Severo Sarduy, novelist, critic, poet, and painter

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Severo Sarduy (1937-1993), Landscape, 1980. Acrylic on cloth. 27 x 41 cm.

Thanks to the assistance of the Executive Committee for the Program in Latin American Studies, Graphic Arts recently acquired thirty-four painting and drawings by the novelist, critic, poet, and visual artist Severo Sarduy (1937-1993). Artifacts from his studio accompany the paintings, along with several works by his friends Roland Barthes, Jorge Camacho, and José Luis Cuevas.

Kamel Ouidi, Portrait of Severo Sarduy, ca. 1980. Gelatin silver print.

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Severo Sarduy (1937-1993), Triptych (I, II, III), 1990. Coffee and acrylic on linen. 27 x 19 cm.

sarduy extra3.jpg Jorge Camacho (1934-2011), Placard Sarduy, 1976. Text by Sarduy. Lithograph. Edition of 500. 87.4 x 59.4 cm.
sarduy extra4.jpg Severo Sarduy (1937-1993), Untitled, no date. Mixed media on paper. 53.5 x 35.5 cm.

Born in Camagüey Cuba, Sarduy was sent to Paris in 1960 to study art at the École du Louvre and never returned. Even after becoming a French citizen, however, he wrote, "I am a Cuban through and through, who just happens to live in Paris." His second novel De donde son los cantantes (From Cuba with a Song) involves three narratives intertwined with the history of Cuba.

In Paris, Sarduy became close friends with Roland Barthes, Philippe Sollers, and other writers connected with journal Tel Quel. His third novel, Cobra (1972), translated by Sollers won the Prix Medicis for a work of foreign literature in translation. In addition to his own writing, Sarduy edited, published and promoted the work of many other Spanish and Latin American authors first at Editions Seuil and then Editions Gallimard.

In Sarduy's 1993 obituary in The Independent, James Kirkup wrote, "Sarduy was a genius with words, one of the great contemporary stylists writing in Spanish. ... Sarduy will be remembered chiefly for his brilliant, unpredictable, iconoclastic and often grimly funny novels, works of a totally liberated imagination composed by a master of disciplined Spanish style. He encompassed the sublime and the ridiculous, mingling oral traditions with literary mannerisms adopted from his baroque masters ...."

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Severo Sarduy (1937-1993), Untitled, 1967. Acrylic on paper. 14 x 20 cm.

Sarduy continued to draw and paint throughout his life. A retrospective of his art was held in 1998 at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and many of the painting now at Princeton were first seen by the public at this exhibition.

"I write only in order to make myself well," Sarduy once said. "I write in an attempt to become normal, to be like everybody else, even though it's obvious I am not. I am a neurotic creature, a prey to phobias, burdened with obsessions and anxieties. And instead of going to a psychoanalyst or committing suicide or abandoning myself to drink and drugs, I write. That's my therapy."

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Severo Sarduy (1937-1993), Untitled, 1991. Acrylic on paper. 32 x 47.5 cm.

More information on Sarduy and this new collection will be published in an upcoming issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle, including an essay by his colleague François Wahl. Until then, here is an interview with Sarduy completed shortly before his death: