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The Artist Blessed by Diego Rivera's Spirit that Shows through her Paintings Tehuantepec History

This Tehuana artist has the steps of her father, a sculptor, and painter, which was close to Diego Rivera, one of the leading icons of Mexican Muralism.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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Julin Contreras is a Tehuana artist full of charisma and energy, characteristic features of Tehuantepec women. Contreras is 73 years old and was born in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. Her ability to paint comes from her father, a self-taught painter, and sculptor which life was filled by art becoming a talented designer and musician as well. She created the first logotype of Mexico's National Petroleum Company (Pemex).

Since she was little, her father would whitewash the walls of their home continuously so Contreras could draw on them as many times as she wanted. Despite the love of his father for painting, he owned, with his wife, a large inn with big windows and spacious rooms for visitors. What they never imagined was that one day Diego Rivera, one of the most important figures of Mexico, would stay at their place for a couple of months with his wife, Lupe Marín.

Back then, Tehuana's figure was trendy as well since they were mentioned in every tourist guide of the Oaxaca region. Rivera's visit was a blessing for the family. When Contreras's father was alive, he used to tell her with all the details what happened during the famous muralist visit.

Contreras recalls with a smile how Diego Rivera praised her father's painting with these warm words: "I've seen your draws, they are excellent, you are very creative. Don't ask for advice and keep doing your work. I can tell that you are very good at it".

Also read: Eufrosina Cruz: The Indigenous Activist that Fights for Mexican Women Rights

Contreras' father had a great friendship with Diego Rivera during his travel to paint Tehuana women; he even showed him the place and took him to the mountains. In the same room that Diego Rivera stayed for an amount of time, Contreras was born.

Her father told her "you will inherit the spirit that the master left here," and he was right, Contreras became an incredible artist with a lot of passion for always showing an exotic scene through her draws.

"People defined my art as Costumbrist, but I do not agree. My father taught me that it couldn't be Costumbrist what is made with judgment. Through my draws, I always show the reality of Tehuantepec as the education problems and dysfunctional families" claims the artist.

Her paintings not only emphasize the beauty of Tehuana women and their beautiful and colorful dresses, but she also shows the bitter side of Tehuantepec. Since a young age, Contreras felt interested in culture and justice. She even gave art lessons at The Culture House Foundation of Tehuantepec and taught kids how to draw. 

Contreras also joined a big group of her region called Artistic Cultural Movement of Tehuantepec in which they promote the disciplines of art and to protest against the wrong people that were part of different Addresses of Culture. According to the Tehuana, the group achieved everything they wanted it, including taking Oaxaca's theater to Argentine with the play La Llorona (The Weeping Woman). "I was the one in charge of opening all the doors for Marco Pérez, Director and Creator of this play "adds Contreras.

When asked about her favorite painting, she affirms that it is not easy to choose one. Still, she remembers a picture made in a class with the teacher Fernando Robles, a renowned Mexican artist from Sonora. During those times, Contreras illustrated a historical moment of her roots, the heartbreaking scene in the one in which the Spanish beat the Tehuana women for not delivering the order of waistcloth. This painting's name is "The rebellion of Tehuantepec of 1960".

With her art, Contreras wants to describe the way her people live. With sadness, she points out that happiness has been interrupted in the region because of COVID-19. Tehuantepec is well known for its celebrations and festive mood. Nevertheless, this has not been possible because of the quarantine. But, this is not a problem for Tehuanas women because they are “very resilient since we have been through many difficulties along with history, including many earthquakes because this is a seismic area," says Contreras.

This artist had four children. As Tehuana women are well known for being hardworking and also having an economic role in their homes, Contreras used to feed her kids with one hand while with the other she kept painting. It was difficult, but she did it.

"I keep painting and promoting Tehuanas clothes for keeping alive the importance of textile," she clarifies.

Every time she paints something is because, in her own words, "is already sold." Contreras has made many expositions in Mexico and Spain. One of her works is exhibited at the Pascal Foundation of Mexico, one of the most important places of the country for painters with the most memorable collections from national artists.

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