- Creating Pátzcuaro, Creating Mexico: Art, Tourism, and Nation Building under Lázaro Cárdenas by Jennifer Jolly
Statues, monuments, memorials and public art have all been the subject of headline news around the world in recent months, as these static, corporeal objects have been toppled, painted and covered. Deep and necessary questions are being asked about the role and presence of embodied representations of men of history in racialized colonial and national narratives in the United States, in Mexico, and in many other global contexts (particularly mobilized through the U.S.-based Black Lives Matter movements in the wake of the murder by police hands of George Floyd). What is at stake is control and power of ideological lived politics and national memories. In [End Page 269] Mexico, the use of public statues and monuments has long been recognized as a key component in governmental processes of post-independence and then post-revolution nation-building, and also for developing touristic environments. In the 1920s and 1930s, the institutionalization and politicization of art, especially through the Mural Movement, and the roles of state-engaged artists, intellectuals and teachers as they appropriated and transformed local cultural expressions (such as dance, music, cuisine, clothing) and sites and locations into national icons is well studied. In Creating Pátzcuaro, Creating Mexico, art historian Jennifer Jolly contributes to this rich trajectory of research by turning her attention to decisions and actions in the 1930s under President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940), focusing on the town of Pátzcuaro and region of Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán. This lake region, with its long-inhabited islands and lake-side settlements, was once the center of the powerful Indigenous P'urhépecha civilization, and subsequently decimated by colonial invaders. Jolly's study is aimed at a scholarly, specialist readership with prior comprehensive knowledge of Pátzcuaro and the Lake Pátzcuaro region, and with an in-depth understanding of Mexican cultural and political histories, postrevolutionary politics, and art history. Throughout the five chapters, Jolly undertakes detailed analysis of a range of works produced mostly between 1910 and 1940. These include murals, statues, photographs, paintings, lithographs, a museum, a film, a theatre, local markets and other sites and touristic viewing points. Her discussions focus on the role of art institutions and fine arts in political debates and cultural policy; and the development of tourism and nationalism through visual culture and architecture, with particular reference to historic preservation, and the tensions and regulations around social and religious spaces, all inherently concerned with racial categorization.
As would be expected in discussions of processes of postrevolutionary nation-building and tourism, Jolly invokes the tensions of nation versus region, modernity versus tradition, and past versus future. Consequently, she takes up many of the same debates and processes that I have studied in relation to performative, visual and embodied cultural practices of the Lake Pátzcuaro region (Hellier-Tinoco, Embodying Mexico: Tourism, Nationalism and Performance). One of the strongest analyses in Jolly's study (and also a focus of my research) concerns the building of a huge statue of independence-era hero and revolutionary priest José Maria More-los de Pavón in the center of the tiny Island of Janitzio. This action "transformed local memory into official history and narrated a kind of secular hagiography, celebrating Cárdenas's recovery" (p. 207). Jolly describes details of decisions concerning the aesthetic qualities and the sheer bodily stance and clothing for the stone embodiment of More-los. Equally, plans for the series of murals inside the massive statue, viewed as visitors walk up the winding staircase, entailed modifications by Cárdenas as he sought to better represent and communicate his ideological politics (p. 206–14).
Given that Jolly's study is concerned with examining processes for controlling impactful narratives...