Carlos Orozco Romero

Tehuana, 1940

Oleo / tela
61 x 50 cm

When this painting was shown in Philadelphia in 1943, it was titled Woman of Oaxaca. Curated by Henry Clifford, the exhibition, "Mexican Art Today," was a key project that brought together many artists who, like Orozco Romero, had been excluded from two important exhibitions of 1940: the International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galería de Arte Mexicano and "Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art," at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In effect, "Mexican Art Today" sought to redefine the parameters of the "Mexican school" that U.S. audiences then equated with muralism and the grandiose and rhetorical obligations of "official" post-Revolutionary painting. The lead essay in the catalog was by Luis Cardoza de Aragón, a critic who supported the aesthetic autonomy of the Mexico City vanguard. The exhibition also marked a radical departure from the practice of exhibiting contemporary Mexican painting alongside pre-Columbian artifacts, folk art and provincial painting, a tendency perhaps best exemplified by "Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art." When Inés Amor sold the painting to J.D. Zellerbach of San Francisco, she titled the work "Oaxaqueña." Either title is less ideologically laden than "Tehuana," the title that the painting carries today. By 1940 the word "tehuana" already connoted exoticism, as well as mexicanidad, and was associated with Frida Kahlo's adoption of and use of the costume. Whether or not this was Orozco Romero's intention, the title "Woman of Oaxaca," is more in keeping with the painting's quiet manner. In contrast to the image of the Tehuana as erotic temptress or as nationalist symbol of cultural autonomy and (supposed) matriarchy, here Orozco Romero does nothing to exoticize or eroticize; instead he shows his subject's regal nobility. The subdued palette and simplified geometric structure of the figure are consistent with his style of the period, and rather than offering a realistic rendering of her huipil, Orozco Romero takes the opportunity to create a dynamic play of diaphanous zig-zagging lines to balance his sitter's quiet expression.

Vide Adriana Zavala, Arte moderno de México. Colección Andrés Blaisten. Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005.

More of this artist

Francisco Díaz de León Fund