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In her article, Mada Ontañón describes the conditions of José Sabogal’s trip to Mexico City in 1943, and recounts the conversation she had with the artist in his hotel during this visit. Ontañón begins by noting how the war has brought a great many foreign visitors—including many international “stars,” and well-known political and artistic figures—to Mexico, including many whom, like Sabogal, returned to Mexico City after an absence of some twenty years. She notes Sabogal’s interest in how much Mexico has changed since his last trip a pair of decades before, and his enthusiastic reception among Mexican artists. She recounts Sabogal’s remarks about the close cultural relationship between Mexico and Peru, which began in the pre-Hispanic era and continues with the modern era; and his remarks that, in 1923 (the date of his last visit to Mexico), Peruvian artists learned from the Mexicans the method of both studying the art of other countries while also appreciating one’s own culture. Ontañón reports that Sabogal plans to revive “fresco” (i.e., mural) painting in Peru. Moreover, she contends that his most recent works—portraits of Peruvian Indians and mountain landscapes—are the most “vigorous” and “sure” of his career. She ends her essay by confirming that even though his work is utterly Peruvian, it is “ . . . like all great painting, connected to universal art.”
Mada Ontañón—a Spanish writer and journalist living into exile in Mexico—wrote this text, “José Sabogal en México,” on the occasion of the Peruvian painter’s visit to Mexico in 1943, when he traveled Mexico City on his way back to Lima after visiting the United States. Ontañón references the political climate created by World War II and the rise of nationalism in Mexico and Peru in at least three ways. She notes that, circa 1943, Mexico City became a destination for famous political dissents and artists and writers fleeing Europe, and she points out that Sabogal’s trip was sponsored by the U.S. State Department, who invited him to visit the United States. Ontañón indirectly alludes to the rising nationalism of art by recounting Sabogal’s plans to revive fresco painting (i.e., mural painting) in Peru, and by recounting his avoidance of her question about whether or not he is interested in politics. Mostly, though, she presents Sabogal as a compatriot of the Mexican artists, and recounts his carefully crafted statements linking Peruvian and Mexican modern art as the key sources for an American art that is both authentically located in regions far from artistic centers like Paris, but also achieves international legibility by deploying aesthetic forms that are “universal.”