Crafting Mexico


Crafting Mexico: Intellectuals, Artisans, and the State after the Revolution
Rick A. López
2010, Duke University Press
408 pages, plates

THIS valuable contribution to the study of nationalism in Mexico explores how vernacular arts and in particular handicrafts such as textiles, lacquered gourds, basketry, wooden toys and masks, were employed in the heady period of nation-building by intellectuals and cultural caudillos in the newly consolidating revolutionary Mexican state after 1920. This was a period of intense identity construction in which Mexico’s diverse regional and indigenous mosaic was reinterpreted and projected as the basis of a single, unified national culture. López considers the important role of popular art in nation formation following a long period of modernisation during the porfiriato in which Mexican elites were dismissive of artisanry as symbolising backwardness and a barrier to progress. The anthropologist Manuel Gamio, the ideologue José Vasconcelos and the educationalist Moisés Sáenz were among the nationalist visionaries who inverted this logic as they recruited the indigenous and the mestizo into a coherent “revolutionary nationalism” with a solid cultural firmament and began to inculcate this through nascent institutions into the population for the very first time. López takes as a case study the exquisitely lacquered boxes and gourds of Olinalá in Guerrero which became, and continue to be, physical symbols of national art. He explores the narratives that linked Olinalá in an unbroken tradition with the Aztecs from whom Mexican nationhood ultimately flowed. He also considers how contemporary indigenous movements in Mexico interpret the indigenismo of Vasconcelos et al., neither embracing it nor completely rejecting it, and often drawing on the claims and assumptions that were born of the most inventive period in Mexican nationalist history. – GJ

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