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In this article, the editor of the newspaper Noticias de Arequipa interviews José Sabogal on the occasion of the artist’s visit to Arequipa, and they talk about contemporary Peruvian painting and traditional art. On the former topic, Sabogal clearly identifies two strains: the “Indigenist” movement and the trend associated with post-World War I European art. With regard to traditional art, Sabogal explains that the Latin American Indian has an “internal channel” that he calls “Americanism.” In Sabogal’s opinion, Indigenist painters seek “to blend the old with the modern, but with an eye to the future, because a culture is a living thing.” When asked about the best way to express a truly Peruvian form of painting, Sabogal says: through “the simple sincerity” of art that is aware of where it belongs, which is not in Europe. He is interested in traditional art—and is involved in the Museo de la Cultura Peruana and in the establishment of the Museo de Arte Popular—and in working with the painters in the Indigenist group. One of his other projects at that time was to document the colonial architecture that is so beautifully expressed in Arequipa.


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 glorious Inca past that 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 solo exhibition 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: Julia Codesido, Alicia Bustamante (1905–1968), Teresa Carvallo (1895–1988), Enrique Camino Brent (1909–1960), and Camilo Blas (1903–1985).

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.

One area of particular interest for Sabogal and his group of followers was the study and reappraisal of traditional visual art. They traveled all over the country, speaking to native and mestizo artisans whose names and works of art soon became familiar to residents of Lima as this genre was added to what was officially considered Peruvian art. [See “Mariano Florez, artista burilador de ‘mates’ peruanos, murió en Huancayo. José Sabogal su admirador y amigo, le rinde homenaje,” 1932]. Sabogal also refers to traditional art as the paradigm of “true Peruvian art,” a mestizo combination of indigenous and Spanish creativity. In his final years, Sabogal paid particular attention to the concept of “miscegenation” as a defining influence in Peruvian art that in his opinion can be seen in traditional art as well as in the architecture of the Viceroyalty period and in the work of the nineteenth-century painter Pancho Fierro. Sabogal published a number of article on this subject, such as “La cúpula en América” (1939), “Arquitectura peruana. La casona arequipeña” (1940), “Los mates burilados y las estampas del pintor criollo Pancho Fierro” (1943), “Pintura mural y Arequipa arquitectónica” (1944) (reproduced for this project), among others. As director of the Instituto de Arte Peruano del Museo de la Cultura Peruana (a position he took up again in 1946), Sabogal stressed the importance of documenting the architecture of the Viceroyalty period, and proposed the collection and study of traditional art objects for the establishment of a Museo de Artesanía y Artes Populares [See: Sabogal, José. Instituto de Arte Peruano. Informe sobre sus actividades [Report on his Activities], c. 1950. Archivo IAP, MNCP].

[There are many articles about this artist in the ICAA digital archive, including the following written by Sabogal: “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