Friday, June 24

The 110 women who resurrected the painter María Izquierdo

Part of the women who painted the mural of María Izquierdo in Oaxaca de Juárez.
Part of the women who painted the mural of María Izquierdo in Oaxaca de Juárez.Courtesy of the project ‘The mural that should have been’

On Aldama Street, number 222, in the Jalatlaco neighborhood, in Oaxaca de Juárez, there is now a mural that tries to correct history. In it, a woman shells a golden corn while a girl learns to work the fields, the floor is made of earth and the sky is a very strong blue, there is a door that separates the rural world from the city, where several women work with machines the corn. Painted by more than 100 women, it is titled The mural that should have been. The play is a recreation and a protest. It is based on the sketches that the Mexican painter María Izquierdo designed for a mural that Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros prevented her from making 76 years ago.

The government commissioned Izquierdo to paint a fresco on a staircase in the Palace of the Federal District. The press celebrated her as the first woman to “climb on the scaffolding.” The work had to show the history and progress of the city on the vertical walls and ceiling panels, the art in general. The painter decides to represent the countryside as a fundamental counterpoint to urban development, but in both worlds she puts women at the center.

Enthusiastic, she had the scaffolding built, purchased the materials, hired assistants, and prepared the sketches. The supervisor canceled the project when the muralists concluded that Izquierdo “had little training in the practice of fresco, so it was preferable to move it to some other less important building,” they gave as an example a school, a market, the places where they painted the women. The episode sank Izquierdo morally and economically. The artist died poor, ill, a few years later.

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“How has the role of women in art changed in Mexico in all this time? This story has current resonance, it could be from a friend who happened to her a month ago ”, Dea López, a student of Contemporary Art, tells EL PAÍS by phone, who decided to put together the project to resuscitate Izquierdo’s work. “I got angry and thought: why hasn’t this mural already been done?” Together with the artist Cassandra Méndez, they toured the streets of Jalatlaco ringing the neighbors, looking for someone to donate a wall to them. It had to look like the one they gave Maria in Mexico City in 1945.

The mural that Izquierdo had to create occupied 154.86 square meters and had a cost of 34,843 pesos. The new version has 45 and has cost 8,000. Now instead of two hands, hundreds painted it. As the girls did not know how to paint in fresco, they used Comex. The textiles of the peasant women were made Oaxacan, the figures of the men that Izquierdo had included in his sketches were eliminated.

One of the volunteers sands the wall where the work of María Izquierdo will be painted.
One of the volunteers sands the wall where the work of María Izquierdo will be painted.Courtesy of the project ‘The mural that should have been’

In total 160 women participated, 110 painted. Most were young, between 15 and 27 years old, some were historians, curators, other artists, many had nothing to do with painting, they came from Puebla and Mexico City. It took four days in March. They sanded the wall, removed the impurities, repaired its holes and painted white, traced the drawing, and painted, painted, painted until March 10 was ready. All of them had answered the question that Dea López had asked in the convocation: “Have you ever been in the place of María Izquierdo?”

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The “exhausting monopoly” of the muralists

María Izquierdo (San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco. 1902-1955), who was married as a child, divorced despite the scandal, self-taught and the first Mexican painter to have an exhibition in the United States, was already a famous and recognized artist in Mexico when the Government commissioned the mural. He had studied for a couple of years at the National Academy of Fine Arts, then directed by Diego Rivera, who paradoxically was the first to give it a boost in its early days. In a show at the school, Rivera named the paintings by M. Izquierdo – he did not know if the artist was a man or a woman – as the only thing of value. Following the muralist’s praise, some disgruntled colleagues threw buckets of water at María, who left the academy shortly after. “It was then a crime to be born a woman, and if a woman had artistic faculties, it was much worse,” she wrote in her memoirs.

With spectacular color managementHe developed portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, with a predilection for the so-called altars of pain. “I strive for my painting to reflect the authentic Mexico that I feel and love,” said the author in 1947. His work had women as protagonists, lion tamers, peasant women, dancers, brave, tough, audacious. “Her paintings insist, sometimes subtly and sometimes openly, that women contribute significantly to Mexican art and society”, writes in her essay University of Texas researcher Nancy Deffebach.

Archive photograph of the painter María Izquierdo.
Archive photograph of the painter María Izquierdo.MANUEL ÁLVAREZ BRAVO ARCHIVE

In 1929 he got his first solo show, a year later he was at the Arts Center in New York, traveled through South America, exhibited in dozens of cities, collaborated as a columnist with Excelsior and the magazine Today. Over the years he had distanced himself from muralists such as Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco, whom he accused of exercising an “exhausting monopoly”: “The ‘big three’ have under their control all Mexican mural production and will dictate, from their all-encompassing position, who is useful and who is not useful for painting murals ”, he wrote in 1947, in an article that he titled The Left against the big three. In it, the artist assures that whoever “dreams of reaching the greatest tone of the mural” is facing “the insurmountable barrier” of adopting the dogmas, themes and styles of these three muralists.

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The blockade of María in 1945 became a controversy in Mexico, so much so that dozens of artists even signed a manifesto to get the project back. The argument that Izquierdo lacked the technique led her to prove otherwise the following year and paint a couple of fragments, The tragedy Y Music. Both are hanging in an auditorium of the Faculty of Law of the UNAM.

“Where are other walls? When will there be? Who will paint them? ”Izquierdo wondered in 1947. The organizers of the project in Oaxaca now have a greater objective: to paint with professional artists the mural that María wanted to paint in the same place where she was commissioned, the now known Old Palacio del Ayuntamiento, office of the Head of Government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum. The art historian Mariana Zardain, who advised on the Aldama street mural, explains that the wall where Izquierdo’s work was supposed to be remains unpainted, empty. “The idea that is going to be proposed is that it be done where it should be, thus vindicating María’s work and making a change in the history of art.”

'The mural that should have been', in Oaxaca de Juárez.
‘The mural that should have been’, in Oaxaca de Juárez.Courtesy of the project ‘The mural that should have been’

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