Francisco Zúñiga, originally from Guatemala, found in Mexico City the beating cultural heart of the region, 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 nineteenth- and twentieth-century 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” (Sheldon Reich, Francisco Zúñiga, Sculptor: Conversations and Interpretations
, Tucson, 1980, p. 14). 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.
In Juchiteca de pie, the influence of both Henry Moore's sleek, modern bodies and the angular, reverently gleaming forms of Olmec sculpture are evident. The soft, realistic details in her face however suggest that, characteristically of this period, Juchiteca de pie is sculpted from life; Zúñiga selected models not only for beauty but for their vitality. At once a naturalistic, emotive portrait and an icon of indigenous strength, this timeless figure gazes 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” (Francisco Zúñiga & Carlos Echeverría, Francisco Zúñiga, Mexico City, 1980, p. 25).