Spanning the late Porfiriato to the end of the Cardenista reforms, this is a multifaceted exploration of the production of visual narratives that offered competing interpretations of gender, class, nationalism, and internationalism that came to define modern Mexican identity.
In the wake of Mexico’s revolution, artists played a fundamental role in constructing a national identity centered on working people and were hailed for their contributions to modern art. Picturing the Proletariat examines three aspects of this artistic legacy: the parallel paths of organized labor and artists’ collectives, the relations among these groups and the state, and visual narratives of the worker. Showcasing forgotten works and neglected media, John Lear explores how artists and labor unions participated in a cycle of revolutionary transformation from 1908 through the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940). Lear shows how middle-class artists, radicalized by the revolution and the Communist Party, fortified the legacy of the prerevolutionary print artisan José Guadalupe Posada by incorporating modernist, avant-garde, and nationalist elements in ways that supported and challenged unions and the state. By 1940, the state undermined the autonomy of radical artists and unions, while preserving the image of both as partners of the “institutionalized revolution.”
This interdisciplinary book explores the gendered representations of workers; the interplay of prints, photographs, and murals in journals, in posters, and on walls; the role of labor leaders; and the discursive impact of the Spanish Civil War. It considers “los tres grandes”—Rivera, Siquieros, and Orozco—while featuring lesser-known artists and their collectives, including Saturnino Herrán, Leopoldo Méndez, Santos Balmori, and the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists (LEAR). The result is a new perspective on the art and politics of the revolution.
2017 Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies Thomas McGann Book Prize in Modern Latin American History
“This superb study intertwines a history of artistic representations of Mexican workers on public walls and in labor publications with that of the artists who produced them. I know of no other work that attempts such an endeavor and, though it is an ambitious project, it is most successful. The wide swath cut by Lear makes the book important for a broad audience: the history of Mexico, the history of Mexican labor, and the history of Mexican art. The scholarship is impeccable.”
John Mraz, Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, author of Photographing the Mexican Revolution: Commitments, Testimonies, Icons, Looking for Mexico: Modern Visual Culture and National Identity, and Nacho López, Mexican Photographer
“A very finely researched work on Mexican political/worker art, which, in the first half of the twentieth century, was globally recognized as a unique and outstanding contribution to modernism and to politics. The book is particularly engaging and innovative in its focus on ‘lesser’ artists, whose work turns out to be politically, socially, and historiographically important.”
Mary Kay Vaughan, University of Maryland College Park, author of Portrait of a Young Painter: Pepe Zuñiga and Mexico City’s Rebel Generation and Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–1940