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This text by eminent thinker, politician, and journalist José Carlos Mariátegui comments on José Sabogal—the founder of pictorial Indianism in Peru—on the occasion of his upcoming show at the Sociedad Amigos del Arte in Buenos Aires (1928). Mariátegui believes that the show will provide recognition for Sabogal’s work throughout the continent, since Buenos Aires “is the largest market of art and literature in Latin America.” Furthermore, once Sabogal is known on that broader scene, he “is destined to impress the Argentinean intelligence and sensibility considerably.” The painter’s proposal is not programmatic since “Sabogal is not concerned with a thesis when he paints.” He is “one of [Peru’s] great talents and emblematic figures,” even though he “would reserve that honor for some of those anonymous Indians who, with such greatness, decorate gourds in the sierras.” While Sabogal studied in Europe for many years, he reached spiritual maturity, Mariátegui asserts, at a time when Western art was on the decline, even coming to pieces. “Europe,” the author explains, “has failed to Europeanize him.” Sabogal’s commitment to vernacular themes is neither commercial nor picturesque.


This text by Peruvian thinker José Carlos Mariátegui (1895–1930) attests to the interest aroused by the work of José Sabogal (1888–1956). Mariátegui unabashedly supports Sabogal’s painting, upholding it beyond the leftist culture of Peru in terms that would become canonical. This document is of great historical importance. It reiterates and furthers an article by the same author published one year earlier in the sixth issue of Amauta, a publication key to the joint principles of the artistic and political avant-gardes of the time. Sabogal, who gave Amauta its name, was a regular contributor to a journal founded and directed by Mariátegui. 


Pictorial Indianism, which peaked in Peru in the twenties, thirties, and forties, was part of a wider movement in Peruvian society that attempted to redefine national identity in terms of native elements. At a certain moment, however, the chief concern of Indianism was the revalorization of “the indigenous” and of an Incan past seen as glorious, and the movement also defended a mestizo identity that brought together “the native” and “the Hispanic.” José Sabogal was indisputably the leader and intellect behind Indianism in the visual arts. His deep sense of “rootedness” was influenced by regionalist tendencies evident in art from Spain (the work of Ignacio Zuloaga [1870–1945], among others) and in Argentina (Jorge Bermúdez [1883–1926], to name just one artist)—countries where Sabogal spent a number of years studying. When he returned to Peru in late 1918, he settled in Cusco, where he produced almost forty oil paintings of local characters and views of the city that were exhibited in Lima in 1919. That exhibition is considered the formal beginning of pictorial Indianism in Peru. His second solo exhibition in Lima—the one that enabled him to consolidate prestige—was held in the galleries of the Casino Español in 1921. In 1920, Sabogal joined the faculty of the new Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, which he directed from 1932 to 1943. The following painters, all of whom formed part of the Indianist movement, studied at that institution: Julia Codesido, Alicia Bustamante (1905–68), Teresa Carvallo (1895–1988), Enrique Camino Brent (1909–60), and Camilo Blas (1903–85).


[Of the many texts in the ICAA digital archive pertinent to Sabogal, the following were written by the artist himself: “Arquitectura peruana: la casona arequipeña (doc. no. 1173340); “La cúpula en América” (doc. no. 1125912); “Mariano Flórez, artista burilador de ‘mates’ peruanos, murió en Huancayo: José Sabogal su admirador y amigo, le rinde homenaje” (doc. no. 1136695); “Los mates burilados y las estampas del pintor criollo Pancho Fierro” (doc. no. 1173400); “Los ‘mates’ y el yaraví” (doc. no. 1126008); “La pintura mexicana moderna” (doc. no. 1051636); and “Sala de arte popular peruano en el Museo de la Cultura: selecciones de arte” (doc. no. 1173418)].

Gabriela Germaná Roquez, Gustavo Buntinx
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru