Conference by Fabiola Martínez at the seminar “Biennials of the South”, ENS Paris

On Thursday May 18th, Fabiola Martínez Rodríguez (Saint Louis University Madrid / MoDe(s)) will give the conference The Hemispheric Politics of Mexico’s Inter-American Biennials (1958 and 1960) in the framework of the seminar “Biennales du Sud/Biennials of the South” organized by Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

ENS Paris, Salle de l’iHMC, 45 rue d’Ulm, stairs D, 3rd floor. Free entrance.

The 1950s in Mexico was a decade of transition marked by rapid industrialisation and modernisation projects that were changing the urban and social fabric of the nation. This eagerness to modernize, following the lead of the United States, however, was at odds with the principles of the Mexican revolution that had placed the current government in power, thus creating a challenge for the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) : how to become a modern democratic nation reliant on US investment, while safeguarding the heritage of a revolution internationally recognised as the first successful social revolution of the Twentieth Century ?

It is against this backdrop that the government decided to embark on the organisation of high profile Inter-American biennials, with the intention of making Mexico one of the key players in the international art world. Although successful in convening a large representation of countries in the continent, only two biennials took place. Both events generated a great amount of controversy, underlined by the debates between figuration and abstraction and their political affiliations.

Among the questions considered in this seminar are : Why did these biennials begin ? Why were they conceived as inter-American ? And what role did they play in the cultural Cold War ? While considering these issues, I will focus on the hemispheric politics behind these biennials, and the way in which these reflect Mexico’s ambivalent position in the continental battles for cultural hegemony during the Cold War.