Mexico as a Crossroads: Mexican Artistic Influence on Elizabeth Catlett and her Contemporaries
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There are many lenses through which to explore the identities of Elizabeth Catlett; she was an African American, a citizen of both the United States and Mexico, the wife of a Mexican, the mother of three mixed-race sons, an artist, an educator, an activist. This thesis uses Catlett’s story—especially her writings, speeches, and artworks—to explore her place in a larger dialogue about race, identity, and aesthetics in both the U.S. and Mexico. Catlett’s transnational status and her hybrid, fluid identities challenge us to rethink the norms and narratives of gender, geography, and nationality of artistic modernism. Her life and art demonstrate how important the geography and culture of Mexico has been for American modernism both in and outside of the U.S. Indeed, I argue that Mexico is a key crossroads of art in the twentieth century, with Catlett as a case study, but one that situates her within the many contexts that she navigates—from race and the Civil Rights Movement, to Cold War politics, censorship and exile, to the gendered expectations of being a woman artist at the time. Her art was challenging and poignant in its day, but also remains sharp and relevant today with our continued racial and political strife unfolding on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.