martí in his essay Our America famously said, “There can be no racial animosity, because there are no races”. People of mixed race, like the mulata, became important icons used to represent Cuba, the nation without races. For example, the iconic figure of Cuba is Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, or the Virgin of Charity. She is a mulata and is always depicted with variations of caramel colored skin.

In 1938, after a four-year stay in Europe, Enríquez painted El Rapto de las Mulatas or Abduction of the Mulatto Women. The painting is transposition of a famous French painting The Abduction of the Sabine Women by Nicolas Poussin painted in 1634-35. Enríquez appropriated the scene from the European painting and created the Cuban equivalent: abducted mulatas in an erotic fantasy scene painted from a voyeuristic male perspective. We see two mulata women taken on horseback by two armed “mambise” riders, popularized Cuban soldiers of the War for Independence, as they ride through the Cuban countryside. In contrast to the men in full uniform, the abducted mulatas are completely nude and thus made accessible to the voyeuristic male viewer. The pervasive sexual energy is represented by bright red and yellow brushstrokes that erupt from the scene. Despite the fact that the mulatas are depicted as highly sexual beings that find pleasure in being abducted, there is also an aggressive and confrontational element in the women’s character. One of the women is staring directly into the eyes of the soldier who has her in his grasp, challenging her abductor. The look she is giving him could be read as a look of confident seduction or a look of defiance. Either way, the mulata is given a level of powerful agency. Because the mulata is an icon of Cuba, her strength in the painting represents the strength of the country so desired by Cuban artists and intellectuals of the time period.


Carlos Enríquez





Sarah Thornton