To celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the first edition of the Mexican Revolution novel “Los de Abajo” (The Underdogs) by Mariano Azuela, the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana (Hall of Mexican Fine Art) is showcasing a diverse array of artistic interpretations of the work. Bringing together Mexican realism in both literary and visual form, the exhibit identifies the revolution as perhaps the primary site for the construction of a Mexican national identity. Murals depicting the revolution sit next to cases displaying various editions of the novel, creating a dialogue between Azuela and the interpretations he inspired. The exhibit includes artwork from some of the most important Mexican artists of the 20th century, such as José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueros, Diego Rivera, Aurora Reyes, Sarah Jiménez and Arturo García Bustos, among others.
First published in 1916, the novel set the literary precedent for other work about the Mexican Revolution. Azuela’s scenes pay homage to human suffering in the war, yet depict its hardships from the perspective people fleeing it. However, as Dr. Víctor Díaz Arciniega of the Azcapotzalco Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAMA) reminds the viewer, it is sometimes necessary to separate the novel and the art from their socio-political context. Dr. Díaz Arciniega explores the various editions of the book in his prologue to the 2015 edition in a project funded by El Colegio de México, UAMA and the Economic Culture Fund.
The exhibit includes stamps, lithographs, prints, drawings and large paintings. On display is an English translation under the name, “The Underdogs,” (1930) published in New York and illustrated by Orozco. Scenes from the editions that Rivera and Gabriel García Maroto illustrated are featured as well. One of the more surprising finds in the exhibit is a fragment of Diego Rivera’s mural at the Teatro de los Insurgentes. Rivera paints a scene from the novel of a wounded man being attended to by a woman offering him medicine. The mural, synthesizing the history of theatre in Mexico, gestures towards Azuela’s scene as a focal point in the creation of a national identity.
The exhibit affirms the importance of visual culture for narratives of national identity. While Azuela’s novel has intimately produced dialogue on Mexican national identity, the artwork it inspired also serves to place Mexican art on the world stage.
The exhibit will open Sept. 25. The Salón de Plástico is located on Colima 196 in the Roma neighborhood and is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Entrance is free.