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    La habilidad manual indígena
    Las artes populares en México. -- México : Editorial Cultura, 1922
    p. 37-41
    Book/pamphlet article – Essays
    Atl, Dr. "La habilidad manual indígena." In Las artes populares en México, Vol. 1, 37-41. México : Editorial Cultura, 1922.

In "La habilidad manual indígena," Mexican painter Dr. Atl describes what he considers the astounding manual dexterity of indigenous Mexicans. He explains that this dexterity makes Mexicans uniquely suited to working as mechanics, surgeons, and artists, and he recounts an anecdote involving a Mexican mechanic who surprises prospective employers in Chicago by informing them that he could not only operate every machine on an automobile assembly line, but could also make mechanical adjustments to increase the efficiency of the machines. He also cites Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, a surgeon of indigenous descent who is renowned for his impeccable manual agility as evidence. Dr. Atl praises the artistic crafts produced by Mexican prison inmates with little to no previous experience with work requiring meticulous craftsmanship. Finally, he asserts that these talents are also found among Mexican school children, whose artistic projects, embroidery, and crafts surpass those of children from other countries. Dr. Atl surmises that indigenous Mexicans are naturally predisposed to intricate manual labor and that this skill, which was utilized by Pre-Columbian Indians for subsistence, and to produce crafts and art objects, is now applied to industry and professions as well as to artistic production. Dr. Atl suggests that in addition to manual dexterity, indigenous Mexicans possess an innate aesthetic sensibility that has allowed them to produce a large volume of artwork and crafts, the best of which are those that build upon indigenous styles and traditions.


Mexican painter and writer Gerardo Murillo (1875–1964) created the pseudonym Dr. Atl, from the Náhuatl word “Atl” for water. Through the use of his pseudonym, Dr. Atl emphasized his ties to his indigenous ancestors over his Spanish descent. He was educated in Mexico and later sent on a trip to study in Rome funded by President Porfirio Diaz, whom the artist had met in Mexico City. Dr. Atl was inspired by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works popular in Europe at the time, and his early paintings were executed in the Post-Impressionist style. During this trip to Europe, Dr. Atl’s self-portrait won a silver medal in the Salon de Paris. He returned to Mexico in 1903 and began to exhibit antiacademic art in Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque before moving to Mexico City. In 1916, during the Mexican Revolution, he founded the radical journal Acción Mundiale. He painted one of the first modern murals in Mexico and became a proponent of the Mexican Muralist movement, which included painters such as José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Dr. Atl is best known for his landscapes, especially his paintings of the iconic volcanoes Popocatépetl and Ixtacihuatl. He studied indigenous Mexican art, and sought to adapt traditional European styles to Mexican culture and tradition in order to form a modern national artistic style. "La habilidad manual indígena" reflects Dr. Atl’s valorization of indigenous culture, and his belief that aspects of indigenous art could be incorporated into modern Mexican artistic practice.

Molly Moog
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl), 1922