Sebastián Salazar Bondy was a prominent Peruvian intellectual whose interests spanned the theater, literature, and the visual arts. He was in fact deeply involved in the debate over abstraction that took place in Peru during the 1950s. His review of Sabogal’s exhibition reaffirmed his opinions against those who claimed that a painting’s artistic quality was of greater importance than anything else. Salazar Bondy underscored the importance of “art’s social function” and its connection to a particular time and place.
Indigenist painting flourished in Peru from the 1920s to the 1940s as part of a broader movement that sought to redefine Peruvian identity in terms of indigenous elements. Although at some points it was entirely focused on the “indigenous” story and the Inca past that was considered to have been glorious, it also championed a mestizo identity portrayed as a result of the integration of “native” and “Hispanic” cultures. The main ideologue and unchallenged leader of the Indigenist movement in the visual arts was José Sabogal (1888–1956), whose profound interpretation of the concept of “being rooted” was deeply influenced by regional art movements in Spain (exemplified by Ignacio Zuloaga [1870–1945], among others) and in Argentina (Jorge Bermúdez [1883–1926], to mention just one); Sabogal spent a great deal of time in these countries during his formative years. When he returned to Peru in late 1918 he settled in Cuzco, where he produced about forty oil paintings of people and scenes of the city; these works were subsequently shown in Lima (1919) at an exhibition that is considered the formal beginning of Indigenist painting in Peru. Sabogal’s second one-man show, at the Casino Español (1921), established his reputation. He joined the faculty at the new Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1920, where he was eventually appointed director (1932–43). There he trained a group of painters who joined the Indigenist movement, such as Julia Codesido, Alicia Bustamante (1905–68), Teresa Carvallo (1895–1988), Enrique Camino Brent (1909–60), and Camilo Blas (1903–85).
In the mid-1930s a powerful movement emerged to oppose the Indigenist style—which was perceived as official and exclusive—and eventually, in 1943, Sabogal was dismissed from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. Supporters of Indigenism viewed this move as unjust, and rallied to the painter’s defense in letters, newspaper articles, and social events.
In Sabogal’s final period—from the mid-1940s until his death in 1956—he was hard at work again, producing a large number of paintings in his studio, which led to his last exhibition, held at the Sociedad de Arquitectos del Perú (Lima) in 1954. At this time he was also interested in promoting the practice of muralism in Peru (along the lines of the Mexican example), and in studying traditional art. These were interests he pursued after he was reappointed director of the Instituto de Arte Peruano (Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana) in 1946, and returned to his exploration of “mestizo art,” as reflected in his paintings of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.
[There are a great many articles about this artist in the ICAA digital archive, notably the following by Sabogal himself: “Arquitectura peruana: la casona arequipeña (1173340); “La cúpula en América” (1125912); “Mariano Flórez, artista burilador de ‘mates’ peruanos, murió en Huancayo: José Sabogal su admirador y amigo, le rinde homenaje” (1136695); “Los mates burilados y las estampas del pintor criollo Pancho Fierro” (1173400); “Los ‘mates’ y el yaraví” (1126008); “La pintura mexicana moderna” (1051636); and “Sala de arte popular peruano en el Museo de la Cultura: selecciones de arte” (1173418)].