- Michele Greet
Pan-Latin American intellectual trend that denounced the political and economic exploitation of Native American populations. While directed at Native Americans, indigenism was the brainchild of the urban mestizo and creole elite, who expressed their indignation at the plight of the indigenous masses through literary, artistic, and social projects. While many artists embraced indigenist ideologies, indigenism was most often a label employed by critics rather than a term artists used to refer to themselves. Perceived as an innovative move toward cultural autonomy in the 1920s and 1930s, indigenism became an official discourse of the state in the 1940s, thereby saturating the artistic environment and inspiring a backlash against the trend.
Indigenism was central to constructing a unified national identity in countries with a large Native American population (primarily Mexico and Andean nations) in the early years of the 20th century. Intellectuals asserted that Native Americans, or at the very least Native American heritage, formed a vital part of the nation and that a coherent identity could not exist without incorporating these peoples into national culture. They began to reject the positivist theories of indigenous racial inferiority that had prevailed in the 19th century, maintaining that the roots of Native Americans’ problems were economic and ethical rather than biological. The Mexican Revolution’s emphasis on the reallocation of ancestral lands and the promotion of a nativist ideology served as a model for dealing with the issues facing indigenous communities in the Andes. “This unprecedented interest in indigenous peoples and culture prompted calls for political, legislative and education reform from Mexico to the Andes, which established the context for literary and artistic projects on indigenous subjects” (Greet ...