Artistic and Political Strategies in the Mexican Pavilion, US Centennial Exposition (1876)

  • Dafne Cruz Porchini (Autor/in)

Identifier (Artikel)


The role of international exhibitions in promoting ideas of national identity has often been discussed in art history and visual culture historiography. In the second half of the 19th century, there was a frenzied idea of nationhood, where countries from Latin America put emphasis on sustaining the individual character of their region stressing its history and traditions. From a transcultural perspective, this essay will explore a case in point by focusing on the artistic and political strategies which characterized the Mexican Pavilion at the American Centennial Exposition in 1876. It will explore its relative “peripheral’ constitution (Filipová 2015, 4) with specific cultural agendas. The “periphery” in this context applies to both, Mexico’s political self-understanding vis-à-vis the hosting United Nations of America as well as how its pavilion spatially and symbolically figured in the larger display of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The “periphery” is thus not only associated with marginality, but explored as a pivotal spatial category in which cultural and ethnic tensions interrelate and further productively entangle. Consequently, I will examine the microhistory of the exhibition in relation with local and global circumstances. According to Mary Louise Pratt, transculturation is used to describe how subordinated  or  marginal  groups  “select  and  invent  from  material  transmitted  to  them  by  a  dominant or metropolitan culture” (Pratt 1991, 36). In fact, transcultural processes characterize the “contact zone” as well as the “colonial frontier” and inform particular modes of representation. Methodologically, a focus on “transcultural contact” thus emphasizes how subjects get constituted in and by their relations to each other. It treats the relations among colonizers and colonized, or travelers not in terms of difference, but in terms of co-presence, interaction, interlocking understandings and practices, while also accounting for often radically asymmetrical power relations. Pratt pointed out: “I refer to the space of imperial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict” (Pratt 1991, 36, 37). In this essay, I will highlight the influence of the Mexican exhibit in Philadelphia in 1876, which capitalized ideas of exoticism and utopian visions, in addition to the display of natural resources and the inclusion of art as an important element of the country’s international image. It will explain the Mexican participation from “colonized subjects” in the way they represented the idea of a modern nation and how it was used to depict and embody the transference of culture conceived from within the interests of the metropolis and dominant culture.


Centennial Exposition, Weltausstellungen, nationale Pavillons, Lateinamerikanische Kunst, kulturelle Identitäten