Learning About Estridentismo Mexicano, the Mexican Stridentism

Art History

November 17, 2020

The development of Modern art on the periphery is most often overshadowed by the events that took place in the "mainstream world", namely Europe. Although inspired by Cubism, Futurism, or Constructivism, artists coming from different environments actually developed equally progressive movements that are most often truly autonomous, but, unfortunately, much less known.

Such is the case with Estridentismo Mexicano, or the Mexican Stridentism in English, a movement born in Mexico around the 1920s. Although it coincided with the Muralist movement that was gradually embraced by the state as an official art practice, Stridentism was far more avant-garde and it developed unique visual vocabulary.

Estridentismo was founded by the poet Manuel Maples Arce in 1921 in Mexico City, while artists such as Germán List Arzubide, Arqueles Vela, Germán Cueto, Fermín Revueltas, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Luis Quintanilla del Valle, and Leopoldo Méndez operated at the core of it. Other poets, playwrights, musicians, and photographers also contributed to the movement from time to time.

Interested in urban modernization, rapid technological innovations, factories, workers' demonstrations, as well as cinema and cabaret, the Stridentists proposed a socio-politically engaged art practice driven by the ideas of the Mexican Revolution.

Editors’ Tip: The Noisemakers: Estridentismo, Vanguardism, and Social Action in Postrevolutionary Mexico

The Noisemakers examines Estridentismo, one of Mexico’s first modern art and literary movements. Founded by poet Manuel Maples Arce, Estridentismo spurred dynamic collaborations and debates among artists, writers, and intellectuals during the decade following the Mexican Revolution. Lynda Klich explores the paradoxical aims of the movement’s writers and artists, who deployed manifestos, journals, and Cubo-Futurist forms to insert themselves into international vanguard networks as they simultaneously participated in the nationalist reconstruction of the 1920s. In crafting a cosmopolitan Mexican identity, Estridentista artists both circulated images of modern technologies and urban life and updated such traditional subjects as masks and Mexican types.

The Stridentism Manifesto

Similarly to Futurism, Stridentism also initially appeared with the manifesto called Actual numero 1 written by Manuel Maples Arce. The leading proposition was basically a call for Mexican artists and intellectuals to establish a new form of artistic society to transform the world. The poet delegated his Avant-Garde manifesto on walls across the city; it was a poster similar to an advertisement, featuring a picture of Arce dressed in nobleman attire, and fourteen strident propositions.

The first issue was quite scandalous since it mocked the patriarchs of national literature; the second publication included the poems by Pedro Echeverría; while the third was considered by the critics as the most serious one as it expressed avant-garde homogeneity.

This was followed by the publication of the first avant-garde book written and published in Mexico by Manuel Maples Arce called Andamios interiores, an important work that proposed a new form of avant-garde language that was never before seen in the national context. By the end of 1922, Stridentism operated as a proper movement that was not only interested in aesthetic theory but also relevant social and political issues. The second Stridentist Manifesto was published in 1923 in the city of Puebla

Cover of Actual Numero 1, Estridentismo Manifest by Manuel Maples Arce. Image via alexandralunn.com

Further Development

A few months later in 1923, the first Estridentista exhibition was opened at El Café de Nadie, which gradually became a site where the Stridentists used to gather. On the opening night, numerous poets read their poetry, while the paintings by Leopoldo Méndez, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Jean Charlot, and others were shown along with the masks by Germán Cueto and Guillermo Ruiz’s Cubist sculptures.

The leading proponents of the movement moved to Xalapa in 1925 where they released an incredible production (exhibitions, cultural events, and the creation of the Horizonte magazine) while participating in the founding of the Veracruzana University. They were supported by Heriberto Jara, the governor of Veracruz, until he was dismissed by the federal government for standing against the American and British oil companies which violated the rights of the local workers.

The movement lost their protector, and so they dissolved in 1927, although the same year Maples Arce met John Dos Passos who translated his poetry book Urbe to English and published it in New York in 1929. This feature is considered to be extremely influential for the further development of Mexican literature and the first Mexican book of poetry translated into English.

Leopoldo Méndez, covers of Horizonte Magazine. Image via swanngalleries.com

The Historical Significance of Stridentism

Alongside their engagement with the society, the Stridentists enforced the Mexican popular and mass culture throughout the 1920s, as their eclectic approach enabled them to conduct a fruitful symbiosis between all the avant-garde trends. Together with the following group called Los Contemporáneos or The Contemporaries, they encapsulated the post-revolutionary vigor especially in the context of cultural renewal in both visual arts and literature.

Ever since the 1920s an enormous number of artists, groups, and movements felt empowered by Estridentismo, especially the generation of writers and poets who emerged in the 1930s and approached their work in an experimental and rather political fashion. Although grounded in literature, Stridentism attracted a great number of visual artists, photographers, and even architects (a good example is the house of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo built by Juan O’Gorman in 1928 that is considered to be inspired by Le Corbusier and Stridentism).

For more than fifty years, the activity of Stridentismo was neglected just like many other avant-garde movements in Latin America, and the full understanding of their legacy is not possible due to a myriad of inconsistencies. Nevertheless, the Stridentist movement was a major force behind the Mexican modernization - it stood for authenticity, solidarity, experimentation, and provocation.

Featured image: Ramón Alva de la Canal - El Cafe de Nadie. Image via Google Arts & Culture.