Pictorial Indianism, which peaked in Peru in the twenties, thirties, and forties, was part of a wider movement in Peruvian society that attempted to redefine national identity in terms of native elements. While, at a certain moment, Indianism’s chief concern was the revalorization of “the indigenous” and of an Inca past seen as glorious, the movement also defended a mestizo identity that brought together “the native” and “the Hispanic.” José Sabogal (1888–1956) was indisputably the leader and mind behind Indianism in the visual arts. His deep sense of “rootedness” was influenced by regionalist tendencies evident in art from Spain (the work of Ignacio Zuloaga [1870–1945], among others) and Argentina (Jorge Bermúdez [1883–1926], to name just one artist)—countries where Sabogal spent a number of years studying. When he returned to Peru in late 1918, he settled in Cuzco, where he produced almost forty oil paintings of local characters and views of the city that were exhibited in Lima in 1919. That exhibition is considered the formal beginning of pictorial Indianism in Peru. His second solo show in Lima—the one that enabled him to consolidate prestige—was held in the galleries of the Casino Español in 1921. In 1920, Sabogal joined the faculty of the newly founded Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, which he then directed from 1932 to 1943. The following painters, all of whom formed part of the Indianist movement, studied at that institution: Julia Codesido, Alicia Bustamante (1905–68), Teresa Carvallo (1895–1988), Enrique Camino Brent (1909–60), and Camilo Blas (1903–85).
For Codesido, unlike her peers, Indianism was the point of departure that took her, in her mature years, close to abstraction; she combined the “visual discovery of her country with the inexorable eruption of modernism” [see Wuffarden, Luis Eduardo. Julia Codesido (1938–1979): muestra antológica. (Lima: CCPUCP, 2004)]. The unique nature of her exploration can be explained by the fact that, because her family immigrated to Europe in the early twentieth century, she was aware of the avant-garde and its development. Upon returning to Lima, she took studio classes with painter Teófilo Castillo; she later joined the faculty of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (ENBA), which opened in 1919. Even at her first solo show, held at the Academia Nacional de Música Alcedo in Lima in 1929, she showed another side of “vernacular art.” Thanks to the unique nature of her artistic personality, she pursued expressive stylization in color and in form.