Sandino in the Streets (Book Review)
“Sandino in the Streets”, 025335207X, c1991, Essays and photographs by Joel Sheesley, translated and edited by Wayne Bragg, with a prologue by Ernesto Cardenal, and an introduction by Jack Hopkins. This book is a collaborative effort by four uniquely talented people. Translator Wayne Bragg opens the project with an comment on the purpose of his translation and the difficulties in making understandable to contemporary English-language readers, the colloquial, ornate Spanish of Sandino. Within this brief three-page translator’s preface, he measures the significance and meaning of the words today, and also offers a most observant phrase, which if anything does, explains the existence of this book: “…Liberators Bolivar and Marti are remembered mostly in museums and textbooks, while Sandino’s image is in the public domain, seen everywhere in Nicaragua…”. It is the opening line of text, by poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal, that puts even more poignantly this observation made by Bragg, and sets the stage for all that follows: “I believe that Augusto Cesar Sandino is the only hero in history who is recognized by his people by his silhouette alone”.
Regardless of whether or not Cardenal is correct in this assertion, this is a wonderful, original book, usually overshadowed by David Kunzle’s “The Murals of Revolutionary Nicaragua” (which also receives a blurb here on Nicaliving), even though these two mostly photographic projects tackle related but different subjects, and with very different ends in mind. The recognizable Sandino in art, graffiti, and political protest, is paired with his own words (collected out of a 1981, 2-volume edition of Sandino’s thought, “Augusto C. Sandino: El Pensamiento Vivo”, compiled by Sergio Ramirez), via the photographs of Sheesley and the selected translations of Bragg.
Sheesley images capture Sandino is all forms of identification and protest. Be it a chalk sketch on the curbside ground, a weathered silhouette on a shanty outer wall, a super-sized match-pair of collages framing a crossroad, an epic mural, a stenciled profile outside a cantina, or a crude tattoo on a young boy‘s arm - they all find representation in “Sandino in the Streets”. Sandino was everywhere, in countless forms, and Sheesley’s documentary photography captures this remarkably well. Sheesley claims his images are not intended to illustrate the text. In some sense they couldn’t, having been taken during the rise of Sandinismo and Sandinista rule under Daniel Ortega, so many decades after Sandino was assassinated. Nevertheless, is it the pairing of the vintage words with the modern images which elevates the project, and emphasizes the significance of.
In that a Sandinista government has returned to power, the book is in some ways, two time capsules in one. It is one of those part-art, part-history, part-politics, part-original works that somehow often falls through the cracks and remains relatively unknown even to artists, historians, and political science people, who sometimes pride themselves on knowing the area and subject matter quite well. “Sandino in the Streets” is a powerful look at the man and the movement, regardless of what one might think of either. The book is 118 pages, dimensioned 19x26 cm., and includes both color and b&w images. It is worth repeating that this book, and Kunzle’s “The Murals of Revolutionary Nicaragua”, are not competing for territory, or readers; they are very different projects, which share the medium of documentary photography.