1676828425 Luz Jimenez the indigenous woman who was more than just

Luz Jiménez, the indigenous woman who was more than just a muse for Mexican muralists

Luz Jiménez is the rural teacher that Diego Rivera painted on the walls of the Ministry of Public Education. She is also the peasant woman portrayed by the muralist along with the insurgents in the National Palace; the indigenous woman with pigtails selling snacks in Sueño de una tarde dominical en Alameda Central and the figures representing faith, wisdom and tradition in the mural La creación. It is the naked Malinche that José Clemente Orozco placed next to Hernán Cortés on the stairs of the Colegio de San Ildefonso. It is the woman with the lyre that Rufino Tamayo drew at the old National Music Conservatory. It is the figure holding the jugs in the sculpture in Parque México. It is the mother portrayed by Jean Charlot with her daughter in her arms and the woman crossing herself in Frenando Leal. It is a constant presence that has often gone unnoticed.

“Luz Jiménez is part of a legend for many people,” says historian Carmen Tostado. Although he was instrumental in shaping the national image of Mexican mural painting in the early 20th century, his name is little known outside of professional circles. “If you say Frida Kahlo or Nahui Olin, the whole world will know who they are. When you say Luz Jiménez, I don’t think many people know it. However, it is a presence that is there. How many people walk through Parque México and see the Fuente de los Cántaros and don’t know who the model is?” says Tostado. The historian is one of the curators of The Spirit of 22, an exhibition that runs until June at the Colegio de San Ildefonso and, among other things, revisits his story. “Luz is the face of the Mexican school of painting,” summarizes Tostado.

The model used many first and last names until she settled on the last one. Luz, Luciana, Lucha or Juliana; Martinez, Perez, Jimenez or González. The real one was Julia Jiménez. He was born in the late 19th century in Milpa Alta, an area south of Mexico City surrounded by forested hills. When the revolution reached her town at the age of 19 and federal troops massacred her father and other men, she was forced to flee with her mother and sisters. This is how he ended up in the city of Santa Anita, where the first Outdoor School of Painting had been founded. With this initiative, the artists wanted to distance themselves from the guidelines of the Academy of San Carlos and the traditions of European painting. “It is there”, says Tostado, “where the worlds of Luz Jiménez and the painters meet”.

Jesús Villanueva, the model’s grandson and keeper of her archives, warns in the book Luz Jiménez, Symbol of an Ancient People that “it is not known exactly how he got involved in the artistic milieu”. One of the theories is that the painters of this school convinced her to model after she won a beauty pageant; Another version says that he found a job ad in the middle of town that was all about “keeping quiet”. Her grandson barely knew her as he was three when she died, but she has devoted herself to studying her biography and spreading her legacy. He wrote that Luz Jiménez is a person “who wants to improve”. Maybe that’s what she focused on.

The artists paid her 22 pesos a week for modeling, according to receipts kept by the family. So she worked for them, too, in jobs ranging “from maid to cook,” her grandson wrote. In a 1961 Excelsior article, Luz Jiménez recounted that when Diego Rivera needed her, he would drive to her town in a van to look for her: “They had me like I was from home, with an apartment , a phone, books. ” But she was also a friend of theirs, particularly Jean Charlot, who was godfather to her daughter Concha and from whom she may have learned the songs to lull her grandchildren to sleep in French. On Christmas Eve 1925 she cooked for him and other friends, and this is how the photographer Edward Weston remembered her in his diaries: “Luziana cooked a delicious, typically Mexican meal. What a bravo from Chile! (…) Conchita was the important guest [sic]“.

Drawing by Luz Jiménez by Jean Charlot.Drawing by Luz Jiménez by Jean Charlot. Collection Jean Charlot

Luz Jiménez also invited the muralist Fernando Leal to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Lord of Chalma, in the state of Mexico. He later painted it on the walls of San Ildefonso between 1922 and 1923. In The Feast of the Lord of Chalma, a dancer stares obsessively straight ahead as they gather around masked figures, girls dressed in white, peasants with candles, and other figures join in the celebration. Luz Jiménez is the woman who crosses herself, also the one with the blue shawl and the one with her back in a skirt. “Is it a complex relationship or is it complete? I don’t know,” says Tostado. “Luz knew how to transmit her world, that’s why they were looking for her. There were many beautiful indigenous girls, but the way he included them made them forge bonds of friendship. There was a mutual interest and appreciation of each other’s worlds. I see her posing patiently and looking at her with the same curiosity that they were looking at her with,” Tostado adds.

Matylda Figlerowicz, literary critic and art historian, believes it can be called “a turning point” in art circles of the time. “She wanted to be there and she was good at modelling. From what everyone says, she was a very charismatic person and her body responded to what people wanted to see in art as an indigenous woman,” she points out. Historian Blanca Garduño has described her “oval face, strong round chin, straight and braided hair, dark complexion, and sturdy body”. The critic Alberto Híjar has pointed to a “physicality that lives up to expectations” and “necessary for the representation of the national”. “But I think we’re falling short just thinking about it because it’s been portrayed in so many different ways,” Figlerowicz continues.

Fernando Leal paints Luz in Coyoacán, around 1920.Fernando Leal paints Luz in Coyoacán, around 1920.Francisco Cooking (Col. Fernando Leal Audirac)

The researcher, with a fellowship at Harvard, studies the “extensive intellectual work” of Jiménez, who collaborated with anthropologists and linguists. “You would call that an ‘informer,’ but she was more of a teacher and a writer,” writes Figlerowicz in the essay The Making of the Image by Luz Jiménez. Figlerowicz’s work joins that of other scholars who have tried in recent years to “change the narrative” about the model’s life and work. For example, it was she who taught Charlot Nahuatl. He owns the memories told by the historian Fernando Horcasitas in From Porfirio Díaz to Zapata. Nahuatl memory of Milpa Alta. However, the only publications he has signed with his name are two articles in the newspaper Mexihkatl Itonalama, published in Nahuatl by anthropologist Robert Barlow, says Figlerowicz. “It was never a stable source of income for her,” warns the art historian, adding, “Everyone wanted her around, but they didn’t treat her the same way.”

Luz Jiménez was killed one morning on his way to work. He was 68 years old. Although her obituary was published in newspapers, which noted that she was “well known in art and anthropological circles,” she was forgotten after her death. In 1994, she “saved” an exhibition reviewing Charlot’s work, her grandson said at a conference organized on March 8, 2021. “They realized there was a model that was affecting artists,” Villanueva said. The grandson told that day that four exhibitions dedicated to his grandmother had been curated until 2021, including one organized in 2000 by Casa Estudio Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

January 28, the anniversary of his birth and death, was perhaps the day his character was most widely publicized when Google dedicated a Doodle to him, the review that appears on the search engine’s main page dedicated to dates . The text describes her as “the most painted woman in Mexico” but who was “relatively unknown”.

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