After Outcry From Activists, Artist Pedro Reyes Will No Longer Design a Monument to Indigenous Women in Mexico City

Artists and activists argued that a male sculptor should not have the authority to depict Indigenous women. 

View of an empty pedestal after the statue of Italian navigator Christopher Columbus was removed at Reforma Avenue, in Mexico City on October 11, 2020. Photo: Alfredo Esrella/AFP via Getty Images.

Just over a week ago, Mexico City announced that artist Pedro Reyes would design a major monument to Indigenous women on a prominent boulevard in the capitol, permanently displacing a controversial statue of Christopher Columbus. 

But that’s not the case anymore. This week, after outcry from artists and activists who argued that a male sculptor should not have the authority to depict or memorialize indigenous women, Reyes was pulled from the project.

Now, as Mexico City’s head of government, Claudia Sheinbaum, explained in a press conference, the decision over who will design the public artwork on Paseo de la Reforma will be left in the hands of the city’s committee for monuments and artistic works in public spaces. The newly established group, which comprises scholars, museum leaders, and members of both the local and federal government, will likely make its decision in “the next few days or weeks,” Sheinbaum said.

At the event, Sheinbaum was handed a petition for the “decolonization of the Paseo de la Reforma,” signed by 5,000 indigenous women. She thanked Reyes for his work and suggested that his design, which depicts the bust of a woman from the Olmec civilization, might be placed elsewhere in the city.

The artist did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this week, a group of six women artists—Irmgard Emmelhainz, Mónica Mayer, María Minera, Abeyamí Ortega, Alejandra Gorráez Puga, Laureana Toledo, and Lorena Wolffer—penned an open letter to Sheinbaum demanding that the commission of the monument be withdrawn from Reyes.

​​“We applaud that this space of great visibility will be occupied by a monument for women, and Indigenous women in particular,” read the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Artnet News. “However, we find it inadmissible that Pedro Reyes, a male artist who does not identify as Indigenous, was selected to represent ‘the Indigenous woman’: a generalization that negates the particularities and diversity of the women who self-identify as members of Native nations and peoples, and places their image in the hands of a white-mestizo man.”

The letter has since been signed by nearly 400 others, including artists Julieta Aranda, Amalia Pica, and Héctor Zamora.

“We plan on being very vigilant of the entire process and will continue to insist that there be a full participation of native women, whether or not the final outcome is a monument,” said Wolffer, one of the letter’s authors, in an email to Artnet News.

Another artist behind the letter, Emmelhainz, added, “We remain attentive and insist on full participation of originary populations in the decision pertaining to the future monument, especially women.” 

“We will support whatever they decide,” she went on, “and if they reach out to us we are willing to help. But our task now is to get out of their way. We will be looking out that the monuments committee includes or takes seriously the women it seeks to represent.”

Meanwhile, another petition related to the monument, this one in favor of returning the nearly 150-year-old bronze Christopher Columbus statue to Paseo de la Reforma, has gained steam online. 

“We Mexicans and particularly the inhabitants of the capital of the country feel outraged and affected by the withdrawal of our historical heritage,” reads the petition, calling it a “decision of a populist nature.” Since launching last weekend, the document has amassed over 10,000 signatures. 

The statue, erected by French sculptor Charles Cordier in 1877, was removed from Paseo de la Reforma for cleaning last October. It has not been on view since.

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