Censored Ambiguity: María Izquierdo’s Tribute to Mexico
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Censored Ambiguity: María Izquierdo’s Tribute to Mexico


Censored Ambiguity: María Izquierdo’s Tribute to Mexico by Nathan Gerard Segura

In October 1945, the Mexican art world came to a stop when the administration of President Manuel Ávila Camacho cancelled Progress of the Nation, the mural project it had commissioned from painter María Izquierdo eight months prior. Conceived to decorate the walls of the Departamento del Distrito Federal, a federal building located on the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main public square, the murals were to be an homage to the nation and, more specifically, to the Camacho presidency (1940 -1946). Like all post-revolutionary Mexican governments, the Camacho administration was keenly aware that public art played an integral part in the process of institutionalization and legitimization of its policies. Thus, in the 1940s, President Camacho utilized visual culture to promote federal projects of modern industrialization and economic liberalism. In this politico-artistic context, the realm of visual culture—including films, public murals, and war posters—was deployed to promote common Mexican identity and economic freedom to bind together the racial and socio-political dichotomies that had historically divided the country. Izquierdo’s preliminary sketches for the murals presented themes that were in keeping with the government’s official discourse, notably her acknowledgment of Mexico’s mixed heritage. Yet, as this study demonstrates, some of her iconographic and formal decisions challenged expectations that other muralists, most notably Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros, complied with for their own projects for President Camacho. Izquierdo’s emphasis on female labor, and her ambiguous references to the Mexican proletariat and to the finance sector, were problematic for a government promoting political and economic freedom at home and abroad while being in direct confrontation with federal women employees, trade unions, and banks. This thesis argues that, ultimately, Izquierdo’s proposed iconography for the murals led the Camacho administration to withdraw its support for the project.

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