Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jesús De La Helguera is not my favorite artist, to say the least.

For the last day of our Northern Mesoamerican Art class (that's ancient Mexico, if you didn't know) on Tuesday, we looked at some modern Mexican depictions of the Aztecs. The most popular at the artists whose work we looked at was Jesús De La Helguera. As we viewed some of his paintings (shown below), the girl behind me whispered, "ooh, I like these! These are nice." I was disgusted at the objectification of women in these images and at the fact that members of my own sex were so used to seeing women in this light that they had been desensitized to it.

Jesús De La Helguera, "Legend of the Volcano"

Jesús De La Helguera, "Flor de Luna" In my opinion, the very worst one!

Jesús De La Helguera, "La Malinche"

Jesús De La Helguera, "El Flechador"

Jesús De La Helguera, "Grandeza Azteca"

And almost all of his paintings depict women in this way - helpless, flimsy, overly sexual creatures whose only purpose is to please the super-buff men they are attached to. This is not what women are; this is not what God made us to me.

Then the Professor showed us a Minerva Teichert painting similar to the one below:

Minerva Teichert, "Christ Blessing The Children At The Bountiful"

...and the girl behind me groaned in disgust. "Ugh, I hate Minerva Teichert!"

Some consider Minerva Teichert to be over-hyped, but I love her depictions of noble, virtuous, Godly women.

Minerva Teichert, "Esther."A copy of this hangs in the women'sdressing room at the San Diego Temple.
Minerva Teichert, "Mary and Martha"

These are the women I look up to - not the fantasized women Jesús De La Helguera paints.

Another reason why I don't like Helguera's art is because of his unrealistic body types. My first impression on seeing his paintings was, "Am I supposed to be that thin? Wow, I feel so fat!" On closer observation, I realized that his female figures are unnaturally, unhealthily skinny.Why is our culture so obsessed with equating beauty and thinness with worth?

Women, your worth is not based on your appearance. You have worth merely because you are a daughter of God. You have power and influence for good not by being a sex symbol, but by following Jesus Christ and using your gifts to bless those around you. You are so much more than a pretty face. 

I believe that actions speak louder than words - and images. My hope is that as we live virtuous lives, we can show people that true beauty comes from having character, and the true messages of the Gospel can drown out the false messages of a visual culture that objectifies women.

"True beauty can’t be painted on but is a gift of the Spirit. It is literally letting your light shine before men. When virtue is combined with obedience to the Lord’s laws of health and respect for the human body, young people truly become temples in which the Holy Ghost dwells, giving them a beautiful aura. It is this beauty that is most becoming and enduring." 
-Lynn G. Robbins, "True Beauty"


  1. you should apply to be a guest blog writer for the women's services and resources blog this summer! they're looking for one and this type of thing is exactly the kind of thing they are looking for. I love that you think about these things and that you took the time to write a post about it!

  2. i LOVE minerva teichert especially one she did of a depiction of Christ superimposed over both hemispheres of the globe symbolizing his connect to both the old and new worlds. (go to the manti temple and get a good long look at the "world" room that she painted there. crazy cool!)

  3. Hey Tasha,

    I understand how one could be offended by women being portrayed in this way, but when it comes to art it's completely different. I'm speaking from an artist's perspective because your reaction to this art is similar to a reaction someone had to my art.
    I do illustrations of women that are extremely thin, this doesn't mean that I think anybody should be this thin, in fact, that would be awful! One time this girl looked at my art and said, "Oh my god, all of your women you draw are SO skinny, that's sending a bad message!" This hurt my feelings until I realized that I'm not trying to send a realistic body image.
    What I'm trying to say is that, this type of art is very stylized, it's not really meant to be super realistic, it's just the style. These pieces of art all have stories that go with them, and this is just the artist's style. But I completely agree with you that women should not be depicted as overly thin, or overly sexualized, but I only think that for reality. Like in magazines, and movies and stuff like that.
    Anyway, not trying to be harsh, but being an artist, and art lover, I feel like I have to defend other artists if their depictions of people who are not "realistic"


  4. Caitlin,

    I totally understand what you are saying. You're right, and I'm glad you brought those points up. However, it seems that Helguera is definitely going for a realistic style, not a stylized one. His goal probably wasn't to demean women through his artwork.

    I think the scariest thing is that we are so accustomed to seeing sexualized depictions of women that we don't recognize it anymore. We forget that there is a different way to be.

    Thank you for reading and for adding to the discussion!

  5. I agree with you, Tasha. Women are sexual props for the paintings, not real humans with agency or depth or anything.
    I'm almost more worried if he wasn't trying to demean women through his art, just because, like you said, that means there's an unconscious acceptance of it. That's scary.
    Lovely post

  6. Oh wow I really like these paintings! The symbols and colors are well represented with comic imagery, yessss. I wouldn't worry too much about the women, the aztec food was pretty healthy back then, they are well depicted for the era, curves in all! They would probably love to make friends with you if you came accross them in the past! Wow i love thinking about meeting people from the past, dont you? I can just tell they would have so much to say about how they made their clothing and painted their own artwork and cool food! Such a rich culture to portray. I am so jeaulous of this artist for doing it first.

    It seems like you are interested in art history! Good for you! We need more people to learn about culture and spread their knowledge everywhere. Make sure you research everything, dont leave anything out,and learn about all religions on your own time, since most of art history is about religion of the culture, and might miss out on sybols. Research everything even if its not your cup of tea, that way you can be the best art historian ever, and show people truth! Remember objectivity is better than judgement ;)

    Love Fashion Forestry <3

  7. Ps I forgot to say, shes limp in the last picture because she is dead :( RIP (rest in Peace) the story is pretty darn cool, I highly recommend it for art historian to do list!

  8. Fashion Forestry,

    In the Mesoamerican Art class I took this semester, we learned about the beautiful culture of Ancient Mexico. Jesús De La Helguera's paintings are his idealized depiction of that culture, and I do not think they do it justice. Aztec women, and all women really, are capable of so much more than being looked at, but Helguera does not seem to agree. I would like to see more published that celebrates what their culture and their women were really like. The truth is so much more inspiring than any idealization.

  9. First of all, I want to say that I agree with you. Women must not be made to look like Holguera depicts them.
    However, I find this an excellent moment to point out an interesting fact about Mexican culture that Octavio Paz has already talked about in his most famous book (and, being a Mexican woman myself, that I agree on):
    In Mexican history and culture, women aren't people (even today there are still millions of machos around. And I mean MILLIONS). Women are icons: we are here to look pretty and 'be idolized' (for example mothers and the Virgin), but we are never to do any actual thing to help ourselves.
    I believe Jesus Holguera's paintings have depicted this in an incredibly clear manner. In his paintings, all women are 'beautiful', but none present any personality or characteristics other than the ones every man desires (coquetry, religiousness, sexiness, happiness, al).

    However, they also present Mexican men in a very idealized way. I mean, I have never seen a Mexican man like the ones he paints. The men there are...well, just too muscular (to the point where their bodies just look plain weird after staring at it for a while). They look like powerful protectors of women that are/were deeply in love.

    Personally, I like his paintings. I think they are incredibly fantastical and pretty funny hahaha. He has a couple that I actually like (in a serious manner). But I think, in my very limited knowledge on Mexican art, I prefer Sylvia Ji.