Great Paintings: Platanal by Myrna Báez

The plantain is an enduring symbol of Puerto Rican art. A cheap and plentiful food source, it has become a symbol of the Puerto Rican culture and lifestyle. The plantain is particularly linked to the jíbaros, the island’s subsistence farmers who are associated with a more traditional way of life. As such, plantains are plentiful in Puerto Rican art; however, Puerto Rican painter Myrna Báez puts a new spin on the subject in her painting Platanal.

Báez’s work is very distinctive. She studied in Spain and was heavily influenced by impressionism and surrealism; there are even elements of cubism in her style. She tends to use cool tones in her paintings and experiments heavily with light and shadow. Platanal includes all these aspects of her work. It depicts a highly stylized, slightly abstract version of a plantain plantation, the plants stretching as far as the eye can see to the horizon. Mountains can be seen in the background underneath a luridly orange sky.

This scene represents a psychological landscape more than it does any particular place. It is an imaginary space, representing Puerto Rican identity and strength. Like many artists, Báez was a proponent for Puerto Rican independence, and her use of the plantain symbolizes this desire for freedom. Platanal encapsulates the island’s past and present, using the plants to symbolize a firmly grounded and established culture that will grow into great things in the future.

It is a hopeful image, but one that also projects strength and unshakeable purpose.

Originally published at on May 21, 2020.




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Music, Art, and Pop Culture

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