The pedestal where a towering bronze of Columbus once stood in the capital city's Paseo de la Reforma. (via Wikimedia Commons)

In the wake of mounting criticism from the nation’s Indigenous community, Mexico City’s government has backtracked on its commission of contemporary artist Pedro Reyes to replace a Christopher Columbus monument recently removed from the city’s main thoroughfare. This week, nearly 400 Mexican artists, writers, and curators signed an open letter opposing the selection of Reyes, “a male artist who does not identify as Indigenous,” to create a sculpture of an Indigenous woman.

On September 5, Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced that a bust of an Olmec woman by Reyes, titled “Tlalli,” would be erected on a roundabout along Paseo de la Reforma, where the towering bronze of Columbus once stood. The colonizer’s likeness was taken down by local officials last October in advance of Día de la Raza, the day when Columbus arrived to the Americas in 1492. 

But many protested that the government’s appointment of Reyes was a unilateral decision and excluded other artists from lending their vision to the prestigious commission, especially women of Indigenous descent. The Movimiento Indígena de la Ciudad de México published a letter to Sheinbaum “with respect to the monument to be placed on the pedestal that has symbolized colonialism, ferocious and murderous, that for 500 years has exploited our Native people.” The group called for the project to involve Indigenous artists and incorporate their proposals.

Yesterday, Sheinbaum said a committee formed by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Culture Ministry would instead be in charge of assigning an artist.

“We’ve decided to put this decision in the hands of the Committee of Monuments and Artworks in Public Spaces in Mexico City, which is made up by institutions of the City and the Mexican Government, like INAH, as well as historians and residents,” she said in a press statement.

Sheinbaum went on to thank Reyes for having accepted and prioritized the commission and said it was “very likely” that his work would be exhibited publicly in the city.

“With consideration to the concerns that have arisen about the selection process for the new monument at Paseo de la Reforma, I would like to acknowledge my support for the Mayor’s decision to refer my project to the Committee for Monuments and Artwork in Public Spaces (COMAEP),” Reyes told Hyperallergic.

“I celebrate the call for new proposals and the implementation of a process that leads to the possible best choice,” he added.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

Editor’s note 9/15/2021 3:28 EST: This article has been updated to include a comment from Pedro Reyes.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...