Francisco Zúñiga found upon his arrival in Mexico City the beating cultural heart of the country, an epicenter of modern life built on top of the greatest ancient city in North America, the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. Although he admired and studied the technical achievements of modern masters, particularly Rodin and Moore, in his mature production he pivoted away from the dominant influence of the Western sculptural canon, looking instead to pre-Columbian sculpture for inspiration. He described his entrancing experiences upon arriving in Mexico in a letter to a friend: “I spent most of my days in the Museum of History and Archaeology; I went to the museum every day to study and draw. I was enraptured by the works in stone, with something akin to fear and enchantment, and I began to study them one by one …In those days, I could touch the works, differentiating every texture. Today, you cannot do this. I studied every porous stone, the highly polished textures, their forms; they had the coldness of steel.” (2) This formative, mystical experience awakened Zúñiga’s desire to connect to the past through careful observation of nature, to seek timeless beauty in the eternal medium of bronze. He would go on to monumentalize not the lithe athletes of classical antiquity, but the strength of Mexico’s indigenous women.
Madre e hija sentada, standing at the imposing height of nearly 1 ½ meters, is an iconic example of Zúñiga’s mature sculpture. The two figures rest with their backs to one another, their weary expressions belying the strength in their postures; their massive cloaked forms rise from the ground almost like the twin volcanoes of the valley of Mexico, primordial and mysterious. The realism in their faces suggests that, characteristically of this period, they are sculpted from life; Zúñiga selected his models not only for beauty but for their vitality. At once naturalistic, emotive portraits and icons of indigenous strength, these timeless feminine figures remain firmly rooted to the earth as they gaze stoically ahead to the future. Zúñiga monumentalizes “hieratical… mestiza women – beings whose nation has lived and continues to live between greatness and misery, between hope and despair, people who…believe in… the breath of life that animates them and in the elementary realities of human existence: children, bread, the sun that touches the skin...” (3)
1: Francisco Zúñiga and Carlos Echeverría, Francisco Zúñiga, Mexico City, 1980, p. 83
2: Sheldon Reich, Francisco Zúñiga, Sculptor: Conversations and Interpretations, Tuscon, 1980, p. 14
3: Francisco Zúñiga and Carlos Echeverría, Francisco Zúñiga, Mexico City, 1980, p. 25
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