Girl with apple, 1920-1930, Rosario Cabrera

Someone comes up to you and asks you to name famous artists on the fly.

 

Leonardo da Vinci

Pablo Picasso

Vincent van Gogh

Andy Warhol

 

If we go on and add more names, then it might look something like this—

 

Leonardo da Vinci

Pablo Picasso

Vincent van Gogh

Andy Warhol

Henri Matisse

Frida Kahlo

Georgia O’Keeffe

 

There are a few things about the makeup of this list that might strike you, should strike you, and certainly strikes me.

The first is that nearly everyone on this list of what most people accept as the most famous and important artists is European or American. Having grown up in the United States, I’ve seen a similar pattern throughout my years of education. Whether the class is history or art, the question we should all ask is whose history and whose art. The answer is Western civilization’s. An almost entirely Eurocentric focus and narrative dominates the education system in the United States and structures our thoughts of what we consider a great achievement and who history will remember.

The second striking aspect of this list is the rarity of female artists. When I noticed this underrepresentation, it inspired me to look more into the works of female artists. My interest specifically in Mexican female artists originates from when I first heard about Frida Kahlo, who may be the most famous female artist in the world, in second grade. Her work impressed me with its bold colors and depictions that drew its life and appeal not from classical European images of beauty but her native country Mexico’s indigenous customs and way of life. Several years later, while I was making my own art and learning Spanish in middle school, I also chanced upon the work of Spanish-Mexican artist Remedios Varo. Her paintings, with their eerie mystical quality and androgynous figures, made a lasting impression on me. Through Varo, I also found the captivating artwork of her friend Leonora Carrington.

My goal is to primarily tackle these two issues. I want to look into the work of female Mexican artists, particularly those who are typically excluded from the general narrative of famous artists. Through my trip to Mexico, I hope to learn more about Mexican culture and art and find out how female Mexican artists, especially those who lived in the twentieth century, how they responded to the sociopolitical norms of their times and what they expressed about the female subject.

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