Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art Home


Document first page thumbnail

In this article, José Sabogal discusses Peruvian traditional art, which in his opinion, is “the key point, in the Americas, where Hispanic America began. When indigenous cultural expressions were combined with the invasion of Mediterranean visual art brought by Spain, there was a rapid transition that spawned the new spirit of the new man of the New World.” He talks about the artistic works produced by the different pre-Hispanic Peruvian cultures, as well as the Spanish art and architecture that arrived in Peru with the conquest. He goes on to describe the wars of independence and their impact in local terms. After an introductory note about the various genres involved, he spends the first chapter discussing pottery, mentioning indigenous pieces that incorporated new subjects and Western techniques, such as glazing. Subsequent chapters are devoted to silverwork, rugs, leatherwork, and engraved mate gourds (from the colonial period through the twentieth century in various parts of Peru), including mates made of bone from Huanta (Ayacucho) and highly ornamental mates from Huancayo (Junín) that Sabogal compares to the watercolors painted by the nineteenth-century Costumbrista artist Pancho Fierro. Sabogal ends his article with a tribute to the exquisitely tooled works produced by the engraver Mariano Flórez.


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
Courtesy of Isabel Maria, Ana Bozena and Maria Jadwiga Sabogal Dunin Borkowski, Lima, Peru