Exploring Indigenism and the Avant-Garde
The Latin American Indigenist movement attempted to bring art into political life and revolutionize artistic portrayals of Indigenous peoples.
Natalia Majluf, Beverly Adams
Mar 10, 2023
Indigenism, a multifaceted regional movement focused on the defense, rights, and recognition of Indigenous peoples, was a radical artistic proposition that attempted to bring art into political life and to transform society. Peruvian writer and activist José Carlos Mariátegui famously proclaimed that an “artistic revolution cannot be satisfied with formal conquests.” Inspired by the social upheavals of the early 20th century, and particularly influenced by the broad regional impact of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), artists fought for more inclusive and egalitarian societies. Indigenism and the Avant-Garde, an installation on MoMA’s fifth floor, focuses on Indigenism in Latin American art of the 1920s and 1930s. The gallery features Mexican paintings by artists including David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, and Diego Rivera, along with rarely seen works from Peru and Ecuador.
I recently visited the gallery with historian and curator Natalia Majluf, who has written extensively on the manifestations of Indigenism in the work of many of the artists featured in the gallery, including Martin Chambi, Elena Izcue, and José Sabogal. Our conversation, below, touched on some of the contradictions and historical implications of this fascinating movement.
—Beverly Adams, Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art, Department of Painting and Sculpture
Jean Charlot. Woman Lifting Rebozo. 1935
Tina Modotti. Worker’s Hands. 1927
Tina Modotti. Workers Parade. 1926
José Sabogal. Young Girl from Ayacucho. 1937
Martín Chambi. Campesinos Testifying, Palace of Justice, Cuzco. c. 1931
It’s important to mention that many of these artists were connected. Even if they did not know each other directly, they shared an ethos and a mission that was regional.
Elena Izcue. A page from Peruvian Art in Schools. 1924
Natalia Majluf is a curator and art historian working on the long 19th century. She was head curator and later director of the Museo de Arte de Lima, and is currently co-editor of Latin American Research Commons, Latin American Studies Association, and of the digital platform Trama, espacio de crítica y debate. Her book Inventing Indigenism: Francisco Laso’s Image of Modern Peru has recently been published by the University of Texas Press.
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