Mexican Folkways - race, class, politics
Claudia: Thank you for this fascinating presentation! The case you make is so compelling, of how the magazine constructs distinct, normative identities for indigenous (rural, traditional, pre-modern) and white-European (urban, modern, middle-class) women. Did this go unremarked at the time? Among those contributors (I have v limited knowledge, I'm afraid), I know that Modotti and Rivera were radical socialists (were the others?) - it seems remarkable that they would associate themselves with what seems - have I got this right? - like a rather primitivist anglo-centric project? Did Folkways have an implicit (or explicit?) ideological agenda, and how was it regarded by critics on the left and right?
Did this go unremarked at the time?
I think it went almost unnoticed. The official post-revolutionary discourse and their identities had some detractors, but since the media, education and culture were subsidized and censored by the state; detractors, alternative identities or discourses did not resonate much.
Artists and intellectuals supported the vindication of the indigenous people, but of the indigenous of the past. They were strong advocates of their culture and their artistic productions but reproducing and perpetuating the distinctions of class and gender. Indigenous art was visibilised but always tagged as folk or popular.
José Clemente Orozco was a detractor of the Indian representation made by some of his contemporaries, as it can be seen in "A correction" issued after the publication of one of his paintings in Mexican Folkways, he manifested clearly his disagreement with the editorial line of the publication:
"I am absolutely certain that no Mexican painter, ancient or modern, has respected the Indian in his works as I have. Many of my mural paintings and canvases have been a real glorification of the Indian race, a noble reference to its virtues, its sufferings, its heroism. Never have I painted them as grotesque figures, or dressed them as fancy riders or China poblana [a Mexican traditional costume], or represented them as personages of theatrical, pornographic or political magazines. Never have I mocked the folk customs and always when there was an opportunity I have attacked those who exploit, deceive and weaken the race, […]. I have never flattered nor falsified the true nature of the Indian."
José Clemente Orozco,¨A correction¨, Mexican Folkways (Mexico City), January-March, 1929.
On the other hand, the Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles upon examining several numbers of Mexican Folkways wrote:
"… besides being very original in its class, it is making known to our own people and to foreigners the real spirit of our aboriginal races and the expressive feeling of our people in general, rich in beautiful traditions."
¨Nuestro Aniversario¨, Mexican Folkways (Mexico City), June-July, 1956.
Finally, on the occasion of Frances Toor’s death, Diego Rivera, her friend and collaborator, dedicated an article in remembrance of the role that Toor played in the dissemination of Mexican art, beyond Mexico's boundaries.
¨… her work, difficult to define, positively influenced everything that is today Mexican cultural life […]. His little magazine is a priceless living material […]. She cultivated everything that is essential for the defence and development of our national culture, one of the great supports of the very life of our country […].".
Rivera, Diego. "Francis Toor." México en la cultura: Suplemento cultural de Novedades (Mexico City), July 22, 1956.
As you mention Diego Rivera (Mexican Folkways' art director) was deeply involved in politics. He was head of the Anti-Imperialist League. Together with Siqueiros and Orozco, he founded the Union of Revolutionary Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors of Mexico, labour union aligned with the Communist International. He took part in the Mexican Communist Party, he even was Mexican representative in the Moscow Workers Congres in 1936. Besides Rivera or Modotti, other politicized contributors were Carlos Mérida and Gerardo Murillo (Dr Atl). The rest of the writers and artists can not be considered as active left-wing militants, but maybe as idealists.