My book project, Politics in a House of Mirrors: Art, Nationalism, and Representation in Contemporary Mexico, offers an account of the ways in which Mexico’s transition to formal electoral democracy and its implementation of market-oriented reforms transformed the country’s cultural policies and institutions, as well as the political content of its works of art. These changes, in turn, have profoundly shaped Mexico’s national narratives, forms of civic participation, and the nature of political critique. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research, archival research, and visual art analysis – including participant-observation in a wide range of cultural institutions and state offices and over a hundred in-depth interviews with members of the art world, policymakers, philanthropists, and bureaucrats – I demonstrate how the creative class negotiates a novel political environment marked by tensions between autocratic institutional legacies, emergent market logics, and a newly-liberalized public sphere. This work chronicles a shift from state-sponsored, overtly nationalist art to anti-statist, market-oriented art in the 2000s. I demonstrate how these changes have affected Mexican politics, ranging from how the state commemorates its history and organizes taxation, to how museums and monuments become sites for cultural resistance, through to how feminist activists contest gender-based violence. Art, I argue, is a privileged site from which to examine the consequences of political-economic liberalization, given that it evidences the tensions between political critique, freedom of expression, and collective action.
This work makes three major theoretical contributions. First, it expands the scholarship on democratic transitions and economic liberalization by showing the reasons why and the mechanisms through which these processes shape national imaginaries, cultural policies, and civic participation. Second, building on the literature on political representation, I argue that, despite not being voted into power or participating in traditional political forums, artists and other members of the artistic field should be taken seriously as political representatives. It is through their work that discussions about pressing political matters occur, shaping collective memory and helping to structure people’s political allegiances and identities. This work can include making, displaying, and preserving art, as well as choosing what counts as art and whom it represents. Third, I make a methodological point by stressing the need to go beyond analyzing simply the content of art and other forms of political expression Instead, I demonstrate the need to examine art’s conditions of production, circulation, and reception in order to understand how its political messages achieve (or fail to achieve) political ends.
This research has been supported by grants and fellowships including a Residential Fellowship at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California-San Diego, a Harper/Visiting Committee Write-Up Award from the University of Chicago, a Fulbright-García Robles Scholarship for Doctoral Studies, a Dissertation Research Award from the Division of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, a Field Research Grant from the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago, and scholarships from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT) and Mexico’s Department of Education (SEP).
Articles in peer reviewed journals
Islas Weinstein, Tania. “Expuestas: Laborious Expectations and the Plight of Feminist Art in Contemporary Mexico.” Accepted for publication in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.
Islas Weinstein, Tania. “A Eulogy for the Coloso: The politics of commemoration in Calderón’s Mexico.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies. 4(2): 479-499.
Islas Weinstein, Tania. “La Censura Figurativa.” Istor. 35: 67-90.
Islas Weinstein, Tania. (with Mariana Castillo Deball and Alberto Ortega). Sun Ra. En algún lado y en ninguno. Poemas. Bom Dia Books/ArtsLibris.
Islas Weinstein, Tania. “Cecilia Vicuña, la palabradora.” Campo de Relámpagos.
Islas Weinstein, Tania and Dutkiewicz, Jan. “Herman Nitsch en México: La polémica que pudo ser.” Horizontal.