REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- The hard-hitting news magazine Proceso recently published a large-format special issue devoted to the tragedy of the drug war in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. For its cover image, Proceso chose a work from the golden era of Mexican modernist painting, a 1942 piece by Manuel Rodriguez Lozano called "Tragedy in the Desert."
The painting shows the backs of three hooded women who appear to be in mourning over the body of a female figure in a flat and desolate expanse of earth, blood emanating from her form. As a news image, the painting from more than half a century ago is meant to evoke the hopelessness felt by victims of Mexico's war, with its 40,000 dead.
"Tragedy in the Desert" is the first artwork seen by visitors to a sweeping exhibit on Rodriguez currently at the Museo Nacional de Arte in the historic center of Mexico City. It is an affecting and sad image, the colors muted, the perspective flattened in a recognizable Rodriguez motif (links in Spanish).
Rodriguez is in fact known for a work more popularly seen at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, alongside Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco.
"Mercy in the Desert," a version of which is seen above (Rodriguez painted two), also belongs to a period in which Rodriguez painted what is now considered his most powerful pieces: an arresting series of paintings that cover themes of tragedy, suicide, rapture, holocaust and sorrow. The figures that appear here are elongated and mutated, as if moving in slow motion, expressions of sadness and fear evident even in faces that are far away.
Like a recent Orozco show in Mexico City that felt relevant in light of the country's ongoing tragedy, the Rodriguez exhibit -- and in particular its final room, "The Silence and the Tragedy" -- feels like a mirror to the world around us.
If you're in Mexico's capital or plan to visit the city this weekend, carve out time for this show. It closes Sunday, Oct. 9.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Detail of 'Mercy in the Desert' by Manuel Rodriguez Lozano. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times