Mexico: multiple modernities

CHAPTER 4: Changing gender roles

Many women fought side-by-side with the men in the Mexican Revolution, challenging traditional gender roles. During the post-revolutionary period, this trend continued through an increased participation of women in public life and professional circles, including the visual arts. Both male and female artists explored how modernization and social change were sometimes met with a sense of anxiety, especially regarding new professional opportunities that opened for women in Mexico and elsewhere.

This art object can not be displayed
Maniquí [Mannequin]

Leopoldo Méndez
Mexico City, 1902 - 1969, Mexico City

Maniquí [Mannequin]
Linocut
35 cm x 23.8 cm (13 3/4 in. x 9 3/8 in.)
Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1986
1986.82

Leopoldo Méndez produced this print during a transitional period in his career: after he had participated in the avant-garde Estridentismo movement, which celebrated all things modern, but before founding the socially engaged Taller de Gráfica Popular [People’s Graphic Workshop]. Here he presents a moment in modern life. Two shop workers prepare a window display featuring a mannequin. Part dancer, part automaton, the uncanny figure suggests an uneasy response to both the rapid urbanization of Mexico City and the increasingly independent role women had in Mexican society.

La maestra rural [The Rural Teacher]

Diego Rivera
Guanajuato, Mexico, 1886 - 1957, Mexico City

La maestra rural [The Rural Teacher]
Lithograph
40.3 cm x 57.9 cm (15 7/8 in. x 22 13/16 in.)
Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1986
1986.100

"The Rural Teacher," based on a scene from Diego Rivera’s monumental frescoes at the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico City, highlights the complexities of the role of female teachers in the aftermath of the revolution. Here we see a woman of indigenous descent teaching under the watchful eye of a Federal guard. Such teachers worked with extremely limited resources to reduce the ninety percent illiteracy rate and inform the people of their rights as citizens. Since these rights included claims to ancestral lands, anti-revolutionary forces were a constant threat to this rural education program. Women who pursued this new opportunity for socially engaged work were also putting themselves at grave risk of violence.

Amazona blanca [White Horsewoman], also known as Caballista del circo [Circus Bareback Rider]

María Izquierdo
San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico, 1902 - 1955, Mexico City

Amazona blanca [White Horsewoman], also known as Caballista del circo [Circus Bareback Rider]
Watercolor and gouache on paper
27.9 cm x 21.5 cm (11 in. x 8 7/16 in.)
Gift of Thomas Cranfill, 1980
1980.109

The figure depicted in "Amazona blanca" gracefully keeps her balance despite being posed precariously on a moving pony. She is a picture of confidence and courage. María Izquierdo admired the circus since her childhood, producing more than fifty paintings celebrating female circus performers. They functioned as a kind of alter ego for her. Images of strong and independent women such as this one challenged the many representations of male workers and heroes pervading Mexican painting in the decades that followed the Mexican Revolution.

This art object can not be displayed

Image credit:
José Chávez Morado
La conspiración [Conspiracy], from the portfolio Vida nocturna de la ciudad de México [Mexico City’s Nightlife], 1936 (detail)
Linocut
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
University purchase, 1966; Transfer from the Harry Ransom Center, 1982

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