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María Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo

María Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo
Challenging Visions in Modern Mexican Art

Taking a comparative approach that facilitates new interpretations of their work, this study explores how the first Mexican women artists to achieve international recognition successfully challenged prevailing discourses about national identity and gender roles.

Series: Latin American and Caribbean Arts and Culture publication initiative

August 2015
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251 pages | 8.5 x 11 | 82 b&w photos, 17 color photos |

María Izquierdo (1902–1955) and Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) were the first two Mexican women artists to achieve international recognition. During the height of the Mexican muralist movement, they established successful careers as easel painters and created work that has become an integral part of Mexican modernism. Although the iconic Kahlo is now more famous, the two artists had comparable reputations during their lives. Both were regularly included in major exhibitions of Mexican art, and they were invariably the only women chosen for the most important professional activities and honors.

In a deeply informed study that prioritizes critical analysis over biographical interpretation, Nancy Deffebach places Kahlo’s and Izquierdo’s oeuvres in their cultural context, examining the ways in which the artists participated in the national and artistic discourses of postrevolutionary Mexico. Through iconographic analysis of paintings and themes within each artist’s oeuvre, Deffebach discusses how the artists engaged intellectually with the issues and ideas of their era, especially Mexican national identity and the role of women in society. In a time when Mexican artistic and national discourses associated the nation with masculinity, Izquierdo and Kahlo created images of women that deconstructed gender roles, critiqued the status quo, and presented more empowering alternatives for women. Deffebach demonstrates that, paradoxically, Kahlo and Izquierdo became the most successful Mexican women artists of the modernist period while most directly challenging the prevailing ideas about gender and what constitutes important art.




Part One: The Problem of the Hero

1. Women on the Wire: Izquierdo's Images of Female Circus Performers

2. Saints and Goddesses: Kahlo's Appropriations of Religious Iconography in Her Self-portraits

Part Two: Legitimating Traditions

3. Revitalizing the Past: Precolumbian Figures from West Mexico in Kahlo’s Paintings

4. Kahlo's The Girl, the Moon and the Sun, 1942

5. Mother of the Maize: Izquierdo’s Images of Rural Gardens with Granaries

Part Three: The Wall of Resistance

6. What Sex Is the City? Izquierdo's Aborted Mural Project

Part Four: Still-Life Paintings

7. Picantes pero sabrosas: Kahlo’s Still-Life Paintings and Related Images

8. Grain of Memory: Izquierdo's Paintings of Altars to the Virgin of Sorrows

Part Five: Women's Rights in Modern Mexico

9. Beyond the Canvas: Izquierdo, Kahlo, and Women’s Rights





Nancy Deffebach is an art historian who specializes in modern and contemporary Latin American art. She holds a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and has taught art history at San Diego State University, Georgia State University, Rice University, and the University of Houston.


“Deffebach's feminist critique of the Mexican avant-garde and her discussion of women's rights are valuable.”
Latin American Research Review

“This book is . . . the work of a lifetime of research. It is impressive and interesting. . . . There is a good deal to be learned through analyzing María Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo as counterparts and figures whose art bears a certain resemblance but many differences. . . . It should be a very useful and interesting book for scholars, students, and the interested general public.”
Edward J. Sullivan, Helen Gould Sheppard Professor of the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts and Department of Art History, New York University, and author of Fragile Demon: Juan Soriano in Mexico 1935–1950, The Language of Objects in the Art of the Americas, Aspects of Contemporary Mexican Painting, and Women in Mexico/La Mujer en Mexico

“A significant contribution to the field of Mexican art history. . . . In many cases, the ideas presented are defended by way of new data. Also, the author focuses on works that have received far less attention from other scholars. The text will be useful to academics in the discipline of art history, and, given the strong and continuing interest in Frida Kahlo, it will undoubtedly be of interest to general audiences around the globe.”
Catha Paquette, Associate Professor of Art History, California State University, Long Beach