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Desnudas, Amazonas,

and Tehuanas
In 1934, the painter Marfa Izquierdo (1902-1955) completed a tiny watercolor painting
in which a nude woman contemplates her own reflection in a mirror (Mujer con espejo;
color plate r8). In the context I have traced thus far, woman, and frequently the nude
female body, was made the object of the male gaze and signified a variety of concerns,
only some of which were directly pertinent to women's lives. Here, however, Izquierdo
destabilizes the normative iconographic charge of the painted nude in which the fe-
male body displayed before a mirror signifies woman's vanity instead of male desire.'
She accomplishes this through a variety of slippages and by appropriating t he act of
"looking." First, the woman's back is turned and her pose is ungainly, such that the
viewer seeks relief in the available frontal nudity, so to speak, of the adjacent dress-
maker's manikin. Second, a literal slippage occurs in that holding the mirror close and
aloft, the only reflection we see is the upper portion of the woman's forehead and her
parted hair. We are thus deprived of the double view of feminine beauty. Normally,
in such images, the viewer could consume the nude's back, while simultaneously en-
joying the view of her face or the front of her body in the mirror. Furthermore, the
juxtaposition of woman/mirror/manikin suggests a direct engagement with t he unat-
tainable. Fixed on her own reflection in the mirror, the woman seems to compare her
own appearance to that of the manikin. We are left wondering if she likes what she
sees (or cannot see) or whether she comes up short.
My interpretation of WOman with Mirror is informed by the theoretical perspec-
tives and methods offeminist analysis and thus, not surprisingly, it differs considerably
from the ways in which Izquierdo's works were described in her lifetime. Male critics
and fellow artists usually described her painting as emanating from her body. From
my perspective, however, Woman with Mirror exemplifies the curious strategies that
Izquierdo employed in an extensive series of works focused on the nude female body
that she painted in watercolor and oil in the 1930s. The kind of slippage evident in this
watercolor and in others in the series constitutes a form of corporeal self-effacement.
In a corpus of images numbering close to fifty, Izquierdo offered the viewer the female
body, as, for example, in Woman with Horse of 1938 (Mujer con caballo; color plate 19),
doing so in a way, however, that appropriated the normative charge of this timeworn
iconography. Izquierdo's nude women frequently enact peculiar rituals or are set in
strange and disturbing landscapes, connoting a primordial, often nightmarish world,
and suggesting an early inreresr in the theories of the French Surrealists. Despite or
because of their metaphysical and surrealist qualities, throughout the 1930s and unril
her death she was considered an important member of the avanr-garde and her paint-
ing the embodiment of the feminine essence of Mexican art.
When Frida Kahlo rose to international prominence in the late 1970s and 1980s,
it was as part of the effort by feminist art historians to recover and reinsert women
into the artistic canon. While not unknown during her lifetime, she was as much
Diego Rivera's wife as a painter in her own right.
She did not, for example, receive a
national "homenaje" at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Mexican state's way of recognizing
artists until 1977, and then it occurred in conjunction with the anniversary of Rivera's
death in 1957.
Without in any way disparaging Kahlo's talent or her importance as
an artist, in the Mexico Ciry art world, where recognition for women artists was
considerably less than that for male artists, it was one of her contemporaries, Maria
Izquierdo, who secured both national recognition and considerable international
fame during her lifetime.
Unlike the childless Kahlo, Izquierdo was the mother of three. Despite her do-
mestic responsibilities, she earned a living as a painter, creating works in a variery
of media. She taught painting (as did Kahlo) at the Esmeralda, a private art school
in Mexico Ciry, and briefly wrote an art column for the Mexico Ciry magazine Hoy
She was also divorced and rhus she represenred for her friends the quintes-
sential modern Mexican woman. Despite the lack of available space for women artists
in Mexico Ciry, Izquierdo and Kahlo do not appear to have been friends.
Izquierdo did not share Kahlo's commitment to Communism, their aesthetic orienra-
tions were decidedly different, and they belonged to distinct artistic camps that be-
came increasingly polarized over rhe 1930s and 1940s. Whereas most ofKahlo's painr-
ings are self-portraits of one form or another, within her extensive corpus Izquierdo's
self-portraits are comparatively few.
In 1938, the writer Rafael Solana wrote a lengthy essay on Izquierdo in the avant-
garde literary magazine Taller. There he described her watercolors, including works
like Woman with Horse: "This thing of Marfa Izquierdo is not painting as a conscious
action ruled by the will and the intellect; this is to secrete painting, in a natural, in-
continent way, like crying or bleeding .... Marfa's is not painting born of the mind
but of the flesh .... Two primordial elements characterize her painting: femininity and
Solana's description of Izquierdo's praxis as an uncontrolled incontinence is pow-
erful and evocative. It suggests that Solana perceived art making to be a gendered
process. In addition, describing Izquierdo's process as unconscious and natural rather
than intellectual, Solana claimed her as a Surrealist. Within the postrevolutionary
cultural context and the gendered social order, artistic creation, like other intellectual
pursuits, continued to be a principally masculine sphere. As such, Solana's description
is unsurprising. Subsequently, commentators such as Octavio Paz characterized her
work as "genuinely Mexican," equating it with her physical appearance and humble
Despite the fact that Izquierdo had dedicated herself to painting since 1928
and immediately received important critical success, in describing her creativity as
a corporeal incontinence Solana reduced Izquierdo's creativity to her reproductive
function. In doing so, however, he summarized the way in which her supporters,
all members of a group of poets and writers associated with the vanguard journal
Contempordneos, including Xavier Villaurrutia, Carlos Pellicer, Jorge Cuesta, and Jose
and Celestino Gorostiza, had described her painting over the course of the 1930s. They
collapsed her physical characteristics with her art, defining her as the feminine half of
the essence ofMexicanness-or mexicanidad-as they defined the concept.
According to her supporters, the femininity of her painting resulted from her
color palette, her subjects and her symbols (women, planets, horses, architectonic
elements), which were as "Egyptian, Persian, and Greek," as they were Mexican.
In the 1930s, Izquierdo's imaginary world was above all symbolic and metaphysical.
While many of her later works, from the 1940s, exemplify aspects of what was termed
the "Mexican School" of painting, in the 1930s her work was engaged with universal
ideals and her goal was to create "pure art." That is, she strove to create paintings
that explored formal concerns and were imaginative, akin to poems, rather than what
was termed "arte socializado." The latter was didactic and politicized in the sense of
directly invoking local issues grounded in nationalist culture and politics or popular
In the 1930s, Izquierdo was a key member of a circle of painters, including Rufino
Tamayo, Agustin Law, Carlos Merida, Carlos Orozco Romero, and Manuel Rodriguez
Lozano, who represented an alternative to the hegemonic status of "arte socializado."
Further, contrary to accepted definitions of mexicanidad that usually ground the con-
cept in a nationalist reappraisal of Mexico's indigenous cultural heritage, Izquierdo's
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
mexicanidad was nor the result of explicitly folkloric or native referents. Instead she
gave pictorial form to rhe interest among the Contemporaneos circle in defining mod-
ern Mexican identity through a dialogue with universal culture. As Olivier Debroise
has noted, without denying their allegiance to Mexican culture, the Contemporaneos
and the artists associated with rhem constituted rhe cosmopolitan branch of rhe
Mexico City avant-garde, and as such they championed creative freedom rather than
overtly nationalist or political pictorial expression.'
Izquierdo painted actively from 1927 until her death. My focus here is on rhe
paintings rhar elicited Solana's praise: her watercolors of female nudes, produced be-
rween 1932 and 1938. In formal terms, these works are compelling visually for their
unusual handling of the medium. Izquierdo applied water-based paint in thick bur
carefully layered, licked, tiny brushsrrokes. The effect is vibrant if slightly naive, and
though related to the early watercolor technique of Rufino Tamayo, with whom she
was involved and shared a studio from 1930 to 1934, Izquierdo's application of rhe
medium, as well as her subjects, are entirely her own.
As a corpus, her early watercolors represent one of the most intensely focused
engagements with the female nude in rwentieth-century Mexican art. They are com-
pelling precisely for their ambiguous relationship ro rhe nationalist cultural discourse
of the 1920s. In addition, her use of the female nude suggests a kind of critical inter-
textual engagement with the Mexican canon, including political art, the prevailing
image of Indian ness, and of woman. Thus, her watercolors suggest an attempt to resist
rhe collapse of her images into rhe gendered discourse of folkloric nationalism. In
meditating so extensively on the female body, I suggest that Izquierdo appropriated
and reformulated dominant, male, heterosexist nationalism. In placing such impor-
tance on the female nude, she claimed a subject, and with it cultural capital, that as a
woman was nor traditionally hers to claim. After all, it was the nude body-male or
female-that had kept women our of the academy through the turn of the century.
The Contemporaneos Group
Over rhe course of the 1930s and through the 1940s, the an world in Mexico City be-
came the center of increasingly contentious debates over how rhe essence of Mexican
cultural identity should be defined and expressed in artistic terms. These debates
emerged berween arrisrs who advocated for an emerging from revolutionary populist
sentiment and artists who advocated for a more autonomous, formally experimental
painting they called "arre puro" or "arte nuevo." The "purists" sought alternatives to
what they saw as politically homogenizing revolutionary and historical narratives de-
picred in the work of the muralists, particularly Rivera. They did so by returning to
easel painting. For Izquierdo and her supporters, pictorial mexicanidad was best ex-
plored and expressed nor in political isolation, even if rhetorical, bur in dialogue with
the latest international currents in arr. Not unlike the modernistas of the turn of the
century, in their writing and in the pages of their journals, including Contempordneos,
Taller, and Examen, they sought actively to situate Mexican culture within a modern,
urban context. They did so, however, acutely aware of the legacy, for better and worse,
of the Revolution.
While most Mexico City intellectuals agreed that a cultural renaissance was under
way, a split emerged between those who advocated for "arre socializado" and those
who sought tO revive "arte puro." Those in favor of political art embraced the concept
of mexicanidad, defined in anticolonial and politicized terms and as rooted in indig-
enous tradition. The founding moment of that ideology occurred around 1923, when
the muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and others formed the Sindicato de Obreros
Tecnicos, Pintores y Escultores. The Sindicaro's manifesto declared:
Our people (especially our Indians) [are] the source of all that is noble roil, all
that is virtue ... the physical and spiritual existence of our race as an ethnic
force springs from them. So does the ability to create beauty. The art of the
Mexican people is the most important and vital spiritual manifestation in the
world today, and its Indian traditions lie at irs very heart. lr is great precisely
because it is of the people and therefore collective. That is why our primary
aesthetic aim is to propagate works of art that will help destroy all traces of
bourgeois individualism.'
While Siqueiros probably wrote the manifesto, other artists who signed their names
included Diego Rivera, Xavier Guerrero, and Jose Clemente Orozco. For some of
these artists, the principal medium whereby arr would "destroy" bourgeois individual-
ism (symbolized by the commodifiable easel painting) was the public mural, and by
the mid- to late 1920s Rivera had emerged as the most famous and prolific of the mu-
ralists. Although, in truth, there was immediately an internal splintering within the
arrists who painted murals that was aesthetic, ideological, and personal. In contrast,
the artists associated with the Contemporaneos acknowledged their intellectual foun-
dations in modernismo. They posed a challenge to muralism by advocating a return
to the easel, within which "pure painting" could be advanced. In other words, they
believed that painting should be free of explicit political content and the artist free to
express his or her individuality.
In December 1928, shortly after his return from a two-year stay in New York City,
Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) participated along with Carlos Merida, Manuel Rodriguez
Lozano, Julio Castellanos, and the deceased painter Abraham Angel in a group show
called the Exposicion de Pintura Actual (Exhibition of Contemporary Painting), orga-
nized by the writers associated with Contempordneos. The exhibition was funded by
Anronieta Rivas Mercado, the principal patron of rhe Contempod.neos group, and
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 207
was held in a temporary exhibition space set up in an open-air shopping arcade called
the Pasaje America in downtown Mexico City. The critic Gabriel Garda Maroto hailed
the artists for exemplifying "new aesthetic principles" that were "universal in tone."'
It was in conjunction with this exhibition that Tamayo declared that "the problem
in our painting lies in its unresolved Mexicanism. Until now, Mexicanism has been
interpreted only folklorically or archaeologically, having more to do with anecdote
than essence. My work is oriented toward pure plastic expression."'
Tamayo's use of
the word "Mexicanism" (mexicanismo) suggests a certain disdain for the discourse of
With Tamayo, the writers who published Contempordneos took the lead in articu-
lating a form of culture, literary and visual, that was both universal and Mexican. They
staked their claim to an alternative definition of art in the first issue of Contempordneos,
in June 1928, when they published Garda Maroto's review of Diego Rivera's murals. '6
In his lengthy article, Garda Maroto offered an analysis of Rivera's artistic formation,
as well as an overview of the aesthetic qualities of his murals at the Ministry of Public
Education and at Chapingo. While he found much that was positive in Rivera's form
and use of color, when it came to subject matter, he wrote that Rivera's murals "led
the spectator outside the proper bounds of aesthetic values, and in doing so, turned
art into a mechanized and unrefined political-social instrument." Garda Maroto con-
cluded, "The aesthetic value seen in Rivera's early work was overcome [in these murals]
by narrativity, oratory, and exaggerated irony."" Rivera famously retaliated against the
Contemporaneos in a public conference in which he allegedly called them numer-
ous epithets, including "maricas" (fags}.'
Several months later he created a satirical
portrait of at least two members of the circle, Salvador Novo and Antonieta Rivas
Mercado, in the fresco panel tided "Let him who wants to eat, work" (El que quiera
comer que trabaje), painted on the third floor of the Ministry of Public Education in
the section dedicated to the "Proletarian Revolution." Tellingly, Rivas Mercado, the
daughter of the former director of the academy, and herself a decidedly modern bour-
geois, was depicted by Rivera as a pelona. '
These incidents help establish the cultural climate in Mexico City in the late 1920s.
Several of the Contemporaneos group were gay and their literary and pictorial works
are infused with feminine and homoerotic sensibilities that also pervade the pages
of their magazine. In the 1930s, homosexuals like Novo, Villaurrutia, and Lazo and
newly divorced women like Izquierdo found themselves at the margins of nationalist
culture, which of course was patriarchal and above all heterosexual. However, Rivera's
brand of muralism and with it "arte socializado" represented only one tendency in
Mexican art, the social, the historical, and the heroic. In contrast, Tamayo, Merida,
Lazo, Orozco Romero, and Izquierdo were committed to making space for modes of
expression based on difference, insofar as political art and revolutionary nationalism
represented the normative. While they recognized the importance of Mexico's rural
and indigenous heritage, they were equally committed to a future of a modernized,
optimally cosmopolitan Mexico. In 1932, Xavier Villaurrutia stated that Mexican cul-
ture could be "firmly rooted and yet its branches remain free."o
Marfa Izquierdo
In 1928, Maria Izquierdo matriculated at the academy, by then renamed the National
School of Fine Arts (ENBA; Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes). She, like most of her
fellow students, employed a naive style intended to evoke the unschooled manner of
self-taught as opposed to academic painters, which was in vogue for being perceived as
authentically Mexican. One of her earliest extant portraits, that of her half-sister Belem,
shows a decided irony, suggesting that her use of flattened perspective was not only
intentional bur probably developed from an awareness of European modernism, with
its roots in the stilllifes of Cezanne and Cubist painting (color plate 20)!' In the fore-
ground, directly in the center of the floor, Izquierdo placed a naturalistically rendered
apple that seems to have rolled off the tipped-up surface of the bureau, suggesting a
wry commentary on her use of flattened perspective. It is also noteworthy that Belem
is depicted not in a folkloric style bur as a quintessentially modern young woman. As
in Rivera's depiction of Rivas Mercado, here Bel em's short hair and simple knee-length
dress are typical of a pefona. This is, however, a sympathetic rendition. Irony is also sug-
gested by the inclusion on the bureau of a tiny hand-painted rattle made from a dried
gourd. Certainly, Izquierdo like most members of the cultural vanguard, collected and
found inspiration in Mexican folk art, but the tiny rattle is barely visible, suggesting an
interest in drawing from but sublimating such sources. In other words, Izquierdo did
not deny her interest in "essential" Mexican culture-namely, folk art-bur she con-
sidered this simply one of many different sources of creative inspiration, and here she
juxtaposes it with a sign of modernization and change, the pefona.
