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Monday, 30 Mar 2020

INDIGENISM in Latin American Art

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95rf0Indigenous people wearing ancestral attires, barefooted,  callused hands, brilliant eyes and coarse facial features have been the protagonists of Latin American Art since the 20’s.  They appeared so colorful and forlorne, activated by social pressure groups that triggered two radical far-off revolutions: the Mexican and the Russian revolutions.

The indigenist art movement spread above all in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and, of course, in Mexico with different although similar characteristics. The main one is that the main objective in these four nations was the social reivindication of autochthonous communities and the revalorization of their cultural traditions. Another characteristic is that in most cases the movement was developed by middle-class, white persons, who although social and culturally far away were  aware of this disjunction. All of them presented the indigenous world as a paradigm of authentic nationality, as the origin of a national culture.


95rf1The Mexican indigenism is entrenched in the Great Revolution (1910-1920) and muralism, its expression. Its paladin was José Vasconcelos, politician, minister of public education, writer and philosopher, who passed a program destined to socialize art, to make it more accessible for the population.   With this in mind, he engaged artists who were committed to the theme and endorsed their painting of murals all over the country. The main muralists were Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siquieros. In their artworks the indigenous people  –their backbreaking and oppressed life, their traditions,their creeds and their mythologies– acquire monumental dimensions.



Peru is the other Latin American country that saw the blossoming of this trend. University reforms and obviously the social thinking of such figures as José Carlos Mariategui and Raúl Haya de la Torre in some way stimulated this art committed to reality. This is how came into being paintings that represent indigenous women with their gathered skirts carrying water jars, indigenous men playing their instruments or women with long braids and bowler hats going to church at a Sierra community.



The leader of this trend was José Sabogal, who imposed it forcefully while he directed the School of Fine Arts of his country. This rather despotic attitude sparked off the institution of the dissident group ‘The Independents’, that chose for a more international and universal genre. However, Sabogal and his ‘painting of cholos', an ethnic slur dubbed by his detractors, had many followers. Among these Camilo Blas, Julia Codecido, Enrique Camino Brent and Teresa Carvallo. The Cajamarcan painter Mario Urteaga also merits mention; he painted indigenous people with their traditions, their quarrels, burials, processions, and homework, with colorful tints and the typical innocence of autodictat artists.



Bolivian indigenist art  was spearheaded by Cecilio Guzmán de Rojas. The artist born in Potosí, recovered indigenous aesthetics and incorporated it into the artistic repertoire, the same as Arturo Borda, who was deprecated by the white bourgoisie.  However, the painter unperturbed painted over two thousand pictures, as for instance the famous El Achachila and La Pachamama. His name was vindicated and acclaimed after his death in the fifties, not only in his country but also abroad, especially in the United States.



Ecuador is one of the few countries that had an indigenist painter who belonged to the same social group: Oswaldo Guayasamín. Son of an indian laborer and a mother, a housewife, he rose to be one of the most international artists. He came from the most absolute misery, hunger, and hopelessness, but was able not only to surmount such adversity, but to engrave his name in the Region’s art history. He achieved it by painting more than his own reality by using his vigorous brush to show what human beings inflict on their equals.  He painted coarse facial features, expressing dispair, poverty, hard work, and disrespect. Their eyes distorted by anguish, and hands with long contorted fingers have traveled all over the world.


Also Eduardo Kingman is a good example of this trend; despite being a member of the middle class, he construed the poorests’ social reality. His artworks depict indigenous  people and their life experience, but with stronger and brighter colors that those applied by the maestro Guayasamín, who painted an indigenous world based on his first-hand experience ‘because I’m a native, damn it!’ he used to say  full of pride.


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