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Inventing Indigenism

Inventing Indigenism
Francisco Laso's Image of Modern Peru

A fascinating account of the modern reinvention of the image of the Indian in nineteenth-century literature and visual culture, seen through the work of Peruvian painter Francisco Laso.

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment

December 2021
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288 pages | 7 x 10 |

One of the outstanding painters of the nineteenth century, Francisco Laso (1823–1869) set out to give visual form to modern Peru. His solemn and still paintings of indigenous subjects were part of a larger project, spurred by writers and intellectuals actively crafting a nation in the aftermath of independence from Spain. In this book, at once an innovative account of modern indigenism and the first major monograph on Laso, Natalia Majluf explores the rise of the image of the Indian in literature and visual culture. Reading Laso’s works through a broad range of sources, Majluf traces a decisive break in a long history of representations of indigenous peoples that began with the Spanish conquest. She ties this transformation to the modern concept of culture, which redefined both the artistic field and the notion of indigeneity. As an abstraction produced through indigenist discourse, an icon of authenticity, and a densely racialized cultural construct, the Indian would emerge as a central symbol of modern Andean nationalisms.

Inventing Indigenism brings the work and influence of this extraordinary painter to the forefront as it offers a broad perspective on the dynamics of art and visual culture in nineteenth century Latin America.

  • A Note on the Text
  • Preface
  • Introduction
    • Francisco Laso: A Republican Biography
    • Indigenism’s National Imaginaries
    • From Society, into Painting, and Back
    • Precedents: A Short History of the Indian—Concept and Image
  • 1. The Indian: Image of the Nation
    • A Local Antiquity
    • Idealization
    • Painting’s Critical Function
    • Gonzalo Pizarro: The Scene of Conquest and the Spanish Legacy
    • The Indian as Cultural Concept
    • Creole Failures
    • The Indian as Allegory and Symbol
  • 2. The Scene of Approximation
    • The Country of Melancholy: The Creole Invention of the Andean World
    • Melancholy’s Modern Transformations
    • An Andean Legend: The Burial of the Priest
    • The Inscrutable Indian
    • The Rhetoric of Approximation: The Pascana Series
    • A Critical Fortune of Racial Readings
    • Reading Race: The Role of the Viewer
    • The Construction of the Indian Image
  • 3. Picturing Race
    • Impossible Images
    • The Elusive Indian
  • Epilogue: Personal Narratives, Public Images
  • Chronology
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Natalia Majluf is the former director of the Museo de Arte de Lima.


“As an examination of race, identity, visual culture, literature, and politics in nineteenth-century Peru, Inventing Indigenism is an important addition to the literature on Latin American art, and will be a pioneering text in the field, setting the stage for future scholarship on the region.”
Michele Greet, George Mason University, author of Transatlantic Encounters: Latin American Artists in Paris between the Wars, 1918–1939

"Inventing Indigenism adeptly explores the evolving discourse of modern indigenism in nineteenth-century Peru and intelligently asserts that Francisco Laso’s majestic Inhabitant of the Cordilleras emerges out of cultural discourses of modernity. Majluf argues that Laso’s Inhabitant is the result of an intellectual project that constructs the first representation of a modern Indian, an idealized symbol of the Indian as nation. As a Creole elite with an upbringing in political and intellectual circles, Laso was invested in building a collective national imaginary through his paintings of indigenous people and traditions. For students and scholars alike, this book markedly advances the scholarship on nineteenth-century Latin American art."
Mey-Yen Moriuchi