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Pre-hispanic look at Book of Mormon

Argentine artist studies, incorporates Mesoamerican influences into his art

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A Latter-day Saint artist, Jorge Cocco has painted scenes from the Book of Mormon for more than 40 years, developing in his visual interpretations the "great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon."

LDS artist Jorge Cocco has drawn scenes about Book of Mormon themes for 40 years, reflecting Mesoamerican, rather than European influence. His paintings are used in Church publications.
LDS artist Jorge Cocco has drawn scenes about Book of Mormon themes for 40 years, reflecting Mesoamerican, rather than European influence. His paintings are used in Church publications. Photo: Photo by Nestor Curbelo

Today his artistic work contributes to the communication of the message of the Restoration to the world. The principal characteristic of his style is to approach the true history and culture of Nephites and Lamanites in a little known pre-Hispanic American world.

His realistic and emotionally moving style is sustained and inspired by visual arts already developed in the Church, with the addition of his own observations of ancient America. Representing scenes from the Book of Mormon presents various challenges, especially since the departure of Lehi and his family 600 years before Christ and the Hill Cumorah where Moroni hid the records are the only scenes that can be geographically and culturally pinpointed exactly.

"Perhaps because of my creative inclinations, searching the Book of Mormon has generated in my mind visual depictions of the related events," said Brother Cocco. "Several decades ago, having only the opportunity to appreciate a few paintings by popular LDS artists and others, I had a strong urge to begin painting the more recognized scenes in the book. This urge led me to observe and internalize pre-Hispanic art on the American continent. This provided an extra benefit in looking for my own artistic expression, having already experimented with naturalism, impressionism, and cubism. My artistic expression gained a structured composition and symbolic content strongly influenced by Ancient America."

During an eight-year stay in Mexico, he dedicated himself to painting and a university teaching position. It was there he had direct contact with the art and archeology of Mesoamerica and achieved his current style in Book of Mormon painting.

Nobility of work is portrayed as Book of Mormon's King Benjamin labors to support himself.
Nobility of work is portrayed as Book of Mormon's King Benjamin labors to support himself. Photo: Photo by Nestor Curbelo

"I apply in my work today three important factors: my accumulated academic training, the available documentation of Ancient American cultures and, finally, inspiration to penetrate time and space, to offer to the observer images reflecting as close as possible what might have been in that marvelous epoch," he said. "These elements are indispensable to interpreting a historical reality that occurred in another context, thereby overcoming the tendency to place European characteristics in an ancient American cultural environment. Somehow our education has diminished our understanding of the great indigenous American civilizations."

Brother Cocco resides once again in Buenos Aires, dedicating all his time to painting and teaching. His relationship with the Book of Mormon is not solely artistic, he affirms: "From my first reading more than 40 years ago, to this last challenge to read the Book of Mormon by President Gordon B. Hinckley, I have never stopped marveling, nor have I ever doubted its authenticity. My constant reading has enriched my life and made me a better person. It has helped sustain my strong testimony of God's existence, Jesus Christ's Atonement, and the truthfulness of His Church in these latter days."

Brother Cocco concluded with these words, "Little by little we will discover the face of ancient America and the places that sheltered the prophets and peoples of the Book of Mormon that have bequeathed us powerful testimonies of truth, touching our lives and those of millions in the entire world."

In the future, themes of the Book of Mormon will, without doubt, be interpreted and spread abroad by Latter-day Saint artists throughout the world in diverse artistic disciplines and expressions. Their work will give power to this inspired book's great messages and teachings to the world just as President Ezra Taft Benson indicated almost 20 years ago when he said that the Lord had "revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner. ...

Creative efforts of Argentine artist Jorge Cocco, whose illustrations of Book of Mormon themes are found in Church publications, were influenced by Mesoamerican traditions.  Shown is Brother Cocco's portrayal of King Benjamin speaking to his people.
Creative efforts of Argentine artist Jorge Cocco, whose illustrations of Book of Mormon themes are found in Church publications, were influenced by Mesoamerican traditions. Shown is Brother Cocco's portrayal of King Benjamin speaking to his people.

"I have a vision of artists putting into film, drama, literature, music, and paintings great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon," he said ("Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon," Ensign , November 1988).

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