Critics Grow Around Artist Chosen to Replace Columbus Monument in Mexico City


The decision to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus dominating Mexico City’s main thoroughfare with a sculpture of an indigenous woman was aimed to empower the country’s indigenous community. But just a week after the project was announced, hundreds of artists, writers and curators in Mexico, many of them indigenous women, signed an open letter in protest, opposing the selection of the contemporary Mexican artist Pedro Reyes for the new commission.

“We applaud that this highly visible space is occupied by a monument for women, and Indigenous women in particular,” reads the missive, written by a collective of women and allies who work in the arts.

“However, we find it unacceptable that Pedro Reyes, a male artist who does not identify as indigenous, was chosen to represent ‘indigenous woman’: a generalization that denies the particularities and diversity of women who identify as members of the indigenous community. of nations and peoples, and places their image in the hands of a white half-breed man.

The letter currently has nearly 300 signatories, including artists Circe Irasema, Mónica Mayer, Amalia Pica and Héctor Zamora.

Erected in 1877 in a dedicated roundabout along Paseo de la Reforma, a major avenue running through Mexico City, the Columbus bronze was removed last October ahead of planned protests by indigenous groups the Día de la Raza, the the day Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492. Officials at the time said the sculpture needed restoration, but last weekend the city’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, announced plans to replace the work by a bust of an Olmec woman by Reyes. In an interview with Hyperallergic last week, Reyes said he was inspired by the Nahuatl word tlallimeaning the Earth, and its representations, which often take a female form.

But this proposal “claims to represent a generic image of ‘indigenous women’ in accordance with official discourses and folklore,” said Irmgard Emmelhainz, writer and translator and one of the authors of the letter. In addition, the commission was appointed “by dedazo– “pointing the finger” – she added, “a problematic undemocratic practice in Mexico in which an official artist is chosen, privileged with projects and honors without fair appeal for competing projects by other artists.

“The image was designed by a white male artist without consulting representatives of Mexico’s indigenous communities,” Emmelhainz told Hyperallergic.

Some indigenous Mexicans – who make up about 15% of the country’s population – have expressed their desire that funding for the sculpture be allocated to improving the lives of indigenous women. Others took issue with the sculpture itself; Mexican photographer Yolanda Andrade suggested replacing Reyes’ design with a reproduction of a work by an Aboriginal sculptor.

Reyes, who is represented by the international gallery Lisson, is known for his conceptual works with a sociopolitical subtext. In 2013, for example, he turned thousands of confiscated firearms provided by the Mexican government into musical instruments for an installation called “Disarm.” The artist has had numerous personal exhibitions in the United States and abroad, at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; the Guggenheim in New York; and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among other institutions. (Reyes has yet to respond to Hyperallergic’s immediate request request for comment.)

Among the sculpture’s critics is New York-based Mexican artist, performer and educator Pablo Helguera, who publicly posted a personal letter he sent to Reyes asking him to reject the commission.

“It is important to recognize the kind of privilege enjoyed by white and male Mexican artists, and in particular the systemic racism and sexism that has prevented many Indigenous artists, as well as artists who identify as women, from have the same opportunities,” Helguera said. wrote. “It’s a taboo subject in Mexico that should have been discussed a long time ago.”

“A monument on Reforma Avenue is above all a symbol for the people,” he continued. “But the symbolism of the project – a public art project, not a gallery exhibition – extends not only to the finished product but also to the selection of the artist. It is a mistake for a white man to have again the power to determine the image that should represent the history of indigenous peoples and, by extension, of all Mexicans.


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