NAHUI OLIN: One of the First Liberated Woman of Mexico
by Mark Plimsoll
Interview with Remi Fasolasi and His Sister, Hermoine
As Nahui reaches her home she notices a young couple that
stand in front of her door, ringing the bell and intensely discussing . As she
approaches, they obviously recognize her from a distance, from the strange way
she dresses from the 1920's with the huge fluorescent paper flower pinned to
her chest. They introduce themselves as brother and sister Remi and Hermoine
Fasolasi, researchers of the life of Dr. Atl. She invites them in, opens the
door, and leads them up the stairway to her apartment in the cavernous house.
"I do hope you haven't sold everything that belonged to
"I tried. Really there are few buyers for such a minor talent."
The brother laughs and cajoles his sister into laughing.
"Imagine, Hermoine. No buyers for the artwork of a man instrumental in the Mexican
revolution, one of the world's foremost Vulcanologist, practically the originator
of the Mexican muralists. No buyers! That's a good one, Nahui."
"I thought you were interested in him because he was one
of my lovers for a couple of years." She offers them some coffee and set about
preparing three places at her table, clearing off pieces of paper, scissors,
old cups of coffee, lost clothing. "Oh here is that sock! I never finished sewing
As Remi and Hermoine begin to enjoy the hot coffee in spite
of their obvious doubt about the cleanliness of the cups, they complement Nahui
on her artwork hanging on the walls, all of it by Nahui. "We have here" began
Remi, in a tone punctilious and rehearsed, "a series of questions that we like
to ask those that knew Dr. Atl, to get a well-rounded idea of the myth of the
man. We always start with this one: 'Who is Dr. Atl?'"
"Gerardo Murillo is his real name. During a voyage by boat
from New York to Paris He encountered a terrible storm at sea. I think he got
so sick he wanted to die, to disappear, and I sometimes think he did. He decided
to change his name to Atl, which means water in the Mexican language of Náhuatl.
In Paris, he signed his name as Atl, and then went to Rome, where he received
a doctorate in philosophy. Then, returning from Paris, the Argentinean poet
Leopoldo Lugones added the 'Doctor', and along with their other friends, baptized
him in a tub of champagne. I supposed you've heard something similar?"
"Yes, that is what we have heard. He also gave you your
name, Nahui Olin. Isn't that true?"
"We found a name, together, that more clearly expresses
who I am. It is a name full of music and power, and it selected me. I am the
Fourth Movement. I am the renovation of what needed to be destroyed."
Hermoine looks at her brother uncomfortably and shifts in
her chair. "Oh yes, and we're quite interested what you can tell us of the Doctor's
life, in the embellishments. Are you aware if the Doctor was nude or not in
the tub of champagne?"
"The Doctor is always nude, even when dressed." Nahui almost
"What can you tell us about his role in the Civil War?"
Nahui smiled wistfully, and stared into space, "Oh Paris!"
"Paris?" asked Remi. Nahui looked down at the table and
watches her fingers trace little circles.
Remi and Hermoine looked at each other. Remi continues prompting
Nahui. "They say Dr. Atl played a pivotal role in the Civil War of Mexico. He
published a flyer in Paris and sold it outside the doors of the Stock Exchange.
Were you with him in Paris?
"I think I was there at the time. Most certainly. Oh, Paris!"
Remi looks at Hermoine quizzically, as Nahui remains distracted
by her own internal world. "With his distribution of material against Huerta's
forces, they say he ruined Huerta's chances to obtain a loan to finance his
continued reign in power. As you can imagine, he wasn't popular with Huerta's
supporters upon his return to Mexico.
"So Nahui, " Remi tries to capture her attention, "What
do you know of his involvement in the Academy of Fine Arts?"
Nahui looks up and into Remi's eyes. "As the director of
the Academy of Fine Arts, he wanted to change San Carlos into a workshop of
Popular Art. He abhorred the lack of a Mexican vision of art, and that all our
ideals and standards of what was then considered fine art were imported from
the old schools of Europe, and principally Spain. He wanted to encourage the
admission of populist imagery, of the wealth of pre-Hispanic and untutored art
from the people of Mexico, the people who lived through their art, not from
people who lived to continue the traditions of Europe. He was inclusive, he
wanted to liberate art from critical evaluation based on the schools from another
continent. Mexican art made in Mexico by Mexicans, evaluated on it's own terms
and with our own values, not the values imposed from a society that belonged
to a Monarchy that we long ago overthrew."
"But the Civil War interrupted those efforts to redefine
Mexican art as something intrinsically from the people of Mexico?"
Nahui looks into the distance again. "Wars interrupt everything.
Such a stupidity."
