Fanny Rabel Biography

Fanny Rabel




Printmaker, painter, and muralist Fanny Rabel was born Fanny Rabinovich in Poland 0n September 27, 1922, to Polish-Jewish parents who made their living as traveling actors. They moved throughout Europe when she was a child, eventually settling in Paris in 1929. However, with the rise of Nazi persecution of Jews, they permanently relocated to Mexico in 1937.

Rabel attended the Escuela Nocturna para Trabajadores where she took classes in drawing and engraving. Her interest in art as activism grew as World War II took effect, and she collaborated