During Tina Modotti's time in Mexico in the 1920s, much of her photography and political activities focused on and fought for the rights of those who had been previously overlooked and marginalized, namely the indigenous people of Mexico. Many government officials, artists and intellectuals at the time believed that it was through the indigenous culture that Mexico could redeem itself and create its own national identity. Indigenismo, the philosophy that supported this claim, was of interest to Modotti and was a recurring theme throughout her photography. Following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, indigenismo appeared to be the solution to establishing this new identity that was authentically Mexican and distinct from the perceived corruption of Europe and North America. However, the principles of this theory were paradoxical in that proponents supported incorporating indigenous elements into Mexican society, but they also supposed that the only way to recreate the country was by dismissing and destroying these native cultures. Modotti was not as interested in advocating a rebuilding of Mexico as she was in promoting social equality among all races and groups of people in the country, similar to what international Marxism endorsed. Indigenismo to Modotti was more of a way to give voice to the marginalized indigenous people who had been forgotten politically, educationally and artistically for centuries. Through three phases of her photographic career in Mexico—her early phase (which included the Idols Behind Altars project), Mexican Folkways, and her work done in Tehuantepec-we can see how Modotti progressed as an indigenista artist. Although her audience varied in each of these three phases, Modotti's commitment to, and portrayal of, Mexico's indigenous culture was a central unifying theme in her work. This study argues that the photographs of Tina Modotti illustrate her concept of indigenismo by celebrating what she perceived as strong, egalitarian indigenous communities that appealed to her Marxist political philosophy. Modotti sought to counter previous distorted or exaggerated misconceptions of indigenous culture, and she tried to compensate for this lack of authenticity within the Mexican national identity and Mexican art through her photography.



College and Department

Humanities; Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature



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Diego Rivera, Idols Behind Altars, indigenismo, Mexican Folkways, Post-Revolutionary Mexico, Tehuantepec, Tina Modotti