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The first part of the interview covers the start of his career and his training in Europe. After living in Buenos Aires (where he returned to his art studies), he returned to Peru in 1919. Sabogal states that “the Cuzco area cast a powerful spell over my subsequent work.” He describes his exhibition of paintings in Lima at that time as “a bucket of cold water on our capital city,” and recalls that when the painter Teófilo Castillo came to the show “and saw how surprised the people were, he roared with laughter and predicted its success.” He discusses his mural experience in Mexico in the 1920s, and talks about three Peruvian cities that impressed him (Cuzco, Ayacucho, and Arequipa). Sabogal refers to the Spanish influence in Peruvian art and acknowledges “our ethnic background. But that has nothing to do with the kind of work we are trying to produce, which is a blend of our two cultures: the Inca and the Spanish.” Finally, on the subject of the debate between local intellectuals (in the Trujillo area) about the work of César Vallejo, Sabogal admits that he does not consider him to be “of true Indian descent,” since Santiago de Chuco (where the poet was born) “has always been home to a community of Spaniards from Galicia” and Vallejo’s poetry “is closer to the highest form of Breton, Irish, French, and Iberian poetry than to the lyrical feeling of Peruvian-Indian poetry.”


The Peruvian journalist M. J. O. (Manuel Jesús Orbegozo) interviews the Indigenist painter José Sabogal.


Later interviews, like this one, not only address specific aspects of the Indigenist painter and his work; they also tend to present an overall assessment of his career, seeking to rehabilitate Sabogal at a time when Indigenism (which was harshly criticized by avant-garde movements) was no longer as highly esteemed as it had once been.


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).


In the mid-1930s a powerful movement emerged to oppose the Indigenist style—which was perceived as official and exclusive—and eventually, in 1943, Sabogal was dismissed from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. Supporters of Indigenism viewed this move as unjust, and rallied to the painter’s defense in letters, newspaper articles, and social events.


In Sabogal’s final period—from the mid-1940s until his death in 1956—he was hard at work again, producing a large number of paintings in his studio, which led to his last exhibition, held at the Sociedad de Arquitectos del Perú (Lima) in 1954. At this time he was also interested in promoting the practice of muralism in Peru (along the lines of the Mexican example), and in studying traditional art. These were interests he pursued after he was reappointed director of the Instituto de Arte Peruano (Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana) in 1946, and returned to his exploration of “mestizo art,” as reflected in his paintings of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.


[There are a great many articles about this artist in the ICAA digital archive, notably the following by Sabogal 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 Germanaá Roquez
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of the family Orbegozo, Lima, Peru