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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Picturing Soldaderas: Agency, Allegory, and Memory in Images of the 1910 Mexican Revolution

  • Author(s): Orzulak, Jessica Lynn
  • Advisor(s): Weems, Jason
  • et al.

The violent phase of the 1910 Mexican Revolution figured prominently in the media and fine arts of Mexico during the war and in its aftermath. Documentary photography from the violent phase of the Revolution and revolutionary themed Mexican art in the first half of the twentieth century articulated revolutionary women, or `soldaderas,' as figures divorced from their subjectivity and fashioned them into allegorical characters of the Revolution.

Portraits in the archive of photographs documenting the violent phase of the Revolution present a layered depiction of revolutionary Mexican women. On the one hand they present an image of the self-constructed identity of individual women who are often not given a voice in the historical narrative of the Revolution. On the other hand the portraits represent multiple symbolic constructions that compete for dominance in the experience of viewing the images and negate a sense of individual-ness. The intersection of photography's ability to engender a sense of transparency and the negation of individuality in the images begin an articulation of soldaderas as symbolic figures and hinder a discussion of women's agency.

In the 1940's these photographs were called upon as objects of collective memory in the process of creating a master narrative of the Revolution. This occurred during a period when the political apparatus was manufacturing a new national identity through the Revolution as a symbol of Mexico's ideal ideology. The construction of the soldadera's symbolic identity was continued in artworks that acted as objects of postmemory. They functioned to create an absent connection to the traumatic past of the violent phase of the Revolution through fantasy, invention, and projection. This is especially evident in the 1947 portfolio published by the artists' collective El Taller de Gráfica Popular, titled Estampas de la Revolución Méxicana. It re-remembers the Revolution as a cohesive ideological conflict and reinvents the role of women in the war as inherently domestic while also subverting negative stereotypes about soldaderas. Women are positioned in these art images as the symbolic foundational caretakers of a new nation, who are inextricably tied to notions of indigeneity and origination.

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