By Lynda Klich, author of The Noisemakers: Estridentismo, Vanguardism, and Social Action in Postrevolutionary Mexico
I still remember the feeling I had when in 1997, in Mexico City researching for the first time, I saw the Estridentista poet Germán List Arzubide walk through the door for an interview he had granted me. My reaction was visceral. As he patiently answered all of my questions, it was as if all of the episodes, anecdotes, poems, and 1920s art criticism that I had been poring over jumped off the page, into real life.
While exciting, it was also at this moment that the enormous responsibility of the historian dawned on me. Speaking seventy years after Estridentismo ended, List Arzubide (who died the following year at the age of one hundred) not only still recalled countless details about his Estridentista days, but also fervently emphasized the urge for social change and purposeful camaraderie that drove the movement. Interviews with the family members of other Estridentistas reinforced the sense of mission that Estridentismo held for these young intellectuals. I realized then that writing history is no abstraction.
As I developed my specialty in modern Mexican art and became an educator, I have constantly considered the relevance of my work to today’s college students. At Hunter College, part of a large urban, public university, where many students strive to make ends meet, and at a time when art history and the humanities are derided and lose already scarce funding, the study of art could perhaps seem like a luxury. Hunter’s inquisitive students have, however, passionately embraced the changing canon signaled by the growth of relatively new fields like mine.
The heightened fears of immigrants and the heartbreaking treatment of Mexicans and Central Americans at the border have brought for me an increased urgency to art history. The field demands openness to difference, willingness to see through the eyes of others, and consideration of what it means to create from varied class, race, and gender positions. I hope The Noisemakers contributes to an understanding of Mexican culture as rich, varied, modern, and relevant. The small woodcuts created on scraps of paper and the books and magazines printed inexpensively that are at the core of my book represent the zeal of revolution and the conviction that culture mattered, that artists could transform society. I similarly think of the practice of art history as activist, and believe strongly that exposure to other cultures opens minds and leads to acceptance.