Emilio Baz Viaud

La calle de Cuauhtemotzin, 1941

Temple y pincel seco / cartulina
51 x 37 cm

The calle de Cuauhtemotzin was a long street that once marked part of southern perimeter of the old colonial center of Mexico City, not far from the old San Rafael y Atlixco train station. It ran from the Calzada del Niño Perdido (today the Eje Central) to the Calzada de Balbuena, lined by bars and pulquerías and cheap hotels, the sorts of seedy establishments one expected to find on the fringe of any major city. Today, Cuauhtemotzin is not much more than a memory, buried under a wide avenue renamed after Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, but the surrounding area remains a tense and marginal zone--and a continuing center of prostitution. No doubt because of inexpensive rents, the maestro litógrafo Jesús Arteaga had a taller in this so-called “zona de tolerancia”, and several artists –including Pablo O’Higgins- worked with him there. Perhaps that, or maybe just morbid curiosity encouraged Emilio Baz Viaud to go and have a look around, to take a detour one day from his classes at the Academy of San Carlos, to walk back towards the former Convento de La Merced, and go a bit beyond... In Mexico, as in Europe and the United States, an artistic fascination with prostitution was, of course, hardly new: José Clemente Orozco’s famous “House of Tears” watercolors of 1913-1915 were an important prototype, but Saturnino Herrán, Henry Glintenkamp, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others, had already ventured out into the forlorn streets where women lined up on the sidewalk, stood before pulquerías, and leaned out of windows, waiting for work. If nothing else -though there was often something else- it was a place where one could always find models. In Emilio Baz Viaud’s nighttime image of one corner of the cobblestoned [empedrada] Calle de Cuauhtemotzin, six flashily dressed and brutally pale prostitutes are lined up in front of several numbered rooms; through an open door, a hanging naked light bulb seems a symbol for all that is brash and exposed outside. A woman in red appears to spy into another room. Two men walk past, while a third has captured the attention of a lady in an aqua-green dress and loud yellow socks. Another man peers past the swinging doors of a crowded cantina or dance hall named “El Pierrot”, after the lovesick French clown. Baz focuses on sensual details –fishnet stockings, a lifted skirt, rolled-up sleeves, even the backside of a mongrel dog- and heightens the use of color to an almost folkloric level. But the exaggerated mannerisms and costume choices of the women are less surprising than the male couple in the foreground. The taller tanned fellow, wearing a tight t-shirt and gray slacks, places his hand affectionately on the shoulder of his shorter (younger?) worker-pal [cuate-trabajador], who wears overalls. Is this nothing but a sign of masculine camaraderie, or is the artist hinting at other “ligues” tolerated in the same zone?

Vide James Oles, Arte moderno de México. Colección Andrés Blaisten. Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005.

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