Posted on 12 December, 2016
Alberto Híjar Serrano
The introduction to the anthology Raquel Tibol, la crítica y la militancia, published by Centro de Estudios del Movimiento Obrero y Socialista, recounts the life and miracles of the redoubtable critic, from her beginnings as a writer and journalist in her native Argentina. During a Continental Conference on Culture, promoted by Pablo Neruda in Santiago, Chile, in 1952, she met Diego Rivera and decided to accept the task of organizing the Mexican section. Her quick, efficient and clear writing style opened the path for her to join projects aimed at achieving national liberation and socialism.
Her stay at the famous Blue House was hard, on account of Frida Kahlo’s health requirements. Raquel had to assist her. She recalled their shared suffering, having to inject a painkiller bypassing the purulent sores. She switched abodes with Diego and eventually returned to Argentina, fed up of her Mexican experience. Her desire to do some research in archives and collections led her right back. Elvira Concheiro and Víctor Hugo Pacheco tell the story of those ‘works and days’: her relations with the Mexican Communist Party, of which she never became a member; her work in cultural and political journalism; her participation in several conferences, particularly the National Visual Artists Conference, in 1972, where she slapped Siqueiros in the face, after he had called for her to be deported during the conference, when she kept asking him to explain why he had failed to paint again the number 17 (an allusion to the Mexican Constitution) in his mural at the National Actors Association: the scene depicted a book (marked with the number 17) being trampled under foot by a soldier; the mural had been censored, leading Pablo Neruda to call it an ‘imprisoned painting’. This work had been commissioned by the actors’ union, headed by Rodolfo Echeverría, brother of the criminal Mexican president. This was not her only public outburst, as part of her ‘militant criticism’.
Having distanced herself from the reactionary and spiritualist research done at the University, she fulfilled the task commissioned to her by Pedro Rojas,Philosophy teacher and member of the Aesthetic Investigations Institute, to write the volume devoted to modern and contemporary art of the Historia general del arte mexicano (1969), where she followed a line of rigorous historical research, combined with her cultural journalism and political chronicles. Her development as a historian was enhanced by her marriage, in 1957, to Boris Rosen, who gathered a major marxist library in yiddish and organized the archives of the Centro Jorge L. Tamayo, where he also oversaw the publication of the works of Francisco Zarco, among other significant accomplishments. In 1960, they both joined the magazine Política, editing a documents section where they published current Cuban proclamations. She had to quit the visual arts section, bequeathing it to me: that was my debut as a fortnightly art critic. In 1968 she had to hide to avoid being jailed like Manuel Marcué Pardiñas, the magazine’s director. She managed to elude the repression that went as far as the Mexican Progressive Jewish Organization, when Enrique Semo was beaten up after a collective denounciation of yet another crime committed by the Israeli State.
It was a time wen aesthetic questions were argued publicly, thanks to activists who knew how to combine criticism with literature of the highest order. The Left that was committed to national liberation and socialism featured such distinguished figures as Antonio Rodríguez, Luis Cardoza y Aragón (who was singularly scathing), Joel Marrokin and Raquel with her tenacious and amazing work. Of this list, the men were respectively Portuguese, Guatemalan and Peruvian, while Raquel was born in Argentina, a naturalized Mexican citizen, having established herself in our country since she was 29; this contributes to explain the American and Internationalist dimension which all of them promoted. Having retired from the toils of investigative journalism, the Aesthetic Investigations Institute paid homage to her; there, she showed her gratitude and pointed out as her greatest merit the fact that she always fulfilled the tasks she was entrusted with. She was an incorruptible critic who never received forced honors. Her vibrant voice had an Our-American accent which she cultivated with great care. She deserves political recognition as well, for hers was an indispensable presence at forums and conferences in and outside Mexico, such as the Peace Congress in Budapest, the meetings with women in Vietnam, or the Tricontinental conferences in Cuba.
She promoted the aesthetic dimension through some of the Mexican Communist Party publications, such as Historia y Sociedad and Oposición, where the brief texts in this anthology were first published. These attest to the stakes at play: the construction of history ‘outside of the academy’, as she puts it regarding such figures as Hermenegildo Bustos and José Guadalupe Posada. She did a major historical contribution with her compilation of writings by Cuban communist Julio Antonio Mella in El Machete, some of them signed as Cuauhtémoc Zapata or Kim, which are the initials in Russian of the Young Communist International. This anthological line is essential for the inclusion of artists’ sayings within historiography. She did this with Siqueiros, Rivera and Frida; when she was challenged to study Tamayo, a bulwark against the Mexican School of Painting, she demonstrated her ability as a rigurous historian, irreducibe to political slogans. Raquel Tibol stresses, for good and evil, the need to have different viewpoints in order to come to terms, for instance, with painting as opposed to non-objectual art. Hence her books, where she displays her critical acumen without the limitations of space imposed by newspaper articles. Gráficas y neográficas, for instance, surveys the innovations which enrich traditional artisan engraving techniques.
Instead of academic quotations, she used very precise and clarifying references: Kautsky on desire and the image; Camilo Torres, the Colombian guerrilla priest; Hélder Cámara, the Brazilian Liberation theologist; Worringer, criticized by Lukács. With this ample vision, she pays homage to the Jesuit Felipe Pardiñas, the promoter of art history at Universidad Iberoamericana, who left the Order and went on to be a leading light in sociology. She applied critical dialectics to Siqueiros’ notion of associating Christ with world peace to justify his donation of a painting to the Vatican.
Her chronicles gather narratives of lives and works, in order to understand aesthetic praxis. She did this especially regarding women artists: Fanny Rabel, her cousin, the greatest painter ever produced by Mexico; the tragic Celia Calderón, of whom she tells the story of her unfortunate love affairs that led to her suicide in her classroom at the Visual Arts School; Olga Costa, the joyful painter, José Chávez Morado’s partner, with whom she shared a great sense of humor; María Izquierdo, who was prevented by the Three Greats from painting a mural at Mexico City’s Town Hall; Angelina Beloff, who was deserted by Diego and ‘made everyone respect her as an artist and a teacher’; Myrna Báez, the remarkable Puerto Rican; Antonia Eiriz, the Cuban who placed herself beyond realism. The internationalist dimension shaped her critical line. Hence her debates with Siqueiros, her exaltation of Renato Guttuso, her joining in the European tour of the Mexican Academy of Dance, to trace cultural demarcation lines and to open up aesthetic praxis to diverse artistic fields. On Picasso’s anniversary, she highlighted his aversion to searching for searching’s sake, in opposition to the certainty of encounters and discoveries. She looked after the young, scalding them when she deemed it necessary and showing her solidarity to their humanism, as was the case with Francisco Icaza and Arnold Belkin, of Grupo Nueva Presencia.
She did not forcefully impose a political line; it was rather the result of her researches, such as the reference to Lenin in El Machete as a “collective agitator, propagandist and organizer”. Hence the poetic insertion of the spark, as in the Soviet Iskra, that starts the fire. Her interviews are a model of precise and respectful exchanges, such as those from the beginning of her career in Mexico, when she interviewed Luis Buñuel and Frida Kahlo. She was a brilliant lecturer and a constant collaborator at UNAM’s Curso Vivo de Arte. She left her archives to Slim’s Museo Soumaya. At the opening of the new museum, she clarified her stance by talking about Rosa Luxemburg.
October 21, 2016