"Is it true that later he organized a red battalion of workers
that fought against Villa and Zapata?" Remi waits for an answer, then continues.
"When the Constitucionalistas lost the capital, he joined a young group of painters,
"Yes, among them Orozco and Siqueiros. They demanded their
art be for the people, that it be seen by the people and acknowledged as something
new, something that could communicate our pride and unique heritage. They sought
a means to publicize their work, not in a commercial way, but to allow the citizens
to easily view art about Mexico, art that fulfilled their ambitions to create
a body of art that did more than just cleverly represent pretty pictures. They
wanted to join the global argument of ideology and social criticism. So they
demanded art in public places, they demanded walls from the Federal Government,
from schools, any large public walls that could by protected for the Mexican
people for posterity."
"So, Nahui, as far as you know, he was the first painter
to demand walls for the expression of Mexican Art?"
"Probably, at least he organized protests against the Government
organizers of a festival to commemorate 100 Years of Independence with contemporary
art from Spain, he instructed his students in the new painting, with it's own
look, in front of the academies."
"But tell us what you know of his involvement in the politics
of the time?"
"Politics interest me not at all."
Hermoine pitches in with "He created and was the founder
of an organization called the House of World workers, a society he hoped would
offer support for the worldwide movement toward socialism. The members were
split in their opinions, divided and undecided about whether to support Carranza
or Pancho Villa. He spoke to the masses after their long and heated discussion,
and the eloquence of his words swayed the workers to the side of Carranza. You
know nothing of this?"
"I'm sure I was told many times."
"Then, after they fled Mexico City to the state of Veracruz,
the first thing they did was to follow his lead and assault and sack the temples
of the population there."
"That I remember hearing. Churches don't interest me either."
"They looted the churches?" Hermoine confronts Nahui by
reaching out to touch her hand.
Nahui looks at her earnestly, "Yes, he thought, as a socialist,
that the church was another means to oppress the people. He loved to predict
from his pulpit the ideals of the Constitutional Revolution, and a thousand
and one projects he assured them would revolutionize everything; art, science,
journalism, literature. Everyone worked with enthusiasm. It was an exciting
time to be young and alive."
"Do you know of any anecdotes of these times?"
"Bueno, Dr. Atl traveled, once he went armed with pistol
and cartridge to visit Obregón in the middle of Obregón's battle camp. I know
he had been one of Obregón's prisoners, thrown in jail, but I don't know the
reason. I heard he occasionally would go to Veracruz to get money."
Remi leans back in his chair, "The thing that fascinates
me about Dr. Atl is how could one man accomplish so much? All the while he continued
his political dueling and resolving thousand problems, and still had time to
write editorials, books, poems, all while still attending to a magnificent collection
of butterflies. He was Mexico's premier Vulcanologist, he studied volcanoes
with a passion. When Puricutín erupted, he had to go see, and he painted what
he saw, and what he felt, so near to the volcano that he was in constant danger."
"Yes, I have seen his paintings and writings of volcanoes,
but I always saw it as a little boy's fascination with ejaculations."
Remi and Hermoine sit stunned for a moment. "When did you
first meet Dr. Atl?"
Nahui looks at them, from one to the other. "You must already
know that. I returned to Mexico in 1920 from Paris." Nahui sighs, rests her
chin in her hand. "By 1921 he was totally concentrated in his artistic labors.
"Do you have any of Dr. Atl's things, paintings or writings?"
"Maybe there are some around here. I haven't seen any in
many years." She starts to pet the cat which has climbed into her lap. "Do you
"Oh yes. My sister has one. Cats and dogs, but my apartment
is too small for pets."
"How can an apartment be too small for a dog? You take them
outside to run and enjoy life, just like a human being."
She ignores her guests and calls to her other two cats to
come. They jump up on the table and enjoy her affection while Hermoine and Remi
sit back a little in their chairs.
"Well I have really got to be feeding them. And the sun
will set in a short time. Is there anything else I could help you with?"
The two Fasolanis look from one to the other with an expectant
expression. Neither ca think of something to say that Nahui might take an interest
in. "No, we're really grateful you have shared your time and hospitality with
us. If you do run across anything of Dr. Atl's, here is my address. Please feel
free to visit or send someone by should you discover something."
"I certainly will." She gets up to usher them to the door.
"And when I'm dead, you can have these cats to keep you company. And take the
house, you may look through the house at your leisure after I'm gone. It's a
wonderful house, with plenty of room for even more cats. Maybe I'll bring more
cats home with me, so you can have an even bigger family when I die. Please
be careful, and thank you for stopping by."
"Not at all, Nahui. Thank you."
Remi and Hermoine try to say
good-bye as Nahui pushes them out the door.