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HomeArts & CultureThe Enigmatic Bolivian Artist Who Centered Indigenous Workers’ Rights

The Enigmatic Bolivian Artist Who Centered Indigenous Workers’ Rights

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art has acquired a painting by indigenous Bolivian artist Alejandro Mario Yllanes, the first by the enigmatic artist to enter a museum collection in the United States.

For decades, Yllanes was largely omitted from the dominant narrative of modern Latin American art history. A self-taught painter, printmaker, and muralist who held his first exhibition at age 19 in 1930, Yllanes’ artistic career was brief, with his last exhibition at the Palacio de las Artes in Mexico City in the mid-1940s, while He worked as a cultural artist. Attaché of the Embassy of Bolivia. His career came to an abrupt halt two years after emigrating to New York in 1946, when he disappeared after receiving (though never claiming) a Guggenheim fellowship believed to be worth approximately $2,500. After 1948, his whereabouts remain uncertain, but researchers believe he eventually reached Mexico, where he eventually died in the early 1960s.

Bowdoin College’s acquisition of Yllanes’ painting “Cursed Tin” (1937) marks an important milestone for the artist, who has been largely ignored despite the acclaim he experienced during his short artistic career. . Before arriving in the United States, the artist exhibited throughout South America and received distinguished awards, including the Mexican Gold Medal. Son of an Aymara mother and a mestizo father, Yllanes was also a defender of indigenism – a Pan-American art movement of the early 20th century that reframed national identities to condemn imperialism and center indigenous heritage.

Yllanes’ works often exposed the harsh mistreatment to which Bolivia’s indigenous communities were regularly subjected. “Estaño Maldito” is an excellent example of this mission, as it focuses on the exploitative working conditions in Bolivia’s tin industry that indigenous miners and the artist himself experienced during his childhood. The painting was created after Bolivia’s loss to Paraguay in the three-year Chaco War for possession of the Boreal Chaco region, an arid territory believed to be rich in oil.

“The emaciated and contorted bodies, the darkness of the image that catches the dim light of the mines, the tense muscles: this is not an image that glorifies this type of work, but rather one that really shows the bodily damage and what it does to them.” to the workers. at this particular moment,” explained Michele Greet, a professor of Latin American modern art history specializing in Andean indigenism, in a November lecture for London Art Week, noting how the work arises directly from Yllanes’ experiences in the mines of country tin.

Bowdoin College also obtained one of Yllanes’ signature woodcuts, “Elegia” (1944), which will be featured in the ongoing exhibition. Corrientes: Art since 1875 It will be on display in the institution’s Boyd Gallery until March 2, 2025.

Although Yllanes has been recognized posthumously with two exhibitions in 1992 in the United States (one at the Ben Shahn Galleries at William Paterson College in New Jersey and another retrospective at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson), the acquisition of Bowdoin College signals the rediscovery of a long forgotten culture. Modernist. In 2016, the Galerie Martin du Louvre in Paris published a catalog raisonné focusing on Yllanes’s life.

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