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The writer of this article claims that José Sabogal’s exhibition “will shake our art milieu out of its inertia,” referring to a previous review he wrote about the Peruvian indigenist painter’s exhibition in Buenos Aires in 1928. In his opinion, the work that Sabogal showed at that event was “outstanding and representative of the best American art.” The critic López Merino detects a measure of classicism in Sabogal, in the most essential sense of the word; that is, he views him as a dynamic, creative man whose works can be held up as models so that (Peruvian) painters need no longer be concerned about foreign art. The critic mentions the Inca spirit that permeates Sabogal’s paintings, which he believes contributes something over and above their pictorial value, and which he describes as “a sociological transcendence that compares to what our most distinguished indigenist writers achieve in literature.” Discussing the success of the exhibitions in the Río de la Plata region, López Merino notes that Argentinean critics focused on something that had gone unnoticed in Peru, referring to Sabogal’s woodcut prints.
In this article the journalist and art critic Clodoaldo López Merino (using the pseudonym Clodo Aldo), writes about the exhibition of woodcut prints by José Sabogal, the founder of Peruvian indigenist painting, at the Academia Nacional de Música Alcedo in Lima (1929).
In addition to his paintings, Sabogal also produced a significant number of woodcut prints, a technique that was perfectly suited to the expressive demands of his work. The importance he attached to this technique was apparent during his trip to Mexico in 1923, when he encouraged Mexican artists to produce woodcut prints as they once had. His own woodcut prints were highly acclaimed at his exhibitions in Montevideo (1928), in Lima (1929), and in the United States—in Florida (1931 and 1934) and New York (1933). His prints were also used as illustrations in important publications, including the front covers of Amauta (Lima, 1926–30), the magazine directed by José Carlos Mariátegui.
Indigenist painting flourished in Peru from the 1920s to the 1940s as part of a broader movement that sought to redefine Peruvian identity in terms of indigenous elements. Although at some points it was entirely focused on the “indigenous” story and the Inca past that was considered to have been glorious, it also championed a mestizo identity portrayed as a result of the integration of “native” and “Hispanic” cultures. The main ideologue and unchallenged leader of the Indigenist movement in the visual arts was José Sabogal (1888–1956), whose profound interpretation of the concept of “being rooted” was deeply influenced by regional art movements in Spain (exemplified by Ignacio Zuloaga [1870–1945], among others) and in Argentina (Jorge Bermúdez [1883–1926], to mention just one); Sabogal spent a great deal of time in these countries during his formative years. When he returned to Peru in late 1918 he settled in Cuzco, where he produced about forty oil paintings of people and scenes of the city; these works were subsequently shown in Lima (1919) at an exhibition that is considered the formal beginning of Indigenist painting in Peru. Sabogal’s second one-man show, at the Casino Español (1921), established his reputation. He joined the faculty at the new Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1920, where he was eventually appointed director (1932–43). There he trained a group of painters who joined the Indigenist movement, such as Julia Codesido, Alicia Bustamante (1905–68), Teresa Carvallo (1895–1988), Enrique Camino Brent (1909–60), and Camilo Blas (1903–85).