Izquierdo's ability to break into the Mexico City art scene and to garner the at-
tention of an important group of critics is belied by her background. She was born
in 1902 in the small town of San Juan de los Lagos in the state of Jalisco. By 1923, she
was married to Candido Posadas and already had three children. The couple moved to
Mexico City, where, by January 1928, Izquierdo was studying at the ENBA. She rook
classes in color, composition, and art history with the surviving generation of older
academicians, including German Gedovius, Alberto Garduno, and Antonio Caso
(all second-generation modernistas or members of the Ateneo de Ia Juventud). She
also benefited from courses with the newly appointed younger faculty, among them
Rufino Tamayo, with whom she became romantically involved. Izquierdo remained
at the school only until mid-1929. Shortly thereafter, Izquierdo and Tamayo began to
share a studio apartment on the Plaza Santo Domingo in downtown Mexico City."
The pair remained together until late 1933, when Tamayo ended the relationship, hav-
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 209
ing developed an interest in Olga Rivas Flores, a pianist whom he met while painting
a mural at the National School of Music.
Interpretations of Izquierdo's background and claims that she declared Mexican
identity through her art need to be reexamined, as does the much-cited fact that it
was Diego Rivera who first discovered Izquierdo among the students at the ENBA,
where he was appointed director in August 1929. In an often-cited essay published
in September of that year, Rivera praised Izquierdo's work for its "fundamentally
Mexican" qualities!
In the cultural context of the late 1920s, the implications of
Rivera's assessment are significant. While his interest certainly helped her budding
career, her withdrawal from the school during his tenure there bears some analysis.
When Izquierdo entered the ENBA, the curriculum was relatively informal. It con-
tinued along the model established in 1911, when, in response to a student strike, Alfredo
Ramos Martinez was named director of painting. As the founder of the Escuelas de
Pintura al Aire Libre, or open-air painting schools, Ramos Martinez advocated a system
of instruction geared toward cultivating what he believed to be the innate talent of his
students. At the ENBA, he eliminated the conventional curriculum and encouraged his
students to paint outdoors and directly on canvas. Through this method, as others such
as the Adolfo Best Maugard system for teaching schoolchildren a catalogue of Mexican
motifs, Ramos Martinez believed that an intrinsically Mexican art would evolve. The
goal was to undo two centuries of emulating the European academy. Under his direc-
tion, individual faculty would determine curriculum. Given Izquierdo's apparent lack
of previous training, this open system would have allowed her to enter the school,
forego the usual progression through intensive drawing courses, and begin painting
immediately. In addition, upon entering the school she began experimenting in several
genres at once, producing landscapes, stilllifes, and figure paintings.
According to Renato Gonzalez Mello, Rivera had little sympathy for the "impres-
sionistic" painting style promoted by Ramos Martinez and also had little empathy for
several of the teachers, who had displaced his teachers while a student at the school
from 1898 to 1907.
As director, Rivera set about to reform the curriculum, returning
to certain aspects of the traditional academic system. In addition, he was interested
in "social art," recently invigorated by his stay in the Soviet Union from 1927 to 1928,
where he was exposed to the Soviet system of training of "worker-artists."
In place
of "intuition" and "expression," Rivera developed a program of "rationalist rigor."
But his changes were met with serious resistance from both students and faculty. As a
result, he resigned from the school in May 1930.
Even though he had trained under the Ramos Martinez philosophy, Tamayo
remained in his teaching post during Rivera's tenure. Curiously, despite his self-
proclaimed allegiance to "pure painting," Tamayo was considered a "riverista," and
though he outlasted Rivera, he too became the victim of student protest and was fired
in December 1930!
Given Rivera's allegiance to social art and despite his description
of her painting as "fundamentally Mexican," one might assume that Izquierdo was
producing socially oriented art. Instead, she was painting still lifes, landscapes, and
portraits. Nevertheless, it was no doubt her painting style and her simple subjects that
inspired Rivera to single out her "warm and unusual color harmonies." While he con-
cluded that her painting was "unique" among that of her peers, her gender and physi-
cal appearance drew his attention as well; Rivera described her as "one of the most at-
tractive artists recently discovered in Mexico." Rivera predicted that Izquierdo would
become one of Mexico's most valued artists if she could avoid what he described as
rhe "bastardizing tendencies of those [among us] who are influenced by old-fashioned
foreign painting.",
With that statement, Rivera signaled out both modernista and
modernist tendencies among her reachers, including German Gedovius but, first and
foremost, Rufino Tamayo.
Despite the fact that her relationship with Tamayo would have made manifest
her allegiance to a less foreclosed artistic vision, she continued to receive Rivera's sup-
port through November 1929. That month she was featured in a solo exhibition at the
newly founded Galeria de Arre Moderno, run by Carlos Merida and Carlos Orozco
Romero. Like Tamayo, Merida and Orozco Romero's intellectual orientation and ad-
vocacy of "pure painting" affiliated them with the Contempod.neos. To Merida, the
gallery's mission was to promote internationally recognized artists like Rivera bur also
"positive values and original rendencies.",
Merida's conciliatory statement explains
why Rivera wrote the catalogue essay for Izquierdo's exhibition. Rivera's endorse-
ment after all was still a key to ensuring her success. In his essay, Rivera asserted that
Izquierdo was "herself, like her painting, classically Mexican," and despite Izquierdo's
allegiance to the latest modern fashion, Rivera claimed that in her physical appearance
she resembled an ancient carved stone sculpture of the deity, Centeotf.
Two photographic portraits of Izquierdo by Manuel Alvarez Bravo can be profit-
ably read alongside Rivera's description of Izquierdo's physical characteristics. Both
photographs dare to the early 1930s and offer insight into Izquierdo's complex sense of
self-fashioning. In one version, published as an illustration for an essay on her work
for Mexican Folkways by the poet Xavier Villaurrutia, Izquierdo wears the Tehuana's
embroidered huipif, heavy pre-Columbian-style jewelry, and her hair braided and
wrapped around her head in the manner of indigenous women (fig. 61). By now
we realize that her adoption of indigenous clothing and hairstyle, li ke Frida Kahlo's,
was nor unique; instead, it was a trend among middle-class women who found it a
fashionable and patriotic way to celebrate the more exotic aspects of Mexican culture.
In the other portrait, Izquierdo sports a decidedly modern style (fig. 62). While nor
a pefona, she is a quintessentially modern woman. Her hair, simply styled in a low
chignon at the nape of her neck, is tucked under a snug cap angled stylishly across
her forehead. Her modern look is reinforced by the simple geometric structure and
diagonal lines of Alvarez Bravo's formally compelling composition.
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 211
Manuel Alvarez Bravo, photogra
ph of Maria Izquierdo, in Xavier
Villaurrutia, "Maria Izquierdo,"
Mexican Folkways 7, no. 3 Ouly-
September 1932). Collection of
the author.
By linking Izquierdo's physical beauty with her painting, Rivera was claiming her
for his side in the debate over the aesthetic and ideological parameters of Mexican
art. He did so as a cultural actor involved in his own competition for cultural he-
gemony against other muralists and also against advocates of "pure" easel painting.
Furthermore, Rivera's claim that Izquierdo was "classically Mexican," coupled with the
rancor with which he had retaliated against Garcia Maroto's critical assessment of his
work the previous year, points to the fact that mexicanidad as defined by Rivera was
rooted not just in traditional culture but was sustained by patriarchally defined ideas
about both masculinity and femininity. This is evident in Rivera's own murals, par-
ticularly his fecund and sensually recumbent nudes, such as those at Chapi ngo. This
background on Rivera's attempt to claim Izquierdo suggests the contentious nature of
the cuhural arena in Mexico City in the 1920s and 1930s. In that context, an ambi-
Attributed to Manuel Alvarez
Bravo, photograph of Marfa
Izquierdo. Collection of Aurora
Posadas Izquierdo, Mexico City.
tious artist like Izquierdo, particularly because she was a woman, functioned herself
as a form of cultural capital among competing factions. As a result, both her art and
her gender were used to position her strategically. Following his two 1929 essays on
Izquierdo, Rivera remained silent about her work until the 1940s, when he dismissed
her potencial abilities as a muralist.
' By late 1929, Rivera had shifted interests, so to
speak, and now was championing the cause of Frida Kahlo.
In contrast to Rivera's statements about Izquierdo, another critic used Izquierdo's
exhibition at the Galeria de Arte Moderno as an opportunity to offer his thoughts on
the debate between 'arte puro" and "arte socializado."l
In a column on Izquierdo,
Gustavo Ortiz Hernan asserted that the gallery's goal was to educate an ignorant pub-
lic that misunderstood Diego Rivera, as the lead proponent of "social art" as much
as the artists who espoused the theories of "pure art." According to Ortiz Hernan,
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
Merida, Orozco Romero, Tamayo (whose own exhibition at the gaJlery had preceded
Izquierdo's), and Izquierdo exemplified "arte puro." According to the critic, the theo-
retical foundations of"arte puro" considered arran "end in itself," removed from any
social function. It was concerned principally with material and process. Ortiz Hernan
may well have been thinking of works like her Soup Tureen (La sopera) (Collection of
Andres Blaisten, Mexico Ciry) of 1929, in which Izquierdo used the lowest academic
genre-the still life-to experiment with geometric form and a subdued palette, al-
lowing her to experiment with the full spectrum of white to gray to black.H Indeed,
Ortiz Hernan specifically noted her use of color, asserting that though Izquierdo was
not yet as "formed" as Tamayo, her works, like his, showed a concern with creating
pleasure from pure "visualiry," lo optico. Referring to a portrait, Ortiz Hernan noted
that her use of color, as opposed to drawing, as the means to create form was a "true
conquest." This suggests an appreciation for the painterly aspects of the medium.
Rather than basing her oils (or her watercolors) on sketches, Izquierdo appears to
have used her medium as a way of building up form and developing her composi-
tions spontaneously, as opposed to following a more academic path of drawing and
filling in with color. Her thick use of the medium also stands in contrast to the slicked
academic sryle not just of her teachers but of Diego Rivera, whose murals reveal his
training as a draftsman.
In the midst of rhe cultural debates over "ane puro" and "arte socializado," key
members of the Contemporaneos, among them Xavier Villaurruria, began to pay at-
tention to Izquierdo's work. According to the poet, Izquierdo had assimilated certain
qualities ofTamayo's painting, but her "delicious entonations [sic]" evoked "a feminine
and living sensuality." Her watercolors showed a "perfect relationship between draw-
ing, color, and minimum theme ... making her one of the most daring colorists of rhe
new Mexican painting [my emphasis).">-1 Nor only did Yillaurruria associate her with
Tamayo, but he situated her painting as responding in key ways to the cosmopolitan
avant-garde's interest in a more complex, modern, and multifaceted cultural identity.
I do not mean to suggest that Izquierdo was an inactive pawn in the cultural
competitions of her male cohorts; instead, she was astute in allowing herself and her
work to be "claimed" by a cultural agent as powerful as Rivera while simultaneously
integrating herself into the Contemporaneos circle. Rivera's attention notvvithstand-
ing, in cultivating an alliance with Tamayo, Merida, and Villaurrutia, Izquierdo was
clearly positioning her work within "pure painting."
Izquierdo's allegiance to these new tendencies in Mexican painting was con-
firmed when four of her paintings were reproduced in the September 1929 issue of
Contempordneos. The significance of her inclusion in the journal cannot be overesti-
mated. The paintings included a nude, a still life, and two portraits, all of which have
since been lost.
Of rhe four works, the nude (fig. 63) is remarkably advanced in terms
of Izquierdo's candid modeling of the figure and the overall mood, which is replete
Maria lzquiedo, Nude {Desnudo),
c 1929, oil on canvas, des
troyed, as reproduced in "Los
Oleos de Maria Izquierdo,"
Contemporaneos, September
1929. Collection of the author.
with ambiguity. The woman sits on an unmade bed, with one leg pulled up awkwardly
so as to shield her pubic area, a fact that renders the woman vulnerably naked rather
than nude.
The angularity of the figural composition and the graphic modeling of her thin,
unvoluptuous body suggest that Izquierdo did not intend to depict her subject in a
flattering or seductive way. Instead, the woman's pensive expression and several com-
positional elements, including a framed photograph of a bullfighter, an extinguished
candle, and an open borde of wine on the nightstand, and the disarray of clothing
under the bed, evoke a sense of postcoital abandonment. The awkward pose suggests
that the painting may have been done from a photograph rather than life. In either
instance, like Orozco's subversive watercolors, it too evokes Federico Gamboa's novel
Santa, recalling the moment when after leaving Dona Elvira's brothel and moving in
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
with her lover, the bullfighter Jarameiio, Santa finds herself alone and bored. In an
efforr ro domesticate her, Jarameiio prohibits her from leaving their boarding house.
This is the eventual undoing of their affair. Santa Aees and returns ro Elvira's.
Whether based on a photograph, a live model, or the novel, in formal terms
Izquierdo's Nude is compelling. Rather than creating an idealized, timeless, or allego-
rized nude, she constructs a sexually explicit image. The woman's pensive expression
forces the viewer into a denaturalized if still-potentially titillating voyeuristic position.
The rendering of the woman as naked, her clothes strewn on the Aoor, destabilizes
the accepted naturalism of classically rendered salon nudes. Rather than inhabiting a
world aparr, this particular woman clearly inhabits a world conditioned, emotionally
and physically, by the (absent) presence of her male lover. Rather than rendering a
"pure" untouched nude, Izquierdo makes clear that the woman is anything bur un-
rouched. Indeed, rhe composition suggests a dialogue nor just with Santa bur general-
ly wirh brothel scenes created by her Mexican and European contemporaries, ranging
from Orozco's Desolation (see color plate 9) to Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907;
Museum of Modern Art, New York). It is worrh noting that the preceding issues of
Contempordneos had included nudes by Cezanne, Matisse, and Andre Derain as well as
Tamayo and Merida, and readers would have noticed a connection berween her work
and these artists.
By way of contrast, a canonically rendered female nude is found in the work of
Izquierdo's contemporary, Julio Castellanos (1905-1947). The same year that Izquierdo's
Nude was illustrated in Contempordneos, Castellanos painted a series that included
Two Nudes (Dos desnudos; color plate 21). Castellanos's painting offers a stark contrast
ro Izquierdo's in that it completely normalizes the erotic display of the female body,
adopting bur Mexicanizing the idiom of the salon nude. He codes his nudes through
their rustic surroundings and skin color as Indian and as idyllic. His nudes have long,
braided straight dark hair and brown skin and their bodies are soft and fecund. Their
expressions are passive and their bodies are left open by virtue of their seared position
on painted wooden chairs, which along with the red rile Aoor and the simple geomet-
ric architecture locate them in rural Mexico. Their volumetric bodies classicize Indian
womanhood, and thus Castellanos constructs the female body as a sign that carries
forward the idealization of indias bonitas within the postrevolutionary imaginary as
well as generalized desire.
Less complex than Rivera's monumental rendition ofLupe
Marin in rhe mural Liberated Earth, Castel lanos's nudes nevertheless recall the figure of
Luz Jimenez there. They are allegories for the timeless and essential aspects of Mexican
identity. However, as Ella Shohat and Robert Starn have argued in another context,
"chromatically literal self-representation," if we can consider these indias a form of na-
tional "self-representation" by Castellanos, is nor a guarantee of"non-Eurocentric rep-
resentation." Instead, the "system," in this case the male artist, "use[s] rhe performer,"
here the indigenous female body, "ro enact the dominant set of codes."'"
Another image that bears comparison is Tamayo's Nude in Red of 1930 (Desnudo
en rojo; color plate 22). In his rendition of the classical bather, Tamayo representS
an abundant female body painted in tones of earthy red and brown. The model is
positioned against a simple red-brick wall. On the one hand, the image could be
read as timeless, but her jewelry and her starrled gaze establish a tension around her
nakedness. Her voluptuous breastS are thickly painted in tones of peachy red-brown.
Supported by her arm, they are offered to the viewer like apples. AJthough Tamayo
both Mexicanizes the nude and simultaneously engages with the academic tradition,
he generates an important paradox. The viewer is uncertain whether to focus on the
Mexican aspects of the composition, the narrative conceit of the timeless nude female
bather, or on the formal, geometric, and painterly aspects of the composition, which
are more dynamic than in Castellanos's peaceful rendition. However, Tamayo offers
the viewer a clue. He tided the work Nude in Red rather than naming the work, which
is actually a portrait after the sitter: Maria Izquierdo.
In her Nude of 1929, in contrast to Castellanos and Tamayo, Izquierdo made the
sexual system of exchange wherein the female nude is made available to a heteronor-
mative male viewer overt and somewhat unpleasant. Here Tamayo located his lover
squarely within that system. In so doing, he sublimates her creative agency. While she
is made available for the pleasure of the male artist or viewer, Tamayo may also have
been alluding to the way that their circle of peers was beginning to position Izquierdo
discursively, a process in which he was instrumental. Namely, her gender and her vo-
luptuous body were collapsed with her painting and she was repeatedly characterized
as being herself not just her painting, "purely sensual," and as exuding "delicious col-
or" and "spirit."
Similarly, Tamayo may have been sympathetic to the complications
inherent in being equated to one's painting, since his work was frequently described
as being innately linked to his own ethnoracial background.
It is worth noting that
Xavier Villaurrutia had deployed a related critical discourse, attributing Tamayo's style
and sources to his Oaxacan origins; ultimately, however, the conclusions drawn were
quite different.
In 1932, Villaurrutia wrote that Tamayo's works, palette, and sensibility were in-
fused with the sensuality of the tropics of his home state. For Villaurrutia, Tamayo's
work was "instinctual rather than intellectual," embodying "racial harmony."
o And
in 1935, Celestino Gorostiza wrote that Tamayo's painting was "poetic ... rich in
color [and] sensuality of form."
' He added, however, that each of his paintings was
a "study in which his sources were made more robust, disciplined and purified [my
emphasis]." According Gorostiza, Tamayo "possessed a mature and cultivated spirit,
employed with rigor and economy in order to create a poem out of each one of his
paintings." Thus, even though Tamayo's ethnic background was also invoked as the
source of his painting, in his works he channeled this inAuence to make "rigorous"
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 2 17
Returning to Izquierdo's Nude, what is remarkable about it is her disruption of
the canonical exemplars that surrounded her, a process that enables me to situate her
work in a dynamic dialogue with that of her contemporaries, namely, Castellanos
and Tamayo, but also Rivera, Orozco, Hemin, Picasso, Derain, Matisse, and so forth.
Thus, Izquierdo's Mtde, followed by her watercolors of nude women in the landscape,
can be understood as challenges to normative representations of the natural ized female
nude. For an easel painter, and indeed for Izquierdo as a woman establishing herself
within a male-dominated sphere, the most audacious way to claim a space for herself
was to paint the female nude, one of the most canonical of all subjects in Europe
and Mexico. However, her engagement consistently challenges the norm because her
works violate convention. Drawing from Salvador Oropesa's analysis of the poetry of
members of the Contemporaneos circle, I frame Izquierdo's use of the nude and naked
female body as an intertextual sign system, which she appropriated and reformulated
in order to rupture the dominant, male, middle-class, heterosexual cultureY
It is crucial to note, however, that Izquierdo did not rej ect rhe canon or the
"Mexican" school outright; as a young artist attempting to make a name for herself,
she could not afford to. Instead, she overtly signaled her dependence on the canon
and on Mexican "exemplars" through her "use" and simultaneous "abuse" of their ex-
arnpleY Izquierdo engaged with the female body so consistently, indeed tenaciously,
precisely because it was the most male-dominated of artistic subjects. In the face of
having been described as "classically Mexican," she rendered a resolutely modern and
universal image of womanhood. As an artist, she was dependent on showing her mas-
tery of the canon, and then making a contribution that was fully her own. It is in her
watercolor nudes of the 1930s that we can fully understand her contribution.
The Contempon)neos: Surrealism, the Unconscious, and the Dream
Izquierdo's painting in this period surely appealed to Villaurrutia because his own po-
ems, particularly his "Nocturnes," conjure equally strange and surrealistic worlds. For
example, the poet's "Nocturne: Nothing Is Heard" (1928) was published in the same
issue of Contempordneos as Izquierdo's paintings, and the relationship of his imagery
to Izquierdo's is compelling.
In the middle of a silence deserted as a street before a crime
not even breathing so that nothing will disturb my dying
in this loneliness with no walls
at this hour when angles are escaping
I leave my bloodless statue in the tomb of my bed
and go olf in the slow-moving moment
in the interminable descent
with no arms to stretch out
with no fingers to reach the scale falling from an invisible piano
with nothing more than a glance and a voice
that can't remember having left their eyes and lips
What are lips? What are glances that are lips?
and my voice is no longer my voice
within this unwetting water
within this plate glass air
within this purple fire that slashes like a scream
In the miserable game of mirror to mirror
my voice is falling
and my voice incinerates
and my voice in sin narrates
and my voice in sin elates
and my poison scintillates
like plate glass ice
like the screams of ice
here in the shell of my ear
the pounding of a sea where I get nothing
wet nothing
for I've left my arms and feet on shore
and I feel the net of my nerves being cast outside me
and everything escapes like a calculating fish
counting to a hundred in the pulse of my temples
a dead telegraph no one is answering
for sleep and death have nothing more to say.
In images that recall Villaurruria's poetic imagery, Izquierdo began to create disturb-
ing, sexually charged, and surrealistically inspired compositions.
In his poems and
in her paintings, corporeal fragmentation, the nocturnal, oneiric context, disturbing
juxtapositions, and, above all, the illogical, free-associative symbolic language are all
in keeping with the Surrealist movement.
Despite later claims that the movement's
founder, Andre Breton, introduced Surrealism in Mexico, Villaurrutia and Izquierdo
were early adherents to many of the movement's aesthetic tenets.
Like other members of the Contempora.neos group, including his lover, the paint-
er Agustin Lazo, Villaurrutia was instrumental in introducing the ideas at the heart of
Surrealism in Mexico. In seeking to free the unconscious and the irrational through
surrealist practices, the Contemporaneos sought not only to reinvigorate literary and
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
artistic form bur also to explode the social order; by the end of the I930S, under
Lazaro Cirdenas, that order was a reinvigorated, collectivized, patriarchal revolution-
ary order.
-They expressed their dissent by championing a highly individualized and
modern sensibility. Thus to Surrealism they added a general interest in art for an's
sake, or "pure painting," and they drew as well from a variety of modernist pictorial
forms and ideas. In addition to Tamayo and Izquierdo, artists whose works were illus-
trated in Contempordneos included Castellanos, Jean Charlot, Lazo, Merida, Gabriel
Garda Maroro, Roberto Montenegro, Orozco Romero, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano,
Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Emilio Amero, Alfredo Zalce, and Orozco.
European artists
whose works were illustrated included Georges Braque, Paul Cezanne, Giorgio de
Chirico, Salvador Dalf, Andre Derain, Albert Gleizes, Matisse, Picasso, and Maurice
de Vlaminck. Among the Americans were Peggy Bacon, George Biddle, Man Ray,
and Edward Weston. Translated texts included works by Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau,
Andre Gide, Paul Eluard, Andre Maurois, Paul Valery, and D. H. Lawrence, T. S.
Eliot, and Waldo Frank. In other words, this eclectic array of artists and writers attests
to the interest among the Contempor:ineos circle in sorring through a wide variety of
aesthetic orientations, and particularly those that privileged a highly individualized
subjectivity and poetic, metaphysical imagery.
For example, in the July 1928 issue, Carlos Merida, then still in Paris, published
an essay titled "Europe and Painting."
The essay is imporrant because it represents
a concerted effort to explicate the direction of new painting in Paris and because it
made several key concepts avai lable to all the members of the group. Merida empha-
sized poetic realism and referred to "super-realism," a common substitute for the term
"Surrealism." He also advanced the idea that new painting had to seek the poetic
rather than the external, arguing that the poetic could be attained through a com-
promise between the excessive mathematical rigor of the Cubists, academic realism,
and naturalism. Calling for a restoration of the poetic element in painting, Merida
stated that it would enable painting to communicate more powerfully with the view-
er, and he concluded by referring to the Guatemalan critic Luis Cardoza y Aragon,
who would shortly arrive in Mexico and become an ardent supporter ofTamayo and
Merida invoked Cardoza y Aragon's argument that painters could, despite their
universalism and intellectualism, remain true to their national and ethnic origins.
As an exemplar for young artists in the Americas, Cardoza y Aragon had named
Marc Chagall and several Spaniards, including Dali and Merida's reference to
Chagall, Dalf, and Picasso as artists who achieved a balance of universalism and national
essence in their work is consistent with the arguments developing in Mexico and abroad
in the interwar yearsY Moreover, it appears that it was for this same reason that the
work of De Chirico, with its mixture of metaphysical and classical Italian references,
was so important to artists like Agustin Lazo and Izquierdo, whose own depopulated
landscapes and frequent use of architectural ruins recall early works by the Italian artist.H
Understanding Mexican artists' access to the movement founded by De Chirico,
Scuola Metafisica, literary and pictorial Surrealism, Freudian and Jungian psycho-
analytic theory, and related concepts such as the subconscious and dream imagery
in Mexico is chal lenging to say the least. However, it is evident that the Mexico City
intelligentsia was engaging with these ideas not only in journals like Contempordneos
and the Spanish magazine Revista de Occidente, but in the daily press as well. 54 For ex-
ample, in August 1925, EL Universal Ilustrado published an essay by the Spanish writer
Fernando Vela titled "El Suprarealismo." There Vela explained the fundamentals of
Surrealist thinking, dealing closely with Breton's Manifeste du Surrealisme and most
specifically with the relevance of Freudian theory to the Surrealists' investigations of
the unconscious and the dream state.SS
The center/periphery paradigm often employed in analyses of art and cul-
ture in the developing world contains within it the notion that the intelligentsia of
third world countries operates in a vacuum. Looking back to Revista Moderna and
Contempordneos, we find ample evidence that this is not true. Emerging Mexican art-
ists had a keen interest in the Surrealists. Considering themselves cosmopolitan, they
saw contemporary cultural currents from Freud to Surrealism and beyond as universal
culture from which they could freely draw. Thus the consensus that the introduction
of Surrealism in Mexican painting occurred as a result of Breton's famed visit in 1938
and later with the arrival of European artists exiled in Mexico by the war is erroneous.
Villaurrutia's poems and Izquierdo's paintings, like those ofTamayo and others, show
that they drew on a broad range of sources for their art and their interpretations of
national culture well before Breton's arrival.
In 1931, the poet and playwright Jose Gorostiza, an eloquent supporter oflzquierdo's
and contributor to Contempordneos, published an essay evocatively tided "Torre de
Senales: Ocho Pintores," (The Lighthouse: Eight Painters) in El Universal Ilustrado. The
essay reviewed an exhibition, "Eight Painters," held in February at the Palace of Fine Arts
(Teatro Nacional) and sponsored by the Mexican brewery Carta Blanca.
The exhibi-
tion included works by Lazo, Merida, Orozco Romero, Siqueiros, Fermin Revueltas,
Charlot, Montenegro, and the Japanese painter Tamiji Kitagawa. Gorostiza focused on
Merida, Orozco Romero, and Lazo, using their works as a point of departure to define
two "stages" of Surrealist painting: the first he called "plastica pura," which he defined
as lyrical painting that, while figurative, was abstract in its narrative content. He wrote,
"In this stage, represented by Carlos Merida and Carlos Orozco Romero, the painter
tries to express himself only by plastic means, excluding impure and exrraplastic ele-
ments such as [overt] subject matter." For Gorostiza, the second stage was the "poetic,"
exemplified by the painting of Agustin L a z o . s ~ For Gorostiza, Lazo's work was informed
by sources ranging from De Chirico to Jean Cocteau, Igor Stravinsky, Andre Breton,
and the "machinations of the dream." Noting that because poetic painting (like Lazo's)
reverted to subject matter, it therefore refuted pure painting, but "face to face," he wrote,
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 221
Maria Izquierdo, Circus Bareback
Rider White Amazon (Caballista
del Circa; Amazona blanca),
1932, watercolor and gouache
on paper, 28 x 21.5 em. Blanton
Museum of Art, Latin American
Collection, University of Texas
at Austin. Reproduced by per-
mission of Amparo Posadas de
the two stages-pure painting and poetic painting-represented "chasteness and sin
... the before and after of having taken a bite from rhe [proverbial] apple." As such, he
concluded rhat borh stages were intrinsic ro Surrealism.
From Gorostiza's references, it is evident that he was familiar with the full range
of Surrealist experimentation and was grappling with understanding and locating
Mexican artists within its variants, including the automatism of Mir6 to the pre-
visualized pictorial style of Dalf. He appears ro have been familiar wirh Breron's mani-
festo since he acknowledged the centrality of content and imagery based on dreams.
Gorostiza's interest in Surrealism also resulted from rhe fact rhat in France poets and
writers led rhe movement. Surrealism thus dovetailed with the interest among these
Mexican poets in establishing a link between poetry and painting. To that end, in a
lecture he gave at the opening of the "Eight Painters" exhibition, Xavier Villaurrutia
stated that the artist's represented in the exhibition sought above all to be "indepen-
dent and free."
Like Jose Gorostiza, Villaurrutia established the relationship between
poetry and painting, stating that "if the goal of poerry is ro make one think the un-
thinkable, then could nor the object of painting be to make one see the unseeable."
