María Cenobia Izquierdo Gutiérrez, or simply María Izquierdo, was a Mexican artist who fought against the twin obstacles of the double oppression presented by a patriarchal-capitalist society. She was a woman, Latina, and an artist. Being divorced and heartbroken, she struggled against the monopoly of muralists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozcos, and David Alfaro Siquieros and left works of art that would become known worldwide in her wake. She would be the first female Mexican painter to show her work outside of Mexico. She died forgotten and in poverty on the 3rd December 1955 because of an embolism.
María Izquierdo: a history of Art and the Revolution
María Izquierdo was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1902. Her father, Rafael Izquierdo, died when María was five years old and so she grew up in the care of religious, strict, women; her grandmother and her aunt, until her mother Isabel Gutiérrez married again.
At fourteen years old and after persuasion from her family, María ‘contracted’ marriage to the military man Cándido Posadas and had three children. They moved to Mexico City in 1921 where María Izquierdo came into contact with a new cultural atmosphere that liberated her from the schemes of her conservative family.
After seven years in the Mexican capital, Izquierdo divorced from Cándido Posadas and then entered into the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (ENBA, the National School for Beautiful Arts), directed by Diego Rivera (ex-husband of Frida Kahlo), but Izquierdo’s academic experience was short-lived due to the institutional machismo and Diego Rivera disparaging the works of art.
Despite the bad experience Izquierdo had with formal education, her art continued to develop and grew more potent when she began a relationship with the painter Rufino Tamayo, with who she would be with for four years. They shared studies, similar techniques, and mutual influences as they also developed their own artistic style and defined themselves in the art community.
In this way, in 1930, 14 oil paintings by a Mexican woman were exhibited for the first time in the Art Center of New York, making Izquierdo the first Mexican female artist to individually exhibit in the United States.
On the other hand, one of her oil paintings was simultaneously included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exposition of Mexican Art but the path for her success began to darken when Tamayo abandoned her for another woman.
In 1936, the French poet Antonin Artaud discovered a work by Izquierdo during a visit to Mexico and returned to Paris to spread the news of her art. The following year, the works of María Izquierdo were exhibited in the Van de Berg gallery in Paris, France, and then in the United States, Japan, Brazil, India, and other countries.
During her worldwide success, in 1945, she was contracted to create an institutional mural that would show the history of Mexico, but this was cancelled at the request of three men: Siquieros, Orozco, and Rivera using the excuse that a woman didn’t have the necessary abilities to complete the work. Although this censorship was publicly denounced, no one supported Izquierdo and, paradoxically, Izquierdo was publicly attacked.
That same year, Izquierdo married the painter Raúl Uribe who betrayed her and appropriated her artwork, stealing her money and abandoning her, poor and sick, with paralysis in the right side of her body.
María Izquierdo continued painting with only her left arm until 1955 when an embolism ended her life.
She died forgotten and in poverty. Her work started to be recognised in the 70s, although the majority of them were found in other countries.
María Izquierdo and the double oppression
From a conservative family, divorced from a military man and deceived by artist lovers, María suffered the double oppression of class and gender as she attempted to carve a path in a space considered ‘masculine’ that oppressed her in her daily work.
As a result of her life experience, María Izquierdo fought against Fascism and in favour of the women’s movement, with a vision that differed from the predominant feminist movement and which would cause her to confront Frida Kahlo in 1939 when she made a cutting critique of “pseudo-intellectual feminist women” who corrupt the emancipation of women.
Izquierdo’s art caused her to generate different political actions like auctions of art and the direction of the itinerary exposition, Carteles Revolucionarios Femeninos (Revolutionary Feminine Cartel) organised by Bellas Artes, as well as the participation in political propaganda under the slogan: <Proletariat destroy your class enemies>.
María Izquierdo became a historic story; the leader of the emancipation of feminine art, she declared that women had to cease to be objects of luxury in order to transform themselves into active participants in the class struggle.
Translated by David Crowe