Porfirio Aguirre

In 2006 I took a bus to the city of Villahermosa, Tabasco. On the way I bought my favorite magazine, Mexican Archeology, and what I read there changed the course of my trip.

On page 21 they wrote about the State of Guerrero and its archeology as well as the most important finds in the area. Mostly they discussed a mask covered with turquoise mosaics and coral stones, the mask of Malinaltepec. They mentioned that archaeologist Porfirio Aguirre, had discovered the piece in 1921.​

At that point, my heart stopped; I had learned that one of the most important pieces of the National Museum of Anthropology and History had been discovered by my grandfather, Porfirio Aguirre. How was it that no one in my house had told this story, why didn’t I know? My father had died 12 years earlier and I remember the long conversations I had with him and he never mentioned this fact and it intrigued me. It was at this point that I began to investigate why such an important discovery was not more relevant in my own family.

What I found out was that my family didn’t know either. I don’t blame them for not knowing. Luckily this information reached me. I understood that it was a question of research and that it was necessary in particular to forget the great heritage of my grandfather which had been erased from the historical memory of archeology in Mexico and also from my own family. This represented a great paradox.

The reason it was not discussed is because after the discovery of the Malinaltepec mask the museum authorities considered the piece to be fraudulent and doubted its authenticity. My grandfather was discredited in every way he could be and lost his job and his honor. It was not until 2010 that various tests were carried out on the mask and proved that the reason for the controversy was that the piece was recycled in pre-Hispanic times. The mask was made at one time and the mosaics had been embellished 300 years later. However, this finding came too late for my grandfather who died in 1957. To this day he has never received any recognition or apologies.

Porfirio Aguirre had the opportunity to enter the Academy of San Carlos and demonstrated exceptional abilities as an artist. Years later this fascinating vocation led him to be able to produce the decals of the pre-Hispanic codices found abroad, including the copy of the codex of his native city, Copanatoyac.

In the next photo, he meets his classmates at the Academy of San Carlos, one of them is Diego Rivera with whom he formed a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Both fed on each other in different ways, enriching their professional and personal lives in fantastic ways. The discoveries that my grandfather made in the codices and then shared with Diego Rivera (who used them in his murals at the National Palace and the murals at the Hospital de la Raza on the theme “People in demand for health”) are examples of their mutual interests and how their lives had been enriched by each other.

Rivera (rear, center) and his comrades from the National School of Fine Arts. 1902 Unknown Photographer. Archivo Fotográfico, Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información de Artes Plásticas (CENIDIAP) / Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA), Mexico Courtesy of CENIDIAP / INBA

In addition to belonging to the San Carlos Academy, Porfirio Aguirre was part of the first generation of archaeologists in the country. He was a philologist, translator and an artist. He made pioneering studies in iconography, archeology in Chupícuaro and in Malinaltepec, Guerrero, and in anthropology with the Wararika.

In the next photo we can see him with a group of fellow archaeologists in Cuernavaca, they are making the replica of some petroglyphs. (he is the third on the right)

Porfirio Aguirre had the chance to belong to a group of friends and intellectuals eager to forge a country faithful to their values and principles, with one foot in the glorious past of archeology and the other in the rich present with its prodigious folk art. During the meetings organized by Diego Rivera and Porfirio Aguirre they shared long hours of conversation and discussed the latest archaeological discoveries and ethnological research, according to the testimonies of the writer Elena Poniatowska. Italian photographer Tina Modotti, French artist Jean Charlot and American writer Walter Pach, among others, were present at these meetings.

Please use these efforts to assert the name of my beloved grandfather Porfirio Aguirre, who by his example, determination and passion deserves his legacy to be valued and known.

These three ebooks that I present to you are one of many efforts that I am making to achieve the dissemination of this story and many others that need to be told.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo with some friends including my grandparents (on the right), Erika Kaiser and Porfirio Aguirre