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Cartonera Special Collection, Memorial Library

July 14, 2016

Cartonera Special Collection, Memorial Library

Elizabeth Gray


During my research visit, I spent a week studying the cartonera special collection

E. Gray painting covers with members of the Dulcinéia Catadora collective. São Paulo, Brazil
E. Gray painting covers with members of the Dulcinéia Catadora collective. São Paulo, Brazil

at the Memorial Library. My work with the cartonera collection was facilitated by the database that includes photographs of the covers of these hand-painted, cardboard books as well as descriptions of the artist techniques and materials used in the design. While my research to this point has focused on the literature published by the cartoneras, the opportunity to interact with the texts opened several possibilities for expanding my studies to include the visual art dimension of the books. The access to the poetry and prose within the books also generated new directions for writing about cartonera literature as I was able to access hundreds of rare and difficult to locate texts.

I focused my research on working with cartonera books from the four countries that feature in my dissertation research. The Mexican cartonera books notably employ a range of art techniques—painting, collage, foldouts, photography, stitching on fabric—which are nearly imperceptible from photographs, but elevate the texts to an astonishing level of art-books in comparison with other cartoneras. The cartonera collection also features multiple copies of editions which allows for a comparison of the various interpretations by the artists in relation to a single poetry work. Beyond their commitment to visual and plastic arts in the rendering of the covers, the Mexican collection includes several art books comprised of drawings and prints or drawings accompanied by poetry.

As with the Mexican collection, the Brazilian cartonera collection also engages with the visual and graphic, but through the tradition of concrete poetry in the country. The Brazilian collection holds an astounding number of contemporary writers creating visual poems. These works are published alongside authors of the historical avant-garde, opening avenues for tracing the growth of concrete poetry through the present day.

The Chilean cartonera collection features works by renowned and emerging authors. The books include unusual binding styles using metal rings and a horizontal layout, and three dimensional design elements such as beads and clay attached to the covers. Their publications also show their commitment to collaborating with the community through workshops and publications with prisons and schools.

A definitive strength of the collection, the Argentine cartonera books from the founding cartonera, Eloísa, showcase many first editions. Eloísa’s books are the origin and, when placed alongside the works of their offshoots, reveal a genealogy of the growing publishing movement.

The depth and breadth of the cartonera books at your library will support a comparative, historical, and international approach to studying the Latin American cartoneras in my scholarship that would not be possible without your collection. Thank you for your generous funding of my visit to the Memorial Library.