Art in Argentina is normally associated with music and dance, in the form of the Tango. When asked about famous painters or sculptors, or pieces of art, there really isn’t one example that really springs to me. Yet one of the most iconic, and still most relevant works of art in Argentina is that of Malfalda, the main character of an Argentine comic strip. When I first saw this little girl in the streets of Buenos Aires, I had no idea who she was but thought that she looked oddly familiar, and surmised that she was a character from Peanuts (the comic strip featuring Snoopy) and Argentines loved her because she was Argentinian. Turns out she’s the star of her own comic strip, and her only resemblance to Peanuts is the art style, which is why she seemed so familiar, because the Peanuts comic strip was a fond part of my childhood, the comics section being one of the only two parts of a newspaper that I read (the other being sports). She was something new but felt familiar, nostalgic even.
Mafalda was created by the Argentine artist Joaquin Salvador Lavado, also known as Quino. She ran from 1964 to 1973 and reflected the Argentine middle class, concerned about global issues such as the Vietnam War, the space race, human rights, feminism and world peace. Mafalda has been translated into 10 languages and exported into 26 countries. There is a plaza named after her to commemorate her importance, Plaza Mafalda, in the neighborhood of San Telmo. She was so iconic that she is the first and only cartoon character to be declared a honorary citizen of Buenos Aires, because of how well she reflected the views of the Argentine youth.
Quino wrote Mafalda as a reflection of the views of the Argentine youth, and he himself had remarked how surprised he was at how relevant she was around the world, one remarking, “Mafalda is based in argentinian topics and I always wondered how can other cultures understand it”. This is what is most interesting to me, as it reflects the world to me the more I travel.
When I first went to New York and Buenos Aires, I became very aware of my appearance as someone of Asian descent. In Singapore I was part of the ethnic Chinese majority and so I never felt, or even thought about what it was like to be a minority, appearance wise. However, the longer I have lived in these cities, the less this has mattered to me. This is because the more people I talk to, the more places I see, while having very material differences such as the name of the place, or the language, fundamentally, everyone is dealing with the same issues. Students everywhere are having existential crises about their future while trying to find love, making friends to go out with on the weekends, dealing with hangovers from the night before, trying to make themselves popular, cool, likable and marketable while dealing with being broke seemingly all the time. At the same time, the older generation are worried about economic issues and how they think the past was better before. People rarely are happy with the government that they have. Everyone simultaneously complains about the changes that technology has caused, while being addicted to their phones, and internet connection, and being unable to live without it. While the form of the struggle is different, everyone everywhere is dealing with issues of love, happiness and world peace.
This is why Mafalda is a timeless classic, relevant everywhere, because the issues she touches on, while appearing in the Argentine context, are issues that affect us all. When I was reading her comic strips, I never once thought “while this really reflects the 60s/70s”, but rather “this is so true”.
Everyone everywhere is dealing with their own demons, their own struggle. I think when we realize that, and look at every person with empathy, we can look past the differences in our outward appearance, think less about “MY problems” and treat people with greater respect. We really aren’t so different after all.
Of course, I can’t talk so much about Mafalda and not put a link: here you go.