Henrique Faria Fine Art is pleased to present Hindsight, the first exhibition of the Mexican artist Humberto Márquez (1925-2013) in the gallery, as well as his first exhibition outside of his home country. This exhibition is organized around the artist’s production from 1964 to 1971, which were tumultuous years in Mexico and had a significant impact on the artist’s creative preoccupations and efforts. As Daniel Garza-Usabiaga writes in the exhibition text, after serving in, and then deserting, the Mexican Air Force, “Márquez came to find in art a vehicle for challenging and problematizing the authoritarian tendencies” he experienced during his tenure there. The artist had previously experimented with the then current trends of the 50s and 60s, such as Visual Poetry, as demonstrated in the Fuck series (1957), as well as Pop art, as seen in his work “Canadá Márquez, 1964 – a replica of a shoebox for the Mexican brand, CANADÁ, made the same year that Andy Warhol presented his Brillo Box (Soap Pads)”. But when social tensions in Mexico came to a head in 1968, culminating in the fatal suppression of a student protest on October 2, 1968, he came to find in his practice a means to more clearly voice his political opinions and responses to current events.
The 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City was the first Olympics to be held in Latin America. It was a major public relations event for the Mexican government, but one that also gave rise to a powerful student movement that protested the exorbitant sums paid to construct the Olympic facilities while it called for reforms that would reduce inequality, promote democratic ideals and broaden civil liberties. The months leading up to the Tlatelolco Massacre and October Games were both rife with protests and publicity campaigns to promote Mexico as a worthy host country and attempt to gloss over the civil unrest. The popularity and visibility of Lance Wyman’s graphic design and logos, that were made for the Games and installed throughout Mexico City, allowed them to be easily coopted by student protestors. Márquez, who according to Garza-Usabiaga, had first been attracted to Mail Art because “he aspired to an internationalism that fractured the cult of nationalism and the idea of patriotism”, appropriated the Mexico 68 logo to make a series of artist stamps that replaced the athletes and other symbols related to the Games with the silhouettes of protestors, soldiers and the implements of warfare and state violence. The series Balance and Contrast (1968) also serves to illustrate the social dissonance occurring during that time, by juxtaposing blurred images of moments from the Games (the first to be broadcast in full color) with black and white police records that documented the violent confrontations at protests. The canvases are shaped like the television screens of the then current models, which in the 1960s became a more commonplace household appliance, and the muddled images challenge the colorful, propagandistic reality disseminated to the masses while portraying more clearly the clandestine activities of the State-led responses to protests. The photographs Configuraciones corporales (Body Configurations) and the video El 2 de octubre no se borra (October 2nd Will Not Be Erased) show Márquez in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, the site of the massacre. In the photographs the artist uses his body to confront the shape of the tragedy with the architectural design of the square, while in the video he takes on the role of a sanitation worker using a mop to clean the square, but he symbolically cleans the blood spilt in the previous massacre using a Mexican flag instead.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Márquez turned his focus from the events that had roiled Mexico towards a broader reflection on the current state of affairs in Latin America. With the spate of US military interventions in the region, in defense of the Monroe and Truman Doctrines that maintained US dominance over Europe in the Western Hemisphere and fought the spread of Communism, he became interested in the portrayals of this dominance in everyday life. Like Cildo Meireles, Márquez also took opposition to the Coca-Cola brand as a form of US cultural and comestible hegemony. Sincretismo de la resistencia (Syncretism of Resistance, 1968) at first glance appears as stacked wooden crates of Coca-Cola bottles, however upon closer inspection one finds that the “bottles” are made of Oaxacan black clay and the wooden crates are dyed with cochineal, a pigment sourced from the scale insect and cultivated for centuries by the peoples of Ancient Mesoamerica. Márquez’s boldest statement against cultural domination took form in the lithograph América para los latinoamericanos (America for the Latin Americans, 1971), which presents this declaration in bold white letters against a scarlet background, the same color scheme as Coca-Cola.
With Hindsight, we have the opportunity to see Márquez’s historical works from the vantage of the present day and with a fuller knowledge of the geopolitical events that transpired during that tumultuous time. While as contemporary viewers we may have the advantage of retrospection, these works remain as bitingly relevant as they reflect our current realities back to us from the mirror of time.