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In this speech, José Sabogal discusses the mural paintings and architecture of Arequipa, while summarizing the history of Peruvian art in the twentieth century. Both he and his followers sought “to interpret the landscape and expressions of its settlers,” and showed an interest in the manifestations of Peruvian folk art in which he discerned an authentic construct of “national identity.” He offers the example of Mexico’s development, from its important pre-Hispanic cultures and the great architectural progress during the vice-regal period of New Spain; all this served as a basis for the muralist movement that managed to simultaneously delve into “the deep Mexican character” and universal artistic values. In contrast, he points out the lack of opportunities there were in Peru to create mural paintings, and that he has initiated a mural project for the Hoteles de Turismo, a property of the Peruvian state. Lastly, he touches on the architecture of Arequipa, stating that sillar (petrified volcanic stone) is what gives it its characteristic appearance. When the Spanish arrived in America they discovered “a strange and powerful architecture” and they destroyed it. In Arequipa, due to the lack of wood, they had to adapt their structures to what they could accomplish with sillar. This “artistic understanding” in the nineteenth century allowed them to continue creating magnificent architecture. He also reflects on the poor contemporary imitations of colonial architecture, which only took into account the ornamentation and not the structural aspects, their function, and materials.


This is the speech given by José Sabogal in Arequipa on the mural paintings and architecture of that city.

The indigenous art movement was at its peak in Peru between the 1920s and 1940s. It was part of a broader movement within Peruvian society: the redefining of the national identity through native elements. Although at times it focused on the revaluation of “the indigenous” and Incan past, which was considered glorious, it also took up the defense of a mestizo identity as the integration of “the native” and “the Hispanic.” The principal ideologue and undisputed leader of indigenist art was José Sabogal (1888–1956), who believed a deep awareness of their “roots” decisively influenced the regionalist trends of art in both Spain (Ignacio Zuloaga [1870–1945], among others) and Argentina (Jorge Bermúdez [1883–1926], to mention one of them); Sabogal spent his formative years in these countries. When he returned to Peru at the end of 1918, he settled in Cuzco, where he created nearly forty paintings about people and scenes of the city, later exhibited in Lima (1919). This exhibition is considered the beginning of the indigenous art movement in Peru. His second individual show in Lima occurred at the Casino Español (1921), and it solidified his reputation. In 1920, Sabogal joined the faculty of the new Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, later serving as its director (1932–43). There he formed a group of painters who adhered to the indigenist art movement, such as Julia Codesido, Alicia Bustamante (1905–68), Teresa Carvallo (1895–1988), Enrique Camino Brent (1909–60) and Camilo Blas (1903–85).

A fierce opposition to this trend arose in the mid-1930s—because it was perceived as official and exclusionary—, eventually resulting in Sabogal’s dismissal from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1943. The followers of the indigenist trend viewed the dismissal as unjust, and it produced a movement of solidarity with the painter that was expressed in letters, newspaper articles and social events.

Sabogal’s last period—which occurred between the mid-1940s and 1956 (the year of his death)—is marked by a return to an intense pictorial production in his workshop, which led to his last exhibition in 1954 at the Sociedad de Arquitectos del Perú (Lima). Also notable in this period is his preoccupation with disseminating the practice of muralism in Peru (following the Mexican model) and his interest in studying folk art. This took place in 1946 when he resumed his post as director of the Instituto de Arte Peruano (Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana). This allowed him to revisit the concept of “mestizo art” reflected in his paintings of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

[There are many texts on this artist in the ICAA digital archive, including the following written by Sabogal himself: “Arquitectura peruana: la casona arequipeña (doc. no. 1173340); “La cúpula en América” (doc. no. 1125912); “Mariano Florez, 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
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of Isabel Maria, Ana Bozena and Maria Jadwiga Sabogal Dunin Borkowski, Lima, Peru