It is titled Norah Borges. Una mujer en la vanguardia, it will be on until March 2020 at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, and there is something more to it than a mere anthological exhibition on a peculiar artist: these two hundred works, patiently collected by curator Sergio Baur and showcased alongside pictures, rare volumes and quotes, also hint at the cultural history of a city, at the ties between “two shores” that share the same language, but have an ocean and long-standing hatred keeping them apart.
Born in 1902 and died in 1998, Norah Borges had a long, eventful life. She was part of the 1920s avant-gardes, experienced the Spanish Republic’s cultural liveliness and lived the exodus of the refugees after Franco’s victory, met the most eminent scholars and artists of the 20th century, saw the outset of major editorial and literary adventures, witnessed political changes and was briefly jailed for “causing public scandal” with her mother Leonor, when they shouted slogans against Perón in the streets.
But above all, from her teenage years on, she never tired of creating splendid xylographs, oil, tempera and watercolor paintings, countless illustrations for magazines like Proa, Prisma e Martín Fierro or for the first editions by famous authors such as Silvina Ocampo, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Alfonso Reyes, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Federico García Lorca and Julio Cortázar.
In Republican Spain, Norah grew closer to extraordinary women like poet Carmen Conde and painter Maruja Mallo, attended feminist Lyceum Club and created costumes for Garcia Lorca’s theatre group La Barraca. Those years, the most intense of her life, were soon interrupted by the civil war, her flee to Paris and her final return to Argentina, which sharpened her parting from the avant-garde that was already latent in 1921, when the Borgeses had gone back to a Buenos Aires that they could barely recognize.
After progressively abandoning xylography and surrealist and cubist influences, all featured in the exhibition path, Norah’s art was clearly defined in a note that she wrote in 1927 for the magazine Martín Fierro, titled Un cuadro sinoptico de la pintura:
Joy can only be found in the representation of a perfect world where everything is neat, with sharp outlines, clear colors, defined shapes…
A sort of comeback to order that probably coincided with the beginning of a personal, soul-searching journey, and that many believe to have been influenced by de Torre, keen to exalt his fiancée’s “feminine sensitivity”, and the echoes of a cultural environment most remarkably pictured in the essay El nuevo romanticismo by José Díaz Fernández (an influent journalist and writer, as well as the founder of the republican magazine Nueva España), promoting a rehumanization of art and the return to a more traditional femininity.
However, in Norah Borges: la avanguardia enmascarada, May Lorenzo Alcalá suggests that her obedience to the gentle conventions of a feminine art was merely a disguise, and encourages to grasp the disturbing ambiguity of the figures that the artist painted – androgynous and asexual, unreachable and intent: mouths that never smile, so little as to disappear, eyes that stare at unknown objects in the distance, metropolitan landscapes that have something metaphysical, and a harmony that conceals endless secrets. Norah Borges’s art is mysterious and elusive, denies its naivety right while exhibiting it, and its light so ostensibly keeps darkness at bay that it ends for conjuring it up.