AUSTIN, Texas — Although few know its name today, Amauta was one of the most influential magazines of the 20th century. Long before the internet made it possible to connect with cultures across the globe, Amauta — founded in Peru in 1926 and published until 1930 — gathered art, poetry, literature, and political thought from international collaborators including Jorge Luis Borges, André Breton, Sigmund Freud, George Grosz, Pablo Neruda, Diego Rivera, Xul Solar, Miguel de Unamuno, and dozens of other key cultural figures in Latin America, Europe, and the United States. The publication featured international avant-garde movements like Expressionism, Surrealism, and Muralism alongside new art forms inspired by Peru’s local indigenous communities, and promoted the work of local female artists and writers. Despite its brief four-year run — cut short by the untimely death of its founder, José Carlos Mariátegui, at age 35 — Amauta reached thousands of readers and left a lasting impression on Latin American cultural and political life.
Nearly 100 years after the publication of its first issue, Amauta has a global reach again. The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta: Argentina, Mexico, and Peru in the 1920s is the first international exhibition to commemorate Amauta’s innovative, experimental take on visual art. After stops in Madrid, Lima, and Mexico City, the exhibition is currently at the institution that organized it, the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. With over 300 objects from the magazine and its cultural milieu — including paintings, sculpture, poetry, traditional arts, publications, and ephemera from a variety of creators — it mimics Amauta’s wide array of perspectives and projects.
Amauta was born from its founder’s political exile. An ardent Socialist, journalist, and agitator for students’ and workers’ rights, Mariátegui ran afoul of Peruvian president Augusto Leguía’s government and fled to Europe in the early 1920s to escape jail time. Mariátegui had little involvement with art before the trip, and avoided the usual routes through Madrid and Paris. Instead, he spent time in Berlin — where he admired Dadaism, Cubism, and Constructivism — and moved in Futurist circles in northern Italy. At the 12th International Exhibition of Art in Venice, Mariátegui discovered Europe’s most radical modern art, from Vincent van Gogh to Alexander Archipenko. By the time he returned to Peru in 1923, Mariátegui had experienced a true range of European art avant-gardes and their attendant political commitments. “It is all but impossible to think of an artist from the 1920s who was not linked, even if only in passing, to some political cause,” writes exhibition curator Natalia Majluf. Art became the impulse behind Mariátegui’s new magazine project.
Even though Amauta provided a platform for international art, Mariátegui’s focus was largely local. The magazine promoted Indigenism, a movement that affirmed the rights and political demands of Latin America’s indigenous groups and recognized their cultures as vital and authentic alternatives to the Hispanicized, colonial narratives that had long defined the region. In his first editorial, Mariátegui professed his magazine’s “support for the Race” through an “homage to Incaísmo,” and he invited indigenous contributors and published texts in Quechua. Nods to Peru’s indigenous past and present permeated much of the magazine: its title is a Quechua word meaning “wise man and teacher,” most of its cover illustrations are of figures with indigenous features and dress, and its graphic design evokes the geometry of Incan artifacts and architecture.
The man responsible for Amauta’s experimental Indigenist aesthetic was the artist and graphic designer José Sabogal. His 1925 painting “Varayoc, Indian Mayor of Chinchero” inspired the magazine’s recurring cover image of an indigenous man wearing a wool chullo cap and Incan ear plugs. Sabogal drew from traditional Andean and popular arts, like engraved mate gourds, to illustrate the magazine’s pages, and favored rough-hewn, figurative woodcut prints, a medium allied with international Socialist causes of the time. Sabogal placed scenes depicting indigenous life on equal footing with the latest avant-garde artwork from around the world, making the magazine into a forum in which these materials mingled within Sabogal’s own daring, pared down title fonts and blocky layouts. Although Indigenist art was later dismissed by critics as being picturesque or even exploitative, Amauta was one of the first publications to advocate for a notion of cultural mestizaje.
Amauta gathered Latin America’s most promising artists and writers. Julia Codesio (1883–1984) began her career at Lima’s artistically conservative Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (National School of Fine Arts), but her close involvement with the magazine — she contributed artworks and assisted Sabogal with its graphic design — helped her become one of Peru’s most renowned Indigenist painters. The condensed spaces, rhythmic forms, and strong colors of her 1931 painting “Mercado indígena” (Indigenous Market) hint at the experimental directions her work would later take. Another highlight is Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida, who caught a cargo ship to Europe at age 19 and spent time in Paris with Picasso, Mondrian, and Modigliani. Like Mariátegui, he returned to Latin America, inspired by European art avant-gardes but firmly connected to his homeland. His lifesize portrait “Alcalde de Almolonga (Mayor of Almolonga)” (1919) is over a century old, but looks shockingly fresh; its flat, brilliant colors and thin outlines resemble batik textile more than an oil painting, and pay tribute to the artist’s Mayan roots.
The 1930s brought a turn toward political repression in Peru, and stark modernist geometry dominated art in the region. While exhibition curators Majluf and Beverly Adams speculate that Amauta couldn’t have survived the shift, they emphasize that Mariátegui’s “anti-imperialist stance speaks to our concerns regarding the rise of global capitalism, and his attempt to bring a local perspective to international debates is particularly important for current concerns with decolonization.” Mariátegui called his magazine “a movement, a spirit.” He died when his magazine — and its social reverberations — were in full flower. This exhibition allows us to reexamine the complex cultural context that Amauta arose from and helped shape.
The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta: Argentina, Mexico, and Peru in the 1920s continues at the Blanton Museum of Art (The University of Texas at Austin, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Austin, Texas) through May 17.