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Luis Alberto Sánchez wrote this article on the occasion of the closing of José Sabogal’s exhibition at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Lima, 1931). According to Sánchez, “Sabogal is a painter who represents all of Peru,” and his work contains happiness (brimming with life and eloquence) and miscegenation (proletarian support and angry protest). He compares Peruvian visual art to Mexican visual art and, quoting the North American writer Waldo Frank, agrees that both countries are supremely visual: “the color of a piece of fabric or pottery is equal to a hymn or a soulful lament.” Sánchez believes that a profound desire for racial integration underpins the similarity between Diego Rivera and Sabogal. He also discusses the Peruvian painter’s portrayal of indigenous peoples, saying that “his Indians are not Apollos, like Mendizábal’s, nor are they deformed caricatures.” Sánchez mentions Sabogal’s use of color, which he applies to create balance between unequal values in his paintings.
This article appeared, on the occasion of Sabogal’s exhibition, in La Tribuna, the official journal of APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) [American Popular Revolutionary Alliance], the political party founded by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre (1895–1979). The article is from the organization’s most radical period (from 1930 to 1939), during its calls for an anti-imperialist, anti-oligarchic revolution that would take the government of Peru out of the hands of the bourgeoisie and, inspired by a socialist agenda, put the middle classes in charge of improving the lot of the working class. The author of this article is the distinguished Peruvian intellectual Luis Alberto Sánchez (1900–94), one of the main leaders of APRA and co-director of La Tribuna during the first few years of its existence. He later held important public offices, such as President of the Senate, Vice President of the country, and First Minister of Peru.
In 1931, Sabogal exhibited twenty paintings at the Salón de Grados at the Facultad de Ciencias Económicas (the former location of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos). He had produced these paintings during the 1920s, and many of them were shown at his great exhibition in Buenos Aires in 1928, including several emblematic Indigenist canvases, such as El Varayoc de Chinchero, La procesión del Taytacha Temblores, and El gamonal.
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).