curated by John Mraz
5 October 2010 - 9 January 2011
This exciting exhibition comprises a selection of photographs of the Mexican Revolution never shown before. Divided into eleven theme-based sections, it tells the story of the crucial political events and of the legendary armed movements that rocked the country between 1910 and 1920.
179 black and white photographs of extraordinary visual impact, taken from the numerous archive collections in the National Photothèque of the INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City), tell the story of the ten-year-long Mexican Revolution at two different levels of interpretation: both as a historical account of events, and as examples of "aesthetic" interpretation arising from the individual photographers' different takes on an historical and political occurrence that each one of them was experiencing very much in the first person.
The Mexican Revolution, the first great social uprising in the modern world, began as a political movement seeking to establish genuine democracy, with peasant farmer participation in the shareout and working of the land. The country's heady modernization, forged under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1911) before the revolution, was based on the ongoing expansion of large landholdings, thus forcing hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers into the role of peones, salaried workers with no say in anything, or else driving them to emigrate in search of gloomy jobs in the cities. The huge gap between the social classes only got worse, and the peasant farmers' increasing inability to win any kind of political compensation from the government sparked the outbreak of a bloody war which ended only in 1920.
This exhibition explores all of the phases in the long conflict, focusing on the various real-life experiences that lay beneath and behind the tragic events in the history of the Revolution. Built in accordance with a chronological criterion, the retrospective shows us the swashbuckling image of the great caudillos, but above all it sheds light on daily life and on the social processes triggered by the Revolution. The leading players in the drama, on whom the camera lens dwells at some length, include Francisco Madero who led the uprising from which the movement as a whole took its cue; Emiliano Zapata, both the most radical and, at the same time, the most conservative leader in the armed struggle, ideally a supporter of the peasant community yet also involved in the difficult process of modernizing the country; Pascual Orozco, who headed up a movement bent on shaking off the Revolution's federal and centralistic control; and Pancho Villa who, together with Zapata, was the loadstone of the humbler strata of society caught up in the Revolution.
In laying bare the expressions, the attitudes, the conduct and the lifestyle of men women captured by the lens in the course of those ten fateful years, the exhibition allows the visitor to perceive the different ways in which thousands of anonymous individuals managed to cope with such extreme political conditions, under constant bombardment and deprived of water, food and coal. In parallel, the exhibition offers a record of the angry protest rallies that were prompted with increasing frequency throughout the country by deprivation, hunger and unemployment, alongside the violent and tragically bloody events (military intervention, arrests and executions) that took place in the cities and in the countryside on the sidelines of the political and social clashes.
The nine theme-based sections (I - Under Porfirio: From the Study to the Street; II - Madero: War Photography in the Cradle; III - Zapata: "Las cámaras Surianas"; IV - Orozco: The "Colorados"; V - Huerta and The Tragic Decade. Recording the Reaction; VI - The Veracruz Invasion. A Photographic Workshop; VII - Villa and Spontaneous Subject Matter; VIII - Settlement. Photographing Contrasts; IX - Constitutionalism. Recording the Victory) are designed to conjugate the chronological development of events with the evolution of photographic vocabulary, seen at one and the same time as both an account and an interpretation of the historical events of the time.
The exhibition ends with two special sections (X - Icons; XI - Photographers) which explore in greater depth some of the iconic pictures of the history of the Mexican Revolution and use examples to review the work of the main reporters, the leading players from the other side of the lens in this remarkable history in pictures: Samuel Tinoco, Eduardo Melhado, Ezequiel Álvarez Tostado, Manuel Ramos, Abraham Lupercio, Miguel y Agustín Víctor Casasola, Géronimo Hernández, Antonio Garduño, Sabino Osuna, Hugo Brehme, Heliodoro Gutiérrez and others.
The retrospective includes two short videos comprising documentary material filmed in cinema format during the Revolution. This material, which comes from the UNAM's Cinethèque, has been specially restored for the occasion with the contribution of the INAH.
And last but not least, the exhibition is accompanied by a tailor-made musical program entitled Sounds of the Revolution, which uses 33 tracks of varying musical genres with individual commentary, designed to further enhance the visitor's full immersion in the feel and mood of the period.
The exhibition, devised and produced by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and curated by John Mraz (Universidad Autónoma di Puebla), is being shown simultaneously in the Museo del Carmen in Mexico City and in twenty other venues in the country.