Finally, he likened this process to "magical, religious, and poetic operarions."6o
Set in that context, a picrorial vision such as Izquierdo was developing in the early
1930s would have appealed to these intellectuals precisely because it suggested a balance
between the external world and individual creativity. Then, as her painting developed
over the course of the decade, she rendered increasingly unexpected juxtapositions with
Maria Izquierdo, Still Life with
Telephone (Naturaleza con tele
{ono), 1931, oil on canvas, 40.5
x 40.5 em. Collect ion of Andres
Bl aisten, Mexico City. Reproduced
by permission of Amparo
Posadas de Carmona.
dreamlike, hallucinatory, and even violent conrent. These characteristics were precisely
what constituted the Contemporaneos' particular vision of mexicanidad, shaped equal-
ly by the so-called psychic legacies of Mexico's pre-Conquest past, its Spanish colo-
nial culture, Revolution, and contemporary popular and rural traditions, as well as by
modernismo and international modernism. Critics like Villaurrutia and Gorostiza were
attracted to Izquierdo's watercolors precisely because they offered a world inrerpreted
from a subjectively feminine and, to their minds, sexualized perspective.
In her first exhibition of these paintings, held at Frances Toor's Gallery in February
1933, Izquierdo included mostly circus scenes, including Circus Bareback Rider of 1932,
known then as White Amawn (Amawna blanca; fig. 64).
' Then, in November, in a
space on Avenida Juarez, she exhibited a group of oils along with her first extensive
group of watercolor nudes.
Villaurrutia's essay on Izquierdo, published in the July-
September issue of Mexican Folkways, set the tone for her critical reception. Villaurrutia
emphasized that Izquierdo was a "very different painter" from the one Rivera singled
out in 1929.
His essay was illustrated with reproductions of Circus Bareback Rider and
an oil painting, Still Life with Telephone of 1931 (Naturaleza con telifono; fig. 65).
Circus Bareback Rider exemplifies Izquierdo's early circus scenes, in which strange-
ly compressed compositions and a dark palette create a moody, dreamlike scene.
In terms of the circus as subject, Olivier Debroise described Izquierdo's early circus
scenes as evocative of the sordid yet colorful ambience of the itinerant sideshows,
called carpas.
Carpas were set up in working-class barrios of Mexico City in the
Oesnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 223
I9JOS, and Izquierdo is said to have frequented them.
1he carpas also passed through
her hometown of San Juan de los Lagos. During the religious festivals that punctu-
ated the town's annual calendar and especially during the November fair, the popula-
tion swelled and the town took on a carnivalesque character, a transformation that
Izquierdo recalled with great fondness in her unpublished memoirs.
:- It is this seem-
ingly nocturnal, carnival ambience, populated by prostitutes and vaudevillian side-
shows, that Izquierdo evokes here and that connects paintings like Circus Bareback
Rider to her nudes. Indeed, the original ride of the painting, Amazona Blanca, refers to
the equestriennes of the carpas, who were known as "amazonas" because their routines
were based on their power over animals. In addition, the term expressed that they lived
outside the bounds of women's expected social roles, epitomized by their itinerant,
decidedly undomesticated character and their physical prowess and daring.
Still Life with Telephone, also illustrated in Villaurrutia's review, exemplifies
Izquierdo's engagement with "pure painting." At first glance, the painting appears to
be a relatively straightforward arrangement of objects-a phone off its cradle, a book,
a compass, a thimble, and a halved lime. The painting is in dialogue with similar works
by Tamayo, Lazo, and Orozco Romero, who painted still lifes with poetic arrange-
ments of humble, everyday objects. While the genre had since irs inception relied on a
symbolic language to push past visual pleasure to content, Izquierdo and Tamayo used
the genre to create uncanny juxtapositions, one of the central tenets of Surrealism.
Furthermore, in a context where art was supposed to be engaged with everyday life
and the masses, here a relatively innocuous arrangement of quotidian elements tells
us a great deal about life in Mexico City and about the artist. Through this image we
learn of an interest in modern forms of communication, in mathematics or drawing,
and in other intellectual or domestic pursuits like embroidery, evoked by the book
and the thimble. One could posit that rather than formed solely by the feminine (the
thimble), here Izquierdo uses simple signs to tell us about the complexity of her world.
Finally, easel painters who sought to challenge the hegemony of large-scale public art
sometimes engaged in a small-scale attack through the genre of the still life. The attack
was all the more compelling, coming as it did, to paraphrase Norman Bryson, from
within a genre that depicted the lowest, most "overlooked" plane of reality.
By employing words such as "delicious," "feminine," and "sensual" in his praise,
and in describing her as having learned from Tamayo, Villaurrutia accomplished mul-
tiple tasks: he not only promoted Izquierdo but simultaneously elevated Tamayo ar-
tistically above the stature of Rivera. After all, Rivera may have discovered her, but
Tamayo had subsequently claimed her. Moreover, by invoking the gendered aspect of
their personal relationship, Villaurrutia also reinforced Tamayo's masculinity.69
Less than a year after Villaurrutia's essay, in conjunction with her exhibition at
Toor's gallery, Celestino Gorostiza praised Izquierdo for having created a sense of
"Mexican ness" without resorting to the kinds of subjects that catered to foreign tour-
He remarked that her Mexicanness was not to be found in the themes she
treated but rather in ''her spirit and the way in which her taste and temperament were
manifest in her art," which, he added, "struck a perfect balance berween the tragic and
the comic." He established a parallel berween Izquierdo's painting and her physical
qualities, describing the power of her works as "emanating from her viscera, berween
her heart and her mind;" in other words, it was instinctive, but he admitted that it was
modulated by her skill as a painter. Gorostiza was thus careful ro distance Izquierdo
from the notion that her work was "excessively personal." Instead, he described her
painting as "expressive yet serene," as conveying "moral strength and fortitude, rather
than typical feminine sentimentality." This was, he added, a "rare quality in a woman
painter," particularly because she resisted what he described as "the feminine artistic
inclination toward a sensibility of the flesh ... that translates as excessive sentimental-
ism and tasteless pathological expressions of purely sexual states of mind."-'
For Celestino, Izquierdo's sense of irony was far removed from the "grotesque
caricatures found in some murals, and recent [easel] paintings"; instead, Izquierdo's
was "like a smile that paused on the lips, or a scream that stopped short in the throat."
By "caricatures," he may have been alluding to more directly narrative renditions of
Mex.ican culture, as, for example, Rivera's countless market scenes rendered both in
fresco murals and easel paintings, which were becoming popular with American art
He could also have been referring to Orozco.
Similarly, in his essay for her show at Toor's, Jorge Cuesta praised Izquierdo's wa-
tercolors precisely because in them he discovered a critique of"painterly explorations
of the Mexican spirit and character." According ro Cuesta, Izquierdo's painting "did
not succumb to extraneous elements such as sentimentalism, instead it was [above
all] modern," and he affirmed that her art should be accepted for what it was, "pure
At the end of the year, Jose Gorostiza commented on her work as well, in an essay
for her exhibition in November. Like Cuesta, he invoked her knowledge of European
modernists, tracing her roots from Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso and De
Chirico, and he described her choice of the watercolor medium as "intimate and
confidential." Like his brother, however, he too asserted that in a characteristically
"womanly" way, Izquierdo expressed herself not in words but through her paintings,
in which "the amazonas and horses, the ruins and women, were like a screen behind
which [she] modestly describe[d] her anguish, fear, and solitude." Like his brother,
Jose linked the emotive quality of Izquierdo's watercolors to a uniquely feminine un-
derstanding of the modern Mexican psyche, a subject that would become important to
the next generation of the literary avant-garde, principally Octavio Paz. Jose affirmed
that while her paintings might evoke the small ranches of rural Mexico, he noted that
Izquierdo maintained an "ironic distance" and her rich formal talent "transformed
vulgar, material reality into an interior world."'
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
Jose Gorostiza's idea char Izquierdo's art was a "screen" behind which she conveyed
her "angst," and Celestino's earlier commentary about her sense of irony, is compel-
lingly expressed in WOman with Mirror (color plate 18) of the following year. The
painting seems to engage with these very ideas almost literally. Here Izquierdo creates
conceptual and compositional slippage that pulls the male gaze away rather than to-
ward rhe nude female subject, and she is rhus effaced. Izquierdo also creates a sense of
compression with rhe red wall that recedes diagonally to the right, drawing the gaze
away from the figure. Finally, we are confronted by the dark gray dressmaker's form.
It stands in as a surrogate for rhe woman's nudity, and its inherently fragmented form
suggests bur sidesteps the Surrealist's mutilation and reduction of the female body to
a grotesque object of desire. Here she juxtaposes an active sense of self-contemplation
with a limbless torso of breasts and exaggerated waistline. Insofar as Izquierdo ap-
pears ro reflect on rhe use and abuse of the female body, her work resonates with Jose
Clemente Orozco's mural Catharsis, completed in 1934 in the Palace of Fine Arts.
There Orozco created a grotesque allegory of the modern, embodied by two diseased
and mutilated prostitutes. Comparing Orozco's Catharsis to Kahlo's images of her own
mutilated body, Mary K. Coffey cogently argues that Kahlo's self-representation helps
us to see "how insensitive Orozco was to the violent implications of the construction
of woman in the visual discourses of nationalism and aesthetic modernism [my empha-
sis]."-5 So too Izquierdo's WOman with Mirror, but again the slippage is that the female
bodies are at most only metaphorically Izquierdo's own.
Whereas nudes like Castellanos's and Tamayo's were solidly constituted, here the
mutilation of the manikin creates the opposite effect. And further, by shifting, refract-
ing, and mirroring the gaze back at the viewer, Izquierdo takes over the gaze and we
are left with the disconcerting sense that the woman in the painting is actually look-
ing at our reflection in the mirror. If so, the image is not about the woman's vanity
but about the way such normative pictorial constructions were actually about the
male artist/viewer's vanity. The image thus suggests a powerful critical engagement
not just with normative representations of the female nude, bur with the male gaze,
and very possibly with the relationship established by her critical supporters, between
her painting and her body. Finally, the scumbled paint handling, unusual for a water-
based medium but characteristic of Izquierdo's hand, and the rich, vivid chrom;n:ic
contrasts create a swirling composition that satisfies the senses in ways beyond the
delectation of the nude.
Returning to Rafael Solana's description oflzquierdo of December 1938, in addi-
tion tO describing her creative process as "unconscious," Solana added that "man never
appears in Marla's painting except represented by a column ... or a horse. He has
no will of his own, but acts only for the painter, for woman. Marfa sees [the world]
exclusively from the perspective of her femininity. " This discursive turn, in which he
inverted the gendered order within Izquierdo's pictorial work, is crucial. In her work,
the exclusion of men suggests a gynocentric world. Unsurprisingly, Solana used this to
his own ends. It allowed him to describe her as a "precursor" to Surrealism. Solana af-
firmed that "what the surrealists do not obtain by spying on and imitating the dream,
Marfa obtains by letting it speak and believing in it [rather than] torturing it with criti-
cal analysis ... . Maria Izquierdo, who allows to emerge from her depths ... an acute
expression of her art, should be considered a sage and a precursor. What others search
for and express with artifice, in her has the value of being spontaneous and ingenu-
ous."-6 Here Solana positioned his own reading of Izquierdo against the interpreta-
tion offered rwo years earlier by the dissident French Surrealist Antonin Artaud, who
"discovered" Izquierdo during his visit to Mexico in 1936 and called the women in her
images a "caravan of nude Indians."'' Artaud's description bears some analysis because
it is suggestive of the ways in which foreigners also conflated indigeneity with feminity.
In identifying the women in Izquierdo's images as "Indian" and Izquierdo herself as a
"Tarahumara," Artaud was attending to his own search for a primitive culture.
Artaud and the Red Earth
When Antonin Artaud arrived in Mexico in February 1936, he had already broken
with the Surrealists in France.-
Yet in Mexico, where he remained until October of
that year, Artaud was engaged in a quintessentially surreal undertaking. He apparently
chose to visit Mexico because he believed that the Mexicans were actively engaged in
reviving pre-Conquest culture. In a letter to a colleague, dated July 1935, Artaud stated
that he had heard about a movement, alive in Mexico, that was attempting to return
to the manner of civilization prior to the arrival of Cortes. '
He was referring to post-
revolutionary indigenism.
Artaud's romantic and fundamental misunderstanding of Mexican indigenism is
evident in the lectures he gave in Mexico. There he described contemporary Indian
culture untouched by Western values, and he believed that it was a potential source for
the creation of a new, truly universal culrure in place of European culture, which was
in a state of"rot."
' Artaud's arrival was announced in the Mexican press, where he was
described as a member of the Surrealist movement and the author of some of the most
modern theatrical works. While Artaud's lectures, "Surrealism and Revolurion," "Man
Against Destiny," and "Theater and the Gods," were delivered in French, a synopsis of
each was published in Excelsior, and "Man Against Destiny" and a partial version of
"Theater and the Gods" were published in Spanish in the daily El Nacional. Over the
course of his nine-month stay, Artaud published nineteen essays in El Nacional, most
of which appear to have been translated by Jose Gorostiza, Samuel Ramos, and Luis
Cardoza y Arag6n.
Some scholars and anecdotal sources note that Artaud had little contact with
Mexican intellectuals and that he remained relatively anonymous during his stay.
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 227
This seems unlikely, however, given his contact with Gorostiza, Ramos, and Cardoza y
Aragon and with Izquierdo. Even if his lectures in French were esoteric and may have
have been lost on the general public, it seems probable rhar those predisposed ro his
ideas, such as the members of rhe Contemporineos circle, would have been recep-
tive. This is nor to say that Arraud introduced them to concepts that were unfamiliar
to them, but it is possible nevertheless that his message of recovering the primitive
culture of Mexico before it disappeared once and for all would have seemed absurd,
particularly among the cosmopolitan intellectuals.
The Surrealists' interests in so-called primitive lands derived from a long tradition
of seeing native cultures as redemptive and regenerative for Western culture in crisis.
In 1929, the surrealists developed a world map in which Mexico, Central America,
India, Tiber, and China were drawn disproportionately large in relation to their actual
landmass in order to signifY their importance as regenerative sires of the primitive.
The map was reprinted in Contempordneos in February 1931, although without com-
ment. Just before his departure for Mexico, Artaud had apparently vacillated between
going ro Mexico or Tiber. Thus it is not surprising rhar after just a few months in
Mexico City, Arraud expressed profound disappointment in what he found. He would
only find rhe "primitive" experience he sought at the end of his stay when he traveled
north to the mountain villages of the Sierra Tarahumara and obtained permission to
participate in their by-then-outlawed peyote ritual.
While the Contemporineos did nor reject rhe importance of Mexico's indigenous
traditions, their interests in universal ideas were rooted in rhe very tradition that Arraud
declared to be dead, namely, French culture. In addition, already by the 1920s official
indigenist policies were oriented not toward preserving native rituals but rather toward
transcribing and then homogenizing them in the interest of modernizing, assimilat-
ing, and transforming Mexico's indigenous and rural populations into a proletarianized
peasantry. During the administration of Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40), official indigenism
was encompassed within the effort to extirpate once and for all what was seen as reli-
gious fanaticism, particularly the rural Catholicism of provincial Mexico.
