THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

21 August 2017

Soldaderas y Revolucionarias

The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we recently updated our blog image and twitter profile picture.  When we were asked by the Library's web team to provide a fresh image, we thought long and hard about what would suitably represent the pan-continental remit of the blog, the strengths of the collections, and make for a striking image.  We finally settled on this wonderful photograph by Mexican photographer Agustín Víctor Casasola titled 'Soldadera'.

 

Blog cropped soldadera l_f_31_b_696_p186
'Soldadera', in 'Mirada y Memoria: Archivo Fotográfico Casasola. México: 1900-1940', Shelfmark LF.31.b.696

Casasola's work is a striking record of a country undergoing the social, political, and cultural transformations of modernity in the first half of the twentieth century.  Taken circa 1915, in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, this portrait particularly stood out as encapsulating these historical markers while also touching on contemporary concerns.

 

Mitin Obrero
Mítin Obrero (worker's meeting), circa 1920

 

 

Accordingly, and given the Revolution's continental impact (which included direct foreign interference) and historic legacies, it was unanimously agreed that this selection touches on many of the historical shifts taking place aross the Americas at the turn of the century.  The photograph also flags the collections' strengths in the humanities and social sciences, which is reflected in the thematic political and social focus of the photobooks and artists' books in our holdings of which Mirada y Memoria is one.

Of course, the 'soldadera' is a popular figure who, while representative of the Mexican Revolution, was also a figure of defiance.  Women participated in the Revolution in various capacities and many soldaderas had prominent leadership positions, records show that many chose to take on a male persona.  While we do not know any more about this particular woman, what we can tell from the image is that she is likely indígena.  Further, from the stocky shoes, tailored trousers, and loosely buttoned shirt, to the slight man-spread, slight crook in the hanging arm that is all too ready to reach for that hip revolver, and her steady gaze and stern facial expression, Casasola's subject has claimed the external signifiers of masculinity for her own revolutionary purposes.  One is left wondering how content she was to be photographed with an earring, and jauntily tilted sombrero with prettifying political ribbons.   The book positions this image opposite a portrait of Venustiano Carranzo taken in 1914, who was later to become president. 

Venustiano
Venustiana Carranzo, 1914

The two figures couldn't make for a more marked contrast; yet they are also comparable in their assertion of a masculinised military identity.  Our soldadera thus presented a historical challenge but also addresses a contemporary audience with her defiant assertion of female indigenous agency.  It is a message that is also germane for our work as curators with oversight of a national collection.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig,

Curator North American Published Collections

 

For further reading on female revolutionaries in Mexican history in the Library's collections see:

Carballido, Elivira Hernández, Mujeres Independientes Mujeres Revolucionarias, shelfmark YF.2014.a.3139

Sanchez, Evelyne et al, Revolucionarias Fueron Todas, shelfmark YF.2016.a.11361

Poniatowska, Elena, Las Soldaderas, shelfmark YA.2003.a.22974

Valdés, José Yurrieta, ¿Una Revolucionaria Zapatisa? Chona, la Tequerra, shelfmark YF.2014.a.20977