Corporeal Apparitions / Beyond Appearances

Women and Bodily Discourse in Mexican Art, 1960–1985
Karen Cordero Reiman

In the second half of the twentieth century, and particularly from 1960 on, women artists in Mexico explored new bodily discourses that challenged not only the modes of corporeal representation but also the concept of political art that had characterized the dominant narratives of Mexican art up to that time. In contrast to the homogeneous, monumental conception of the political body that had characterized muralism, they explored the differentiated experiences of bodies and the polysemic and fragmentary nature of corporeal experience in contemporary culture. Their work also introduced innovations in visual and conceptual artistic language and in the use of materials in order to take into account a gendered understanding of the body and a new, situated analysis of subject-object relations, as well as to address distinct social and historical issues.

This process was framed by a context of postwar urban growth and industrialization, cultural transformations marked by the wave of politically motivated immigration of the previous decades as well as Cold War politics and governmental regimes marked both by violent repression—most notably the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre—and by populist initiatives that introduced women's rights into the legislative debates of the time.# In spite of the powerful role they played in many of the cultural and social struggles linked to the Mexican Revolution, women had achieved the right to vote in Mexico only in 1953, and the ensuing decades were marked by the emergence of an independent feminist movement that—in interaction with changing aesthetic parameters and the emergence of interdisciplinary and new-media strategies in the arts—made possible new modes of self-representation, subjectivity, and dissent through both individual artistic creations and collective work.#

The radical impact of these works by women artists on the cultural scene and on the possibilities for self-representation by women in a broader sense in Mexico, as well as on the representation of vulnerability and difference in relation to conventional constructs of gender and sexual identity, has only much more recently become the object of art historical analysis and begun to be integrated into the museological and critical narratives of modern and contemporary Mexican art.# A richer and more complete narrative emerges when we take into account the work produced by women artists in Mexico between 1960 and 1985 and its treatment of, use of, and allusions to the body.

The Mexican artists included in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 span various generations, and the work exhibited represents different mediums and stages of their careers and therefore different intersections with the historical, social, and artistic processes mentioned above, as well as distinct personal positions and trajectories. Nevertheless, twelve distinctive characteristics can be observed that cut across and link the work of these artists, marking their contributions to the Mexican art scene of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: (1) the development of iconographic, material, and conceptual vehicles to express women's corporeal experience and subjectivity; (2) experimentation with artistic strategies to counter patriarchal constructions of the female body and the feminine, including new representations of female sexualities and eroticism, and the reappropriation of nudity and corporeal diversity from a gendered perspective; (3) performativity with their own bodies and those of their artistic accomplices; (4) new modes of involvement with materials and process; (5) the critique of patriarchal relationships with nature and nation; (6) the challenging of hierarchies in art and visual culture informed by gender, race, and class; (7) the questioning of fixed gender boundaries and stereotypes; (8) the frequent recourse to series as a way of advancing distinct narrations and modes of experiencing time and the body; (9) the creation and reactivation of archives with reference to the representation of women; (10) the creation of independent platforms and structures that allow them to distance themselves from institutional prerogatives and explore alternative modes of production; (11) the integration of feminist pedagogies into their work; and (12) interdisciplinary strategies that destabilize cultural expectations and invite the creation of new imaginaries.

Fig. 1. Mónica Mayer, performative presentation of Archiva: Obras maestras del arte feminista en México (Archiva: Masterpieces of feminist art in Mexico), 2013. National Feminist Convention, Guadalajara
Fig. 1. Mónica Mayer, performative presentation of Archiva: Obras maestras del arte feminista en México (Archiva: Masterpieces of feminist art in Mexico), 2013. National Feminist Convention, Guadalajara.
Courtesy of Archivo Pinto mi Raya. Photo by Yuruen Lerma

Many of these echo the characteristics introduced by feminist art in the United States and Europe but have not been sufficiently documented or associated with a gendered reading of contemporary Mexican art history. Moreover, not all the artists included associate themselves or have been associated with feminism and feminist art, and to do so, to create what Griselda Pollock has termed a "maternal genealogy,"# may seem to go beyond the objectives or scope of this project. If, however, we take up the argument proposed by the pioneering Mexican feminist artist Mónica Mayer (fig. 1) with reference to her conceptual work Archiva: Obras maestras del arte feminista en México (Archiva: Masterpieces of feminist art in Mexico, 2013),# it may, then again, be pertinent: "The artists selected are feminists in practice although not all of them are militants. They don't necessarily conceive of their work as feminist art, but on the basis of its content or the context in which it has been presented, it is. . . . Rather than giving a definition of feminist art, . . . I invite you to peruse Archiva and come to your own conclusions."# In the same sense, as I analyze the work of the group of Mexican artists selected for this exhibition, I invite you to reflect on this subject.#

Excerpted from Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985. Copyright © 2017 by the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Inc. Published by DelMonico Books, an imprint of Prestel. The full essay can be found in the exhibition catalogue, available here.

Gabriela Aceves Sepúlveda, "'¿Cosas de Mujeres?': Feminist Networks of Collaboration in 1970s Mexico," Artelogie, no. 5 (October 2013),

Gisela Espinosa Damián and Ana Lau Jaiven, eds., Un fantasma recorre el siglo: Luchas feministas en México 1910–2010 (Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 2011), and Nora Nínive García, Márgara Millán, and Cynthia Pech, eds., Cartografías del feminismo mexicano, 1970–2000 (Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México, 2007).

Cynthia Silvana Liceaga Gesualdo, "¿Dónde están las mujeres artistas en los espacios museísticos mexicanos?: El fenómeno de la invisibilidad femenina en las exposiciones temporales en los museos nacionales de arte" (MA thesis, Centro de Cultura Casa Lamm, 2011), and Karen Cordero Reiman, "El arte de diecisiete mujeres," in Miradas: Mujeres artistas en México (Mexico City: Arterisco, 2015), 13–18.

Griselda Pollock, "On Mary Cassatt's Reading Le Figaro or the Case of the Missing Women," in Looking Back to the Future: Essays on Art, Life, and Death (Amsterdam: G + B Arts International, 2001), 250.

Archiva is an artist's archive that includes seventy-six informative texts on works that Mayer defines as "masterpieces of feminist art in Mexico" in order to question established canons and mechanisms of legitimation and the processes by which women's art and feminist art in particular are made invisible. She has accompanied its presentation in various contexts with performative actions and lectures.

Mónica Mayer, Archiva: Obras maestras del arte feminista en México, 2013, All translations mine unless otherwise indicated.

Exhibition curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta were responsible for the selection of works in Radical Women.