Academic journal article Social Justice

Navigating the Labyrinth of Silence: Feminist Artists in Mexico

Academic journal article Social Justice

Navigating the Labyrinth of Silence: Feminist Artists in Mexico

Article excerpt

But how can we agree to let [woman] express herself when our whole way of life is a mask designed to hide our intimate feelings?--Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude

Women's writing and women's art, like women's knowledge, begins to articulate the silenced voice of women, but it is obliged to do so in the context of dominant, alien, but ultimately enabling culture.--Janet Wolff, Feminine Sentences

IN THE 1970s, TWO OF THE MANY NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS TO EMERGE IN MEXICO were the feminist movement and the "grupos" movement of politically oriented, conceptual art collectives. A core group of exceptionally talented feminist artists participated simultaneously in both movements. After briefly introducing several of these artists and their work within the context of Mexico's post-1968 social movements, this article examines what I call the labyrinth of silence that they encountered within the art world, the grupos, and the feminist movement. In each of these arenas, feminist artists ran into structural, aesthetic, and behavioral obstacles to full creative expression, participation, and recognition. The research presented here is intended as a modest response to Janet Wolff's (1990: 68-70) call for a more specific analysis and description of the mechanisms and practices through which women artists are silenced, excluded, and marginalized. Finally, the article describes some of the strategies deployed by feminist artists in Mexico to navigate their way through and around the labyrinth in order to "articulate the silenced voice of women."

Post-1968 Social Movements and Feminist Artists

The 1968 student movement in Mexico City was a watershed event and continues to be an important point of reference for social movements and their loosely affiliated artists today. (1) What began as a dispute very specific to the governance of the public university system was transformed into a broad social movement with a national agenda demanding social justice and the democratization of Mexico's authoritarian regime. Though the movement in its initial and particular form was smashed by the bloody massacre and massive arrests of October 2, 1968, the movement's legacy is difficult to overstate.

After the government's brutal repression of the student movement, hundreds of its activists immersed themselves in grassroots organizing efforts to end the long-ruling Party of the Institutional Revolution's undemocratic, corporatist control of labor and peasant organizations. Parallel to these class-based movements against corporatism, activist artists attempted to undermine the state's powerful influence over artists and other intellectuals and to reclaim an independent, critical space for art at the service of the popular classes. Some 15 art collectives--grupos as they were commonly called--were founded in the 1970s and came together briefly at the end of the decade in the Mexican Front of Cultural Workers. (2) The grupos movement was very much an outgrowth of 1968. Most of the grupos artists were born between 1945 and 1955 and were all, directly or indirectly, influenced by the events of 1968. Another important 1968 antecedent of the grupos was the formation of the "Salon Independiente" as an effort by rebellious Mexican artists to create an independent, alternative art space and to protest the government's dictatorial cultural policies. Indeed, a generation of artists influenced by the events of 1968 remains at the center of activist art today.

A feminist movement also emerged in Mexico in the early 1970s, influenced by the particular experience of the 1968 student movement and the general experience of its counterpart movements in Latin America, the United States, and Western Europe. Although the 1968 student movement did not include feminist demands, by challenging the regime's censorship and repression it opened the door for the cultural politics of the feminist movement, which today operates within a very different context. …

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