In contradis-
tinction to the decidedly romantic and primitivist vision of Mexican rural culture that
inspired so many foreigners like Arraud to go there in search of a more "authentic" form
of spirituality, the official interpretation was that the peasants who practiced this so-
called syncretic Catholicism had to be modernized and freed from their religious fanati-
cism. In 1922, for example, Manuel Gamio had described rural Catholicism in scathing
terms, writing that the Catholic Church in rural Mexico perpetuated the backwardness
of the peasanrry.
Gamio stated that the "hybrid mixture of animism, polytheism, and
monotheism that had aided the sixteenth-century friars in their evangelical mission
... is no longer justifiable." He condemned the very kind of religious imagery, namely,
starues of saints and "bloody, effeminate Chrisrs," so adored by the rural populace and
compelling to largely foreign anthropologists and folk-art collecrors.
During the Calles
administration and the succession of short regimes that followed (1924-34), the official
anti-Catholic position of the Mexican state had provoked a violent backlash among the
rural peasantry known as the "Cristero" rebellion, which lasted from 1926 ro 1929.
the mid-1930s, the Cirdenas administration was no less iment on modernizing the peas-
ants, and generally the tactic employed was ro attempt to educate them our of what were
perceived to be repressive and archaic traditions.
Artaud's search ran counter ro the political and social agenda of most Mexican
intellectuals and politicians alike. In contrast to Andre Breton, whose affiliation with
the Communist parry would facilitate a welcome reception among politically en-
gaged artists in Mexico Ciry in 1938, particularly Diego Rivera, Artaud's rejection of
Communism, his mental instabiliry and opium addicrion, and his eventual foray into
the Sierra Tarahumara appear to have elicited little interest among those modernistS
who might otherwise have considered him a cultural ally. Nevertheless, despite the
apparent disdain that the intelligentsia felt for Artaud's ramblings and gaunt physi-
cal appearance, including both the Contempod.neos and leftists such as Rivera, the
degree to which his ideas may have been provocative should not be underestimated.9
Artaud and Izquierdo
Artaud and Izquierdo met shortly after his arrival in Mexico Ciry, and he appears to
have stayed at Izquierdo's house for a brief period.
In August 1936, toward the end of
his stay, Arraud published an essay on Izquierdo in which he declared that her paint-
ing aside, genuinely Mexican art did not exist.
The essay, written as a review of an
exhibition of thirteen of Izquierdo's oils and fifteen of her watercolors, was published
in Revista de Revistas.
Artaud wrote:
I came to Mexico looking for indigenous art, not an imitation of European
art. Indeed there are countless imitations of European art in all its forms
bur real Mexican art, properly speaking, does not exist. Only the painting of
Maria Izquierdo gives off an inspiration that is truly Indian. That is to say,
in the middle of the hybrid forms of expression in Mexican painting, Maria
Izquierdo's is sincere, spontaneous, primitive, disturbing. It has been for me
a kind of revelation.96
Despite having finally located in contemporary Mexican painting the indigenous spir-
it he sought, Artaud qualified his assessment of Izquierdo's work, stating that while
her painting was "spontaneous," it was not completely "pure." He wrote that certain
of her paintings showed roo much of a direct influence of modern European paint-
ing. He warned that if she followed that course, her spirit, like the indigenous spirit
of Mexico, would be lost. He added that he feared he had come to Mexico to "witness
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
2 29
the end of the ancient world," when in fact he had hoped to assist in its resurrection.
He was heartened, however, to have found in her watercolors "nude indigenous charac-
ters trembling among ruins ... performing a ghostly dance [my emphasis]" and "here
and there enough nude virgins who weep before crucifixes." For Artaud, this was rep-
resentative of the "amalgam of Mexico, a kind of pagan Catholicism, in which behind
the cross of Christ one finds the cross of the ancient geometric palaces of Uxmal, of
Mitla, Palenque, and Copan."97
Artaud's assessment oflzquierdo is a puzzling mixture of praise and equivocation.
He claimed that hers was the only genuinely Mexican painting while admitting the
modernist sensibility in her work. Nevertheless, the question remains why Artaud
singled out Izquierdo for praise among all the Mexican artists he encountered. Simply
put, if Artaud found Mexican painting to be too "contaminated" by nationalism or by
European art, then perhaps it was the lack of narrative closure in her painting and the
absence of strictly codified pictorial elements that attracted him.
Olivier Debroise, and more recently Terri Geis, have suggested that as a result of
her friendship with Artaud, Izquierdo's work began to take on an increased violence
and her metaphysical tendencies were increasingly tied to astrological and solar ritu-
als and symbolism.
Debroise has argued that Artaud's novel Heliogabalus (written in
1933) may have inspired paintings such as Allegory ofWork (Alegoria del trabajo) and
Allegory of Freedom (Alegoria de fa libertad) (color plates 23 and 24), painted in 1936
and 1937. While this is probable, at the same time it is important to consider that these
works do not introduce wholly new iconography; rather, they refine the iconographic
elements that had emerged in her painting as early as 1932. In these works, Izquierdo
established a seeming corollary among nudity, sex, struggle, and labor, suggesting an
allegorical commentary on the exploitation of women. Even though they can be read
in broadly universal terms in the context I have traced above, it should come as no
surprise that Izquierdo would have expressed such concerns pictorially, given the way
she had been described over the course of the decade.
In Allegory ofWork, a woman sits on the ground covering her face with her hands.
Before her are two columns, one erect at the top of the hill and the other lying on its
side, pointing directly to the woman. Above her, a pair of disembodied huge male legs
straddle one of the volcanic hills, the torso disappearing into the clouds. In front of
the genital area hovers a golden orb decorated with a moon and five stars. Whereas
in many oflzquierdo's images the phallic symbolism is implicit, signified by columns
and tree trunks, here the symbolism is overt and overwhelms the female figure. In
light of the Surrealists' mutilation of the female body, here Izquierdo provocatively
returns the favor. At the same time, it remains unsurprising that she might hesitate, in
the Mexican context, to render the male phallus.
Conversely, Allegory of Freedom depicts a winged, torch-bearing angel, flying away
from an incinerator that spews a black cloud and toward the heavens, bearing a cluster
of five decapitated female heads. As Terri Geis observes, Izquierdo's repeated use of
severed heads in the late 1930s suggests an interest in pre-Conquest codices, but here
"the allegorical figure of winged liberty serves as the bearer of the violent sacrifice re-
quired for liberty's fulfillment: human lives."
Geis suggests that the tiny painting is a
meditation on the cost of war and the price of freedom, and this seems plausible given
mounting violence and the rise of fascism in Spain and throughout Western Europe. '
Izquierdo may even have been making a reference to the events at Guernica of that
year, as many artists did, or perhaps this is simply a premonition of the horrors yet to
come in World War II. Regardless, Izquierdo uses the mutilated body here as a sign
not of male delectation but of male-instigated destruction and holocaust.
The visceral, seemingly Mexican yet simultaneously universal and, therefore, more
broadly allegorical quality that Celestino Gorostiza identified in Izquierdo's paintings
is displayed as well in Woman with Horse (color plate 19). Here Izquierdo depicts a
nude woman, seen from behind, who attempts to drape a bright red blanket over
a horse as if preparing to mount it. Compositional instability is created by the am-
biguous horizon line and diagonal recession. The woman's brown skin and black hair
stand out against the predominant red hue of the flattened picture space. Her brown
hips and buttocks are compositionally balanced against the round hindquarters of the
horse. While the woman, the horse, and the architecture might evoke rural Mexico,
ultimately there is nothing explicitly Mexican in this painting. Instead, like Woman
with Mirror, it invites an enjoyment of color, of compositional dynamism, and some-
what less vexed contemplation of the female form. Nevertheless, the nude's attempt
to cover the horse is protective, rendering her own nudity all the more striking. While
the painting seems tranquil, the woman's gesture and the space resonate otherwise in
relation to events in Europe and in Picasso's use of similar iconography-the horse-
as a symbol for dying Republican Spain. In Mexico, the horse was a symbol of con-
quest, and here, as in other of her works, the gesture of the ruddy brown female nude
counterbalances the masculine connotations of the animal. This demonstrates that,
while evidently enthralled by her dialogue with Artaud, Izquierdo remained commit-
ted to the tone and iconography that she had cultivated for nearly a decade.
When he described Izquierdo as a "precursor" to Surrealism, Rafael Solana was
probably referring to Artaud's discovery of Izquierdo in 1936; he may also have been
countering the arrival of another Surrealist in Mexico. In 1938, Andre Breton arrived in
search of Leon Trotsky, and subsequently discovered not just Mexico but Frida Kahlo.
And as a member of the Contemporineos group, Solana would surely have taken issue
with Breton's claim that Mexican artists had no prior knowledge of Surrealism before
he arrived.
Whereas Izquierdo had exhibited her watercolors numerous times and had received
substantial critical attention throughout the 1930s, Frida Kahlo was virtually an un-
known when Breton discovered her. Upon arriving in Mexico, Breron placed Kahlo at
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas 231
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait
on the Border Between the
United States and Mexico
(,Autorretrato en Ia {rontera
entre los Estados Unidos y
Mexico), 1932, oil on metal,
31 x 35 em. Private collection,
United States. 2007 Banco
de Mexico Diego Rivera &
Frida Kahlo Museums Trust.
the center of his fantasies about Mexico. In an interview in 1938, Breton stated, "Mexico
tends to be the surrealist country par excellence. I find Mexico to be surreal in its appear-
ance, its landscape, the dynamic mixture of races and in its own great aspirations."'
' The
seriousness and originality of K.ahlo's work aside, I suggest that Breton singled her out,
at least partially, as a counter-gesture to Artaud's discovery oflzquierdo two years before.
After all, Breton had expelled Arraud from the Surrealist movement in 1926.
Before examining Breton's claims about K.ahlo, the relationship benveen the
themes she treated in her painting and Izquierdo's bears consideration. In his 1933
essay on Izquierdo's watercolors, Celesti no Gorostiza did nor identify a particular art-
ist when he described painters who resorted to "tasteless pathological expressions of
purely sexual states of mind."
Nevertheless, given how few women artists t here were
in Mexico City, it is possible that he was referring to Kahlo, who had recently com-
pleted My Birth (1932; private collection), Henry Ford HospitaL (see color plate 17), and
SeLf-Portrait on the Border Between the United States and Mexico (Autorretrato en Ia fron-
tera entre los Estados Unidos y Mexico; fig. 6 6 ) . '
~ What distinguishes many of Kahlo's
paintings from Izquierdo's is t hat K.ahlo usually located narrative impact, including
visualizations of violence and mutilation, directly onto her own body. Kahlo's paint-
ings are to some degree, like Izquierdo's, private meditations, and the experiences she
invites us to examine are extremely personal. At a time when women were perceived to
be excessively emotional and sentimental "by nature," the relatively exclusive viewing
public that might have seen her work may well have found her explicit subject matter
off-putting and even, in Celestino's words, "grotesque."'""
In these early works, Kahlo constructed a highly personal narrative by adapting el-
ements of popular religious imagery. Like Izquierdo's watercolors, Kahlo's are also min-
iatures, bur she painted them in oil on metal. Her format and medium were inspired
by late nineteenth-century votive painting. Votive painting is a tradition of Catholic
devotional imagery dating back at least to the fifteenth century. In nineteenth-century
Mexico, self-taught artists painted such works on commission on sheers of tin or
wooden board readily at hand. Typically, a detailed inscription of the event depicted
would have been written in a space, sometimes rendered as a trompe-I' oeil scroll at
the bottom of the image. In My Birth, Kahlo included such a scroll, leaving it blank.
Nevertheless, the inference is clear from the fact that it is her own bloodied head that
emerges from her mother's vagina. In his essay on Izquierdo, Celestino Gorosriza was
critical specifically of Mexican artists who made their careers in New York by imitating
Mexican folk art, and he mocked the fact that folk an had now found its way to "the
fireplace mantels of American tourists."'
Again, with that comment, Gorosriza may
well have been referring to Kahlo's work, particularly paintings completed during her
and Rivera's stay in the United States. In addition, during in this period, Rivera was
often assailed for catering to the tastes of foreign patrons and tourists.
Although the contemporary tendency to reduce Kahlo's works to anguished psy-
cho-biographical confessions is simply reductive, in the intellectual context already
traced, the explicitly personal iconography of images like Kahlo's and her pictorial
sources in Mexican folk traditions may have alienated critics like Celestino and Jose
Gorostiza. Further, in contrast to Kahlo's use of her own body in a context that was
sometimes violent and physically depredating, Izquierdo's images, which became in-
creasingly violent over the course of the decade, stand our precisely because their
pervasive sadomasochism and violence are wrought upon a generalized female body,
rather than her own. In contrast to Kahlo's self-imaging as passive, or helpless, in
some oflzquierdo's images women struggle in allegorical terms, even if unsuccessfully,
against the conditions of their oppression. This is not ro suggest that Kahlo did not
set about to undermine the ways that woman was made to sign in Mexican art. As we
have seen, she did. It simply rakes more work and experience to see past her autobio-
graphical iconography, work that critics like Celestino Gorostiza, belonging to a camp
opposed tO Kahlo's husband, may not have been willing to do.
To this end, it is worth considering the ways in which Kahlo herself may have had
an ironic sense of her own appropriation of folk art, not to mention her use of the
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
symbolic language of Mexican nationalism. In My Birth, she eliminated the render-
ing of"divine intervention" and instead the Virgin of Sorrows presides over her birth,
and simultaneously over Kahlo's mother's death.'o6 In provocative ways, her mother's
covered face alludes to the circular logic wherein woman can never be both virgin and
mother. In a somewhat less tragic vein, Self-Portrait on the Border flags Kahlo's own
sense of irony in the inscription of the painting, which states: "Carmen Rivera painted
her portrait in 1933." Indeed, Kahlo was acutely aware not only of the power of dress
but of the power of naming and it was in the late 1930s, at the height of the national-
ist era of Lazaro Cardenas, that she adjusted the spelling of her first name from the
German "Frieda" to the more Hispanic "Frida." Here, instead, she invokes her name as
erroneously reported in the Detroit press, where she was described as "Carmen Rivera"
(a more "authentically" Mexican-sounding name than Frida Kahlo), the wife of the
muralist. As Sarah M. Lowe points out, her demure nineteenth-century-style pink
dress and the patriotic little Mexican flag in her left hand create a play of opposites
when coupled with the cigarette in her right hand, a sign of the modern woman.'
As is well known, in countless later works, for example, Diego on My Mind (see
fig. 2), Kahlo used costume to sign cultural identity, ironically and otherwise. In Diego
on My Mind, she asserts her affective link to Rivera by brandishing his portrait on her
forehead and by dressing as a Tehuana bride. '
By the early 1930s, she consistently ad-
opted the costume of the women ofTehuantepec as her signal attribute. There, as here,
she offers an ironic reference to her perpetually liminal position as a German-Mexican
or a Mexican residing in rhe United Stares. Indeed, a similar commentary is evident in
her best-known self-portrait, 7he Two Fridas, in which she renders herself twice: once
in a white, nineteenth-century-style wedding dress and once in her Tehuana costume
(1940; Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City).
As I have noted earlier, Kahlo was likely accustomed to some form of outsider
status as the daughter of an immigrant father and a mestizo mother. Just as here she
signals a temporal and regional ambivalence through the use of an outdated dress,
her subsequent adoption of the Tehuana costume was probably intended to enhance
her "Mexicanness," both in Mexico and abroad. It was during their two-year stay
in the Stares that Kahlo regularly began to express her "Mexicanness" by dressing
in native costume.'
In so doing, she manipulated the ways in which she, and her
husband, were fetishized by art patrons, itself a curious exception given rhe otherwise
widespread anti-Mexican bias in the depression-era country. "' Her self-portraits thus
suggest an awareness of the symbolic use of timeless Mexican traditions, including
womanhood, when set in a Manichaean opposition to modernization.
Kahlo's awareness of Rivera's role in the formulation of the Mexican School, both
as a muralist and an easel painter, and of the contradictions inherent in his project,
is suggested in several of her paintings as well. Although tiny by comparison, Self
Portrait on the Border Between the United States and Mexico and her collage My Dress
Hangs There, made in New York in 1933 (private collection), contain iconographic ele-
ments and compositional strategies that she borrowed from Rivera, suggesting a direct
dialogue with his Detroit and Rockefeller Center murals. '" As Terry Smith has argued,
although painted in the midst of the Great Depression, Rivera's U.S. murals celebrate
industrialization; in contrast, Kahlo created very different renditions of the effects of
In My Dress Hangs There, her empty Tehuana costume hangs above the
fray of depression-era protests in New York, suggesting a keen awareness of the ways
that context determined the costume's symbolic charge. Against the backdrop of ur-
ban unrest, her dress hovers like an apparition of better, premodern times. In addition,
her corporeal absence suggests an unwillingness to participate alongside Rivera in an
empty celebration of cultural and economic rhetoric. "
If indeed Celestino Gorostiza was thinking of Kahlo's work in his commen-
tary on Izquierdo in 1933, he appears to have overlooked Kahlo's own use of irony.
Nevertheless, tO invoke Shohat and Starn's critique of "chromatically literal self-rep-
resentation" again, while Kahlo may have sought tO undermine, in her own way, the
conventional use of the female body among her male peers by representing herself as
the sign for Mexican indigenous womanhood, ironically and otherwise, her ability to
create a non-Eurocenrric, or in this case "bottom-up," representation of indigenous
culture was limited. While she frequently situated the eroricized/exoticized sign onto
her own body rather than another's, as a member of the elite Kahlo nonetheless
appropriated, like Rivera, Castellanos, or Herran, the accoutrements of indigenous
culture, even if she did so for different ends. Nevertheless, as suggested in paintings
like My Nurse and I of 1938 (Mexico City, Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino), she did so
with an awareness of how canonical and codified images underwrite normative and
non-normative power structures. In My Nurse and I, Kahlo shows herself wearing a
baptismal gown, cradled in the arms of an Indian wet nurse, who wears an Olmec
mask. "
In the guise of the infant Jesus, Kahlo takes in sustenance from what would
shortly come to be recognized as Mesoamerica's "mother culture.""j Nor inconse-
quentially, in a Catholic if at times anticlerical context, the substitution of an Indian
wet nurse for the Virgin is a decided challenge to the prevailing symbolic system.
Here Kahlo rewrites Mexico's cultural origins. Her images need thus, like Izquierdo's,
tO be examined apart from the way her peers, for example, Breton and Rivera, ap-
propriated her. Their distinctive interpretations of woman aside, however, the mas-
culine competition berween Breron and Artaud, Rivera and the Contemporaneos, in
which first Izquierdo and then Kahlo were "discovered," suggesrs that in the relatively
limited art world in Mexico City there was only enough space in the 1930s for one
woman artist. Izquierdo's and Kahlo's paintings norwithstanding, the claims on the
part of their respective supporters that each represented exclusively the "essence" of
Mexicanness in her art were expressed through essentializing references to their femi-
ninity and their bodies.
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
In his famous essay on Kahlo published in conjunction with her 1938 exhibition
in New York City at rhe Julien Levy Gallery, Breton identified Rivera as "incarnating
rhe eyes of an entire continent," bur he si ngled our Kahlo's art as "casting the deciding
vote berween various pictorial tendencies [in Mexico]." For Breton, there was no other
painter more "exclusively feminine ... pure ... tempting ... or pernicious" than Kahlo.
He described her work as "free from foreign influence," and as "prior to knowledge," by
which he meant both Surrealism and more broadly Western European arrisric knowl-
edge.116 In choosing Kahlo over Izquierdo, or any other Mexican artist for rhat matter,
he subverred the cultural authority of Arraud and also of the Contemporaneos circle."7
Breton allied himself, moreover, with their most visible rival, Rivera. In his manifesto
"For an Independent Revolutionary Art" (1938), co-authored with Leon Trotsky and
signed by Rivera, Breton implicitly underwrote Rivera's brand of "arte socializado."
Although directed at the international stage, and against Hider's and Stalin's cultural
politics, the manifesto stared, "Complete freedom for art .. . [but] it should be clear
... that in defending freedom of thought we have no intention of justifying political
indifference, and that it is far from our wish to revive so-called pure art which generally
serves the extremely impure ends of reaction [my emphasis] .""
As Robin Adele Greeley
argues, certainly the manifesto was, as far as Breton's contribution goes, intended to
vindicate Surrealism to the international Communist Party."
In the Mexican context,
however, the association of Breton-Trotsky-Rivera affirmed that Rivera's work was rhe
defining exemplar of Mexican an and crucially, with Kahlo as the exemplar of Mexican
Surrealism, it too was reclaimed and relocated within the realm of the political. In 1940,
Breton would famously go on to organize the International Exhibition of Surrealism in
Mexico City, including Rivera, Kahlo, and the photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo in
the section dedicated to international Surrealism. A variety of Mexican artists, among
them Xavier Villaurrutia, were relegated to a separate section dedicated to "Mexican"
Notably, neither Marla Izquierdo nor Rufino Tamayo was among the
Mexican artists whose works were shown.
When examined in light of Breton's arrival and his machinations to realign
Surrealism vis-a-vis Communism through an allegiance to Trotsky (and Rivera),
Rafael Solanis praise of Izquierdo takes on particular resonance. Solana's essay coun-
tered Artaud's primitivizing of Izquierdo and of Mexico, bur also Breton's praise for
Kahlo, and especially his claim that before his arrival in Mexico, Mexican artists had
been unaware of Surrealism. In praising Izquierdo, Solana rhus sought to reclaim for
Mexican artists and intellectuals an active rather than passive engagement with the is-
sues at the heart of both advanced painting and Surrealist theory. In the fi nal analysis,
the discourse at play berween the Contemporaneos, Artaud, and Breton suggests that
even as late as 1938, debates over the terms of mexicanidad, and with it the terms of
art, remained contentious, and woman was the primary field upon which those battles
were played. Indeed, these debates would become only more contentious over the
course of the 1940s. In that battle Tamayo, who would receive signal international rec-
ognition among New York art critics and gallerists as the exemplar of Mexican modern
art, emerged as the key voice against the muralists. on
Izquierdo's contribution to these debates in the 1930s was multifold. She created
works that subverted the canonical exemplar of the female nude and of"Mexican" art.
In fact, her works suggest an active exploration of woman as sign, as a sexual subject,
and especially, of a female erotic imagination as well. Images like WOman with Mirror
reterritorialize the female body in terms that support women's, rather than men's,
needs and desires. Yet in 1939, she, like some women before her, felt compelled to dis-
semble that process publicly by distancing herself from "classical feminism."
In a radio address broadcast in July 1939, Izquierdo described her own ideas on
what it was like to be a woman artist in Mexico City.
Affirming that women now had
"complete freedom" ro express themselves, she asked, "to what extent women had tak-
en advantage of that freedom." In ways remarkably similar to Manuel Gamio's essay
"Our Women" of 1916, Izquierdo couched her response by describing three "types" of
women: the "feminist," the "intelectualoide," and the "authentic woman." Describing
feminists as affected and aggressive, she claimed that their goal was to create a society
without men, and that as such they had contributed nothing ro their own cause or to
society. Instead, she chastised them for having "lost their femininity." She described
the "intelectualoide" as a hanger-on, someone who considered herself a member of
the intelligentsia simply by association; in other words, as the wife or lover of a writer
or artist. One cannot help bur wonder if this was not a jab directly at Kahlo. Finally,
Izquierdo described the "authentic woman" as profoundly "feminine," spi ritual, self-
effacing (abnegada), morally pure, and content in her maternal role. It was in the ma-
ternal role that Izquierdo identified the authentic woman's "creative force."
However, in a curious turn, when she began to speak about her own creative
process, Izquierdo acknowledged that women had experienced, "until now," little op-
portunity to excel in areas previously reserved for men-for example, painting. In a
remarkable anticipation of Linda Nochlin's query as to "why have there been no great
women artists," Izquierdo suggested that there were "no female Michelangelos" not
because women did not possess innate genius, but because they had been deprived of
access to education and opportunity to study and work. She concluded that if women
continued to "conquer" a greater freedom of expression, they too would achieve great-
ness in the arts. Finally, she described her own creative process as based in her own
aesthetic ideas rather than a particular pictorial movement.
In conclusion, in the context of the gendered social order of postrevolutionary
Mexico, Izquierdo's comments are remarkable because they suggest how deeply in-
grained the preconception was that woman's principal contribution to society was her
maternal role. Furthermore, her remarkable conclusions excepted, Izquierdo demon-
strated the ways in which her thinking was shaped by prevailing notions about femi-
Desnudas, Amazonas, and Tehuanas
nism and women's role in the social order. Although initially shocking, her comments
on "feminists" and "authentic women" were those of the context in which she lived
and worked.
Nevertheless, throughout her career, Izquierdo demonstrated a uniquely singular
vision. Her works of the 1930s show that she had an early understanding of Surrealism's
value for undermining the established order. As a result, she was claimed by diverse
male actors in their own competition for cultural hegemony and the right to utter the
"final" word on the definition of the essence of Mexicanness. What is most provoca-
tive about Izquierdo's painting is the way in which she used art to strike at the core of
dominant culture, whether through subtle slippages or by locating the female allegori-
cal nude squarely at the center of a strange, metaphysical, poetic world. She, more
than any of her peers, positioned the female body as a site conducive to examining and
subverting the full range of the conventions of her day, eroticized, cultural, aesthetic,
and otherwise. By constructing an allegorical and nightmarish fantasy world, she set
her work in dialogue with international painting and parricularly with the issues at the
heart of Surrealism as understood by the Mexico City avant-garde.
As a painter and cultural agent in her own right, in the 1930s Izquierdo allied
herself with dissident groups, among them cultural cosmopolitans, homosexuals, and
even estranged French Surrealists, who actively used their difference to create new
spaces not only in the margins but increasingly at the center of the cultural order. Her
legacy for the subsequent generation of painters, including Juan Soriano and Alfonso
Michel, was an art that was rooted in Mexico and yet with its branches free.'
1938, Izquierdo continued to paint in watercolor, but her palette and the manner in
which she worked changed. Her palette became brighter and more cheerful, taking on
a greater transparency.
In later oils, she turned for inspiration to nineteenth-century
provincial painting, including stilllifes and portraits, and yet these too are symbolically
charged, her arrangement of elements continuing to elicit in the viewer a game of free
association. Her work in the 1940s suggests an increased interest in securing a place for
herself within the prevailing Mexican school. She was, after all, an ambitious artist, yet
she remained steadfast in avoiding the consecrated tropes of mexicanidad. After 1940,
when the Mexican state under Manuel Avila Camacho (1940-46) and Miguel Aleman
(1946-52) effectively declared the Mexican revolutionary process complete, overseeing
rapid economic and industrial development, another medium emerged in which the
much-rehearsed and timeworn tropes of mexicanidad and indigenismo were made cen-
tral. I turn now to examine how despite the efforts of modernists like Izquierdo and
the Conremporaneos, a codified definition ofMexicanness found intensive expression
in the 1940s in cinema, which one practitioner defined as "movable murals." In that
context, Indian culture and once again the india bonita would play a crucial role.
159. Cordero Reiman speculates on the pos-
sible inclusion of Masonic symbols and refers to
an unpublished essay by Fausto Ramirez. On this
topic in relation to Rivera's murals at the Ministry
of Public Education, see ibid. , 209 n. 1. Rena to
Gonzalez Mello undertook rhe most extensive srudy
of Rivera's Masonic iconography in "La maquina de
pinrar: Rivera, Orozco y Ia invenci6n de un lenguaje"
(Ph.D. dissertation, UNAM-Facultad de Filosofia y
Lerras, 1998); for an abbreviated text with some of his
findings, see "Manuel Gamio, Diego Rivera, and rhe
Politics of Mexican Anthropology," Res: Anthropology
and Aesthetics 45 (Spring 2004}: 161-85.
r6o. Scorr, "Gender: A Useful Category of
Historical Analysis," 1056.
1. See, for example, Diego Velazquez, Venus at
Her Mirror (1648; National Gallery, London}.
2. On Kahlo's Mexican exhibitions, see Helga
Prignin-Poda, ed., Frida Kahlo: Das Gesamtwerk
(Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Neue Kririk, 1988),
3 See Frida Kahlo: Exposicion Nacional de
Homenaje, September-November 1977, Palacio
de Bellas Arres (Mexico City: IN BAI Secreraria de
Educaci6n Publica, 1977). The Museum of Arts and
Sciences (Mexico City) in collaboration with the
National University (uNAM) held an "homenaje" in
1964, a decade after her death; the twentieth anniver-
sary of her death was recognized at the Museum of
Modern Art (Mexico City) in 1973. This lack of offi-
cial recognition in the form of stare-sponsored "ho-
menaje" might also be because the Kahlo Museum,
founded privately by Rivera and his patron, Dolores
Olmedo Patino, in 1958, held regular commemorative
4 For example, Izquierdo's first retrospective
was held at the Palace of Fine Arts in 1943. Her first
posthumous retrospective was held at the Museum of
Modern Art (Mexico City} in 1971, and her national
"homenaje" was in 1979. For an incomplete list of
Izquierdo's solo exhibitions, see Maria Izquien:W,
exh. cat. (Mexico City: Centro Cultural/A.rre
Contemporaneo, 1988), 406-8.
5 Izquierdo's essays are reprinted in Maria
Izquierdo, ed. Miguel Cervantes, with essays by
308 NOTES TO PAGES 159-206
Carlos Monsivais and Luis Mario Schneider (Mexico
City: Casa de Bolsa Cremi, 1986), 128-45.
6. Since at least 196o, there has been an effort ro
exhibit their work side by side and ro cultivate simila-
rities in their art. See, for example, Homenaje a Frida
Kahlo y Maria Izquierdo, exh. cat., Galeria Romano,
Mexico City, August 1960, cited in Prignirz-Poda,
ed., Frida Kahlo, 291. See also Erika Billeter, "Frida
and Marfa," Images of Mexico, exh. car. (Dallas: Dallas
Museum of Art; Frankfurt: Schirn Kunsrhalle, 1987},
7 Rafael Solana, "Maria Izquierdo," Taller,
Revisra Mensual 1, December 1938, 65-80.
8. For example, Ocravio Paz, "Maria Izquierdo
sitiada y siruada," Vuelta, November 1988, 21-z7;
see also Paz, Essays on Mexican Art, trans. Helen
Lane (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company,
1993), 247-65; Margarita Nelken, "Maria Izquierdo,
su exposici6n en Mexico," Norte, December 1943,
42-44; and more recently, Elena Poniatowska, "Maria
Izquierdo, a caballo," in 7he True Poetry: 7he Art
of Maria Izquierdo (New York: Americas Society
Art Gallery, 1997), 117-21; Raquel Tibol, "Marfa
Izquierdo," Latin American Art I (Spring 1989}: 23-25.
9 Robin Adele Greeley also examines Izquierdo's
relationship ro the Conremporineos group and its
alternative definition of Mexican ness, but she focuses
on Izquierdo's painting of the 1940s. See Greeley,
"Painting Mexican Identities: Nationalism and
Gender in the Work of Maria Izquierdo," Oxford
Art }ournal23, no. 2 (2ooo}: 51-71. My analysis
differs on several counts, beginning with my focus
on Izquierdo's painting in the 1930s, the period
in which she was most closely associated with the
Contemporaneos group, as well as my analysis of
Izquierdo's art in relation to the discourse on "pure"
rather than nationalist or folkloric painting.
10. Solana, "Maria Izquierdo," 72.
11. These terms were used by the critic Gustavo
Ortiz Hernan, "Cr6nicas de Arte: La Galeria de
Arte Moderno," unidentified newspaper clipping,
Archivo Maria Izquierdo, Collection Aurora Posadas
Izquierdo; although the source is not known, Orriz
Hernan wrote a column for El Nacional.
12. Olivier Debroise, "Mexican Art on Display,"
in 7he Effects of the Nation: Mexican Art in an Age of
Globalization, ed. Carl Good and John V. Waldron
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001),
31. For a com piece treatment of che Mexico Cicy
cosmopolitan vanguard, see Debroise, Figuras en
el Tropico: Pldstica mexicana, I92o-4o (Barcelona:
Edicorial Oceano, 1984). I am indebted co Olivier
Debroise for urging me co srudy Izquierdo's early
period. I am also graceful co Fausta Ramirez and
Renaco Gonzalez Mello for their useful commenta-
ry on an early version of chis chapter, presented ac
che Xl:XX Colloquia lnternacional de Hiscoria de
Arce, lnscituco de Investigaciones Escecicas, Puebla,
Ocrober 2005.
13. "Manifesco of the Syndicate ofTechnical
Workers, Painters and Sculpcors," translated in Ades,
Art in Latin America, 323-24.
14. Gabriel Garda Maroro, "Ane y Aniscas:
La Exposicion de Pintura Actual," El Universal
December 22, 1928.
15. "Rufino Tamayo, pintor mexicano, nos habla
de su arce," unidentified newspaper clipping, dated
December 7, 1928, archived ac the Museo Tamayo,
Rufino Tamayo Hemerograffa.
16. 1 do nor intend co imply thac all che mem-
bers of che Contemporaneos group possessed identi-
cal aesthetic or political ideologies bur racher co give
a sense of their intellectual independence from the
dominant currents of nationalism.
17 Gabriel Garda Maroro, "La Obra de Diego
Rivera," Contempordneos, June 1928, 64-65.
18. See Ermilo Abreu Gomez,
"Contemponineos," in Las Revistas Literarias de
Mexico (Mexico: INBA, 1963), 166; see also James
Valender, "Garda Maroro y los Concemporaneos,"
in Los Contempordneos en ellaberinto de La crfti-
ca, ed. Rafael Olea Franco and Anthony Stan con
(Mexico Cicy: Colegio de Mexico, 1994), 423-24;
and Guillermo Sheridan, Indices de Contempordneos
(Mexico Cicy: UNAM, 1988), 34- 36.
19. On Anconieca Rivas Mercado, see Franco,
Plotting Women, 112-28. Rivera's mural is reproduced
in Desmond Rochforc, Mexican Muralists: Orozco,
Rivera, Siqueiros (San Francisco: Chronicle Books,
1993), 66, fig. Go.
20. Villaurrucia in an interview with Febronio
Onega, see "Conversacion con un escricor," Revista de
Revistas, April 10, 1932, 24-25.
21. On Izquierdo's awareness of European mo-
dernise painters, see Dawn Ades, "Retraco de Belem,"
in Arte mod.erno de Mexico: Cokccitin Andres Blaisten,
u6; also ac www.museoblaiscen.com
22. Luis Cardoza y Aragon, El rio: Nove/as de ca-
balkria (Mexico Cicy: Fonda de Cultura Economica,
1986), 502.
23. Diego Rivera, "Maria Izquierdo," El
Universal, September 25, 1929.
24. Gonzalez Mello, "La UNAM y Ia Escuela
Central de Arces Pliscicas."
25. See Diego Rivera, "Exposicion de mocivos
para Ia formacion del plan de escudios de Ia Escuela
Central de Arces Plasticas de Mexico" (1929), re-
printed in Diego Rivera: Arte y Politica, ed. Raquel
Tibol (Mexico Cicy: Grijalbo, 1979), 87-94; and
Gonzalez Mello, "La UNAM y Ia Escuela Central de
Arces Pliscicas."
26. Gonzalez Mello, "La UNAM y Ia Escuela
Central de Arces Plascicas," 39
27. The reasons for che procesc are nor clear;
see Ingrid Suckaer, Rufino Tamayo, aproximaciones
(Mexico Cicy: Edicorial Praxis, 2000), n9-2I.
28. Rivera, "Marfa Izquierdo," El Universal,
September 25, 1929.
29. Merida, "La Nueva Galeria del Arce
Moderno: The New Modern Arc Gallery," Mexican
Folkways 5, no. 4 (Occober-December 1929): 184-91.
30. Diego Rivera, "Marfa Izquierdo," Catdlogo
de La exposicion en La Galeria de Arte Moderno, Teacro
Nacional, November 1929.
31. On Izquierdo's canceled mural commission,
see Greeley, "Painting Mexican Identities," 55-56; and
Ferrer, 7he True Poetry, 27. On women muralists in
Mexico, see Oles, "Ac the Cafe de los Cachucas"; and
Dina Comisarenco Mirkin, "Aurora Reyes's 'Acaque
a Ia Maescra Rural': The First Mural Created by a
Mexican Female Artist," Womans Art joumal26, no.
2 (Autumn 2005-Winter 2006): 19-25.
32. Orcfz Hernan, "Cronicas de Arce: La
Galeria de Arre Moderno." In his essay on Marfa
Izquierdo, Luis-Martin Lozano discusses chis article
as well. However, he cites che author as Gustavo
Cruz Hernan. See Luis-Martin Lozano, "Regarding
Modern Mexican Painting: Marfa Izquierdo," in
Maria Izquierdo, I902-I9SS (Chicago: Mexican Fine
Arcs Center Museum, 1996), 26.
33 See Ades, Arte moderno de Mb:zco: Cokccitin
Andres Blaisten, 75; also ac www.museoblaiscen.com.
NOTES TO PAGES 206-214 309
34 Xavier Villaurrutia, "Marfa Izquierdo,"
Mexican Folkways 7, no. 2 (August-September 1932):
35 The location of these works is unknown. One
source states that many early works were lost in a
fire in the 1940s; see Marfa de Jesus Gonzalez, "The
Art of Maria Izquierdo: Formative Years, r928-1934"
(Ph.D. dissertation, University ofTexas at Austin,
1998), 97
36. For a similar argument, see T. J. Clark, The
Painting of Modern Lifo: Paris in the Art of Manet and
His Followers (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985),
37 Ella Shohat and Robert Starn, Unthinking
Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (New
York: Routledge, 1994), 190.
38. These quotes are taken from Rivera, "Marfa
Izquierdo," Catdlogo de Ia exposicion en Ia Galeria
de Arte Moderno, Teatro Nacional, November 1929;
Villaurrutia, "Marfa Izquierdo"; and Solana, "Marfa
39 Celestino Gorostiza, "Rufino Tamayo, que
abre una exposici6n en Ia Galerfa de Arte Moderno,"
unidentified clipping, dated October 20, 1929, in
the Archivo Hisrorico Rufino Tamayo, Tamayo
Museum, Mexico City. Gorostiza quotes from a
poem by Carlos Pellicer, "Tr6pico para que me diste
las manos llenas de color? Todo lo que yo toque se
llenara de sol." ("Tropics, why have you given me
hands full of color. All that I rouch is filled with the
sun.") Cardoza y Aragon in the preface al ludes to the
same poem, as does Xavier Villaurrutia, "20 afios de
su labor pictorica," in Rufino Tamayo (Mexico City:
Palacio de Bellas Artes, 1948).
40. Xavier Villaurrutia, "La pintura mexica-
na actual," Nuestro Mexico (November 1932), 76
and 79 Similarly, see Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma,
"Rufino Tamayo," Forma, no. 5 (1927): 2-3; Frank
Crowninshield identified Tamayo as Oaxacan and
said that his work was "dominated by an 'esprit de
race,'" in his essay for Tamayo's exhibition at the
John Levy Gallery, New York, April 27-May 16, 1931.
The text in the catalogue for Tamayo's exhibition
at the Valentine Gallery, New York, February 9-16,
1942, identified him as a "pure Mayan Indian." Both
catalogues are in the Museum of Modern Art Library,
New York, Rufino Tamayo file. Carlos Merida was
also frequently described in these terms.
41. Celestino Gorostiza, "Rufino Tamayo:
Exposici6n de pintura," catalogue essay, Galeria de
Arte Mexicano en el Pasaje America, Mexico D.F.,
November 7-16, 1935; catalogue in the Museum of
Modern Art Library, New York, Rufino Tamayo file.
42. Salvador Oropesa invokes Linda Hutcheon's
concept of parody in lhe Poetics of Postmodenzism:
History, Theory, Fiction (New York: Routledge,
1988), 127-30; see Oropesa, The Contempordneos
Group: Rewriting Mexico in the I9JOS- I940S (Austin:
University ofTexas Press, 2003), 19.
43 Here I paraphrase Oropesa, quoting
Hutcheon, The Poetics of Postmodenzism, 19.
44 Xavier Villaurrutia, "Nocturne: Nothing
Is Heard," in Nostalgia for Death, trans. Eliot
Weinberger (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon
Press, 1993), 14-17.
45 In later editions, this poem appears with a
dedication to the painter Agustfn Lazo. See Xavier
Villaurrutia: Obras, 6:46, but not the case in 1928.
Another, similarly evocative example is "Nocturne:
The Statue," Contempordneos, November 1928,
324-25. See also Villaurrutia, Nostalgia for Death,
trans. Eliot Weinberger, 12-13.
46. On Villaurrutia, see David William Foster,
Latin American Writers on Gay and Lesbian Themes;
see also Oropesa, The Contemporaneous Group.
47 C:irdenas was known affectionately as "tara
C:irdenas" (father Cardenas).
48. See Jean Charlot, "Jose Clemente Orozco:
Frescos," Contempordneos, January 1929, 24-32. See
also illustrations in Contempordneos, May 1929, 126;
and November 1929, 293--95.
49 Merida, "Europa y Ia pintura en 1928,"
Contempordneos, July 1928, 322-30.
50. See Luis Cardoza y Aragon, La nube y el reloj
(Mexico City: UNAM, 1940; reprint 2003).
51. Merida, "Europa y Ia pintura en 1928," 329
52. See, for example, Kenneth E. Silver, Esprit
de Corps: The Art of the Parisian Avant-Garde and
the First World ~ r , I9f4-l925 (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1989).
53 Other Mexican artists whose work appears
ro have been influenced by De Chirico and his scuola
metafisica include Alfonso Michel and Francisco
Gutierrez; see Teresa del Conde, "Freudismo,
Surrealism, Metafisica, su absorci6n en Mexico,"
in Modenzidad y modenzizacion en el arte mexicano,
192o-1960, ed. Olivier Debroise (Mexico Ciry: Museo
Nacional de Arre, 1991), 109-19; see also Debroise,
Figuras en el tr6pico.
54 The most thorough srudy of Surrealism
in Mexico is Luis Mario Schneider, Mexico y el
Surrealismo, 1925-50 (Mexico Ciry: Arrey Libros,
1978), esp. chap. 1.
55 Fernando Vela, "El suprarealismo," Revista
de Occidente 6 (October-December 192.4}: 428-34;
reprinted in El Universal Ilustrado, August 7, 1925,
4-5; other pertinent articles include Genaro Estrada,
"La revoluci6n super-realista," El Universal March 4,
1925, 3; and Francisco de P. Miranda, "El movimiento
superrealista y Ia poesia moderna," Revista de Revistas,
May 17, 1925, 19.
56. jose Gorostiza, "Torre de Seiiales: Ocho
Pintores," El Universal llustrado, February 5, 1931,
32. Clipping in Carlos Merida Archive-cEN1-
DIAP, Mexico Ciry. See also Schneider, Mexico y el
Surrealismo, 1o-11.
57 Gorosriza, "Torre de Seiiales: Ocho Pintores,"
58. In his analysis of this passage, in the context
of the introduction of Surrealism to Mexico, Luis
Mario Schneider argued generally for its rejection
and misinterpretation. In particular, he questions
Gorostiza's inclusion of"pure painting" as a variant
of Surrealism. I contend that Schneider misinterprets
what Gorostiza means by "pure painting" as abstrac-
tion, when in fact Gorostiza was probably referring
to automatism and rhe suppression of ideological
59 Xavier Yillaurruria, "Pinrura sin mancha
(Lectura inaugural de Ia exposici6n 8 pintores}," VOz
Nueva 45 (December-January 193o-31); reprinted in
Xavier Vilfaurrutia Obras 6:74o-46. The citation for
this essay appears on p. LVIII.
6o. Ibid., 745
61. The current rides of many oflzquierdo's
paintings are recent and are mosrly descriptive; with
a few exceptions, the lack of illustrations in her early
exhibition catalogues makes it impossible to identify
precisely which works were shown.
62. The exhibitions were 17 acuarefas de Maria
Izquierdo, February 1933, Frances Toor Gallery,
Mexico Ciry; and Exposici6n Maria Izquierdo: Oleos
y Acuarefas, Avenida Juarez 71, November 24-
December 2, 1933. For color reproductions of many
of these early works, see Ferrer, 1he True Poetry; and
Lozano, Maria Izquierdo, 1902-1955.
63. Yillaurruria, "Marfa Izquierdo," 1932.
64. I extensively examine this painting in "Marfa
Izquierdo," in Blanton Museum of Art: Latin American
Collection, ed. Gabriel Perez-Barreiro (Austin:
Blanton Museum of Art, distributed by Universiry of
Texas Press, 2006}, 237-39.
65. Olivier Debroise, La invenci6n del arte me-
xicano, unpublished revised edition (2o01} of Figuras
en el Tropico: Pldstica Mexicana, 1920-1940. Debroise
presented his insights on the character of Izquierdo's
early circus scenes in a new chapter, "Musas de Ia
pintura," in the unpublished manuscript, which he
graciously shared with me.
66. Jose Joaquin Blanco er al., Lola Alvarez
Bravo: Recuento Jotogrdfico (Mexico Ciry: Editorial
Penelope, 1984}, 104.
67. Memoir of Marfa Izquierdo, unpubli-
shed manuscript, 1953, Archivo Marfa Izquierdo,
Collection of Amparo Posadas Izquierdo. Cited in
Debroise, La invenci6n del arte mexicano.
68. See Norman Bryson, Looking at the
Overlooked: Four Essays on Still-Life Painting
(Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Universiry Press, 1990).
See also my catalogue entries on the painter Alfonso
Michel in Arte moderno de Mexico: Colecci6n de
Andres Blaisten, for example, ''As de Trebol," 302-3;
also ar
69. My thinking on rhis point is informed by
Marcia Brennan's observations on Georgia O'Keeffe.
See her Painting Gender, Constructing 1heory:
1he Alfred Stieglitz Circle and American Formalist
Amhetics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000).
70. Celestino Gorostiza, "Una pintora mexica-
na," 17 acuarefas de Maria Izquierdo, February 1933,
Frances Toor Gallery, Mexico Ciry, 1-4.
71. Ibid. , 1- 2.
72. Ibid.
73 Jorge Cuesta, "La pinrura de Marfa
Izquierdo," 17 acuarefas de Maria Izquierdo, February
1933, Frances Toor Gallery, Mexico Ciry.
74 Jose Gorosriza, "La pintura de Marfa
Izquierdo," Exposici6n Maria Izquierdo: Oleos y
Acuarefas," Avenida Juarez 71, November 24-
December 2, 1933, 1-7.
75 See Coffey, "Angels and Prostitutes," 207.
Catharsis is reproduced in Coffey's essay.
NOTES TO PAGES 221-226 311
76. Solana, "Marfa Izquierdo," 65-80.
77 Antonin Anaud, "La pintura de Marfa
Izquierdo," Revista de Revistas, August 23, 1936, n.p.
78. Schneider, Mexico y el Surrealismo, 10.
79 Artaud to Paulhan, July 19, 1935; reprinted in
Anton in Artaud, Mexico y Viaje a/ pais de los tarahu-
maras, pr6logo Luis Mario Schneider (Mexico City:
Fondo de Culrura Econ6mica, 1984), 234-36.
80. Anaud to Paulhan in ibid., 235. Here I
follow Schneider's translation into Spanish from the
8r. See Antonin Artaud, "Bases universales de Ia
culrura," in Mexico y Viaje a/ pais de los tarahumaras,
138-43; Luis Mario Schneider, Mexico y el Surrealismo,
1925-50 (Mexico City: Arte y Libros, 1978), 46; and
"Excerpts from Notebooks and Private Papers" (1935),
in Anton in Artaud: Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1988), 353
82. "Una serie de conferencias de Antonio
Anaud, bajo el patrocinio universitario. el insigne
intelectual frances se propone desarollar el apasio-
nante tema de las nuevas orientaciones fracesas por
medio del teatro," Excelsior, February 23, 1936, 1, 12;
and "Conferencias que dad. el intelectual frances
M. Anaud,"' El Universal Grdfico, February 24, 1936,
5 For the complete list of lectures, see Schneider,
Mexico y el Surrealismo, 66, 238-39.
83. On the lack of reception of Arraud's ideas,
see Debroise, Figuras en el tropico, r6o; see also Elias
Nandino, juntando mis pasos (Mexico City: Editorial
Aldus, 2000), u3-19; there are no accounts of
Artaud's interaction with Rivera or Siqueiros.
84. See Courtney Gilbert, "The (New) World in
the Time of the Surrealists: European Surrealists and
Their Mexican Contemporaries" (Ph.D. dissertation,
University of Chicago, 2001); and Debroise, Figuras
mel Tropico, 157-58. For a discussion of Mexico as a
sire of regenerative myths, see Tzvetan Todorov, The
Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (New
York: New York University Press, 1984).
85. The map was tided "Le monde au temps
des surrealistes" and appeared in a special issue
of the Belgian journal Vttrietes Qune 1929) ti-
ded "Le surrealisme en 1929." It was reprinted in
Contempordneos,February 1931, 173
86. See Schneider, Mexico y el Surrealismo, 46-53,
312 NOTES TO PAGES 227-229
87. See, for example, Marjorie Becker, Setting the
Virgin on Fire: Ldzaro Cardenas, Michoacdn Peasants,
and the Redemption of the Revolution (Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico Press, 1996).
88. Garnio, lA poblacion del valle de Teotihuacdn,
vol. 1.2, "Conclusiones," XCVIII.
89. Gamio in particular criticizes three statues of
Christ, in the village church in Puxrla in the valley of
Teorihuaca.n, that resemble the kinds of images that
American collectors were seeking both in Mexico and
in the southwestern United Stares. See ibid., 1.2:675.
For a contrasting assessment of religious folk art in
Mexico and its value to national culture, see Anita
Brenner, Idols Behind Altars (New York: Biblio and
Tannen, 1929), esp. chaps. 6 and 7
90. See Jean Meyer, The Cristero Rebellion: The
Mexican People Between Church and State, 1926-1929,
trans. Richard Southern (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1976); see also Adrian Bantjes,
"Burning Saints, Molding Minds: Iconoclasm,
Civic Ritual, and the Failed Cultural Revolution,"
in Rituals of Rule, Rituals of Resistance, ed. William
H. Beezley era!. (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly
Resources, 1994), 261-84.
91. See Mary Kay Vaughan, Cultural Politics in
Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico,
193o-40 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997);
see also Engracia Loyo, "Popular Reactions to the
Educational Reforms ofCardenismo," in Beezley et
a!., Rituals of Rule, 247- 60.
92. On Artaud's frightening appearance, see the
recollections of Lola Alvarez Bravo cited in Debroise,
Figuras en el tropico, 161.
93 As communicated to the author by Aurora
Posadas Izquierdo in a personal interview conducted
in Mexico City, July 2003.
94 Artaud, "La pintura de Marfa Izquierdo,"
Revista de Revistas, Augusr 23, 1936, 36-37. Amo"g
the first to study the relationship between Arraud and
Izquierdo was Olivier Debroise, Figuras en el tropico,
95 The exhibition was a joint one with a sculp-
tor named Eleanor Boudin. It was held in a gallery
in the Wells Fargo building, Avenida Madero 14, and
opened on August 19, 1936; another essay, on the
sculpture of Luis Ortiz Monasterio, was not publi-
shed until 1968. See Artaud, "Un tecnico del trabajo
de Ia piedra: Monasterio," reprinted in Revista de Ia
UNAM, February 1968, 5-7.
96. Artaud, "La pintura de Maria Izquierdo," 36.
97 Ibid., 37
98. Debroise, Figuras en el tropico, 152-65; and
Terri Geis, "The Voyaging Reality: Marfa Izquierdo
and Anronin Artaud, Mexico and Paris," Papers
of Surrealism, no. 4 (Winter 2005). hrrp://www.
surrealismcen tre.ac. uk/ publications/ papers/journal4f
99 Geis, "The Voyaging Reality," 7
100. James Oles has also interpreted images pro-
duced in the late 1930s and early 1940s by Mexican
artists-among them Orozco and Tamayo-as an-
guished meditations on the state of affairs in Europe;
see, for example, James Oles, "The Howl and the
Flame," in Rufino Tamayo: Revisioning a Modern leon,
exh. car., ed. Diana Du Pont (Santa Barbara: Santa
Barbara Museum of Art and Museo Rufino Tamayo,
101. "Dialogo con Andre Breron," Universidad,
June 1938; reprinted in Fabienne Bradu, Andre Breton
en Mexico (Mexico City: Vuelra, 1996), 128.
102. C. Gorostiza, "Una pintora mexicana," 1-2.
103. My Birth is reproduced in Emma Dexter
and Tanya Barson et al., Frida Kahlo (New York:
Harry N. Abrams; London: Tate Publishing, 2005),
plate 16. Kahlo's works are widely available on the
Internet, for example: http://www.abcgallery.com/K/
kahlo/kahlo.htrnll (accessed December 22, 2007).
104. C. Gorostiza, "Una pintora mexicana," 2-3.
105. Ibid. , 4
106. For a compelling reading of this painting,
see Sarah Lowe, "Frida Kahlo," in The Eagle and the
Virgin, ed. Mary Kay Vaughan and Steven Lewis,
107. See ibid., 59-6r; and Herrera, Frida Kahlo:
The Paintings, 96-98.
108. Lowe notes the similarity between this self-
portrait and eighteenth-century nuns' portraits, called
Monjas coronadas. These portraits were commissioned
when a nun was received intO an order and assumed a
cloistered life. See ibid., 62-63.
109. She may also have opted for long dresses in
order ro hide her increasingly weak leg. The effects of
childhood polio were apparently exacerbated by the
medical problems resulting from the trolley accident
in r925.
no. Herrera, Frida Kahlo: The Paintings, 96-97.
ur. My Dress Hangs There is reproduced in
Dexter and Barson, Frida Kahlo, plate 14.
nz. Terry Smith, Making the Modern: Industry,
Art, and Design in America (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1993), 247-82.
n3. See Belnap, "Disentangling the Strangled
Tehuana," n.p.
II4. My Nurse and I is reproduced in Dexter and
Barson, Frida Kahlo, plate 17
II5. See, for example, Miguel Covarrubias,
Indian Art of Mexico and Central America (New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957). By the early 1940s,
Covarrubias and others were formulating the thesis
that the Olmec were Mexico's "mother-culture." See
Adriana Williams, in Covarrubias, ed. Doris Ober
(Austi n: University ofTexas Press, 1994), 92-94,
rzo-23, 143-48.
u6. Andre Brecon, "Frida Kahlo de Rivera,"
catalogue essay, Julien Levy Gallery, New York,
November 1-15, 1938; reprinted in Brecon, Surrealism
and Painting, translated from the French by Simon
Warson Taylor (New York: Harper and Row, 1972),
n7. In March 1938, one month before Breton's
arrival, Agustin Law published a lengthy essay
summarizing Surrealism and Surrealist painting in
Europe. With his statements, Breron would have
thoroughly undermined Lazo's authority. See Agustin
Law, "Reseiia sobre las actividades sobrerrealis-
tas," Cuadernos de Arte 3 (March 1938): 1-18. For a
discussion ofLazo's text, see Schneider, Mexico y el
Surrealismo, II5-I6, and Debroise, La invencion del
arte mexicano.
u8. Andre Brecon and Leon Trotsky {Rivera as
cosigner), "For an Independent Revolutionary Art,"
Partisan Review 4, no. r (Fall 1938): 49-53. Reprinted
in Breton, What Is Surrealism? Selected Writings,
ed. Franklin Rosemont (New York: Monad, 1978),
II9. On the collaboration berween Breton
and Trotsky, see Robin Adele Greeley, "For an
Independent Revolutionary Art: Breton, Trotsky,
and Cirdenas's Mexico," in Surrealism, Politics, and
Culture, ed. Raymond Spiteri and Donald Cross
(Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003), 204-25.
no. Brecon organized the exhibition in colla-
boration with the Austrian Surrealist Wolfgang
NOTES TO PAGES 229-263 313
Paalen, who had taken up permanent residence in
Mexico City, and the Peruvian poet Cesar Moro.
See Exposicion !nternacional del Surrealismo {Mexico
City: Galeria deAne Mexicano, 1940); and Courtney
Gilbert, "Surrealism in the New World: Andre
Breron, Mexican Art, and Ethnography," in (IN)
Disciplinas: Estetica e historia del arte en el cruce de los
discursos (Mexico City: UNAM! IIE, 1999), 187-212.
121. The arrisS included in the Mexican section
were: Lazo, Rodriguez Lozano, Merida, Villaurrutia,
Guillermo Meza, Roberto Montenegro, Antonio
Ruiz, and Jose Moreno Villa (b. Spain, d. Mexico)
122. On Tamayo in the 1940s, see Mary K.
Coffey, "Tm Nor rhe Fourth Grear One': Tamayo
and Mexican Muralism"; James Oles, "The Howl
and the Flame: Tamayo's Wartime Allegories"; and
Zavala, "Tamayo's Women: Figures of an Alternative
Modernism," in Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted,
ed. Diana Du Pont (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara
Museum of Arc and Editorial Turner de Mexico,
123. Marfa Izquierdo, "La mujer y el arre mexi-
cano," transcript of a radio address, July 1939, Marfa
Izquierdo Archive, Fondos Especiales, Biblioteca del
Centro Nacional de las Arres, Mexico City.
124. See the essays on these artists in Arte moder-
no de Mexico: Coleccion de Andres Blaisten {Mexico
City: UNAM, 2005).
125. Izquierdo's work from the 1940s is amply
illusrrared in Ferrer, ed., The True Poetry: The Art of
Maria Izquierdo.
T. In Spanish generally, the verb chingar can
mean to drink excessively, to defecate, or to have
sexual intercourse, or to be (proverbially) "screwed."
In Mexican Spanish, the word connotes rape and
even passive submission to rape.
2. The Mexican sociologist Roger Bartra notes
that Paz's book was a "gathering" of the observations
of his predecessors on the Mexican character, and
he offers a cri rique of Paz's claim about Mexican's
inferiority complex. See Roger Bartra, The Cage
of Melancholy: Identity and Metamorphosis in the
Mexican Character, trans. Christopher Bell (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992).
314 NOTES TO PAGES 236-242
3 For example, Griselda Pollock notes that with
Europe's colonial excursions, the polarization of"dark
lady" and "white lady" was given a variety of cultural,
racial, and ethnic specificities. Light and darkness
were loaded, through allegorical confrontation, with
cultural (and racial) difference. See Griselda Pollock,
''A Tale of Three Women," in Differencing the Canon:
Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art's Histories (New
York: Routledge, 1999), 249, 256-57 and passim.
4 See Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro, "Origins,
Development, and Crisis of the Sound Cinema
(1929-64)," in Mexican Cinema, ed. Paulo Antonio
Paranagua, (London: British Film Institute, 1995),
84-91. On Hollywood and the Latin American film
industry from the U.S. perspective, see Gaizka S. de
Usa bel, The High Noon of American Films in Latin
America (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982).
For a useful analysis of the image of Mexico in U.S.
cinema and a discussion of the influence of the U.S.
film industry in Mexico, conceptually and economi-
cally, see Emilio Garda Riera, Mexico visto por el cine
extranjero {Mexico City and Guadalajara: Ediciones
Era and Universidad de Guadalajara, 1987), 6 vols.
5 On melodramatic subgenres in Mexican
cinema, see Julianne Burton Carvajal, "Mexican
Melodramas of Patriarchy: Specificity of a
Transcultural Form," in Framing Latin American
Cinema: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, ed.
Ann Marie Stock {Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1997), 186-234. See also Berg,
Cinema of Solitude. On the international praise for
Maria Candelaria, see Emilio Garda Riera, Emilio
Fernandez, 1904-1986 (Guadalajara: Universidad de
Guadalajara; Mexico City: Cinereca Nacional, 1987),
6. See Susan Hayward, Cinema Studies: The Key
Concepts {London: Routledge, 2000), 86.
7 See Roland Barthes, "Upon Leaving the
Movie Theater," trans. Bertrand Augst and Susan
White, University Publishing, no. 6 (Wimer 1979):
3, originally published in Communicatiom, no. 23
{May 1975). See also Dana B. Polan, "Roland Barrhes
and the Moving Image," October 18 {Autumn 1981):
8. Bartra, The Cage of Melancholy, 2-6.
9 Ibid., 171-74
10. Ana M. Lopez, "Celluloid Tears: Melodrama
in the 'Old' Mexican Cinema," Iris: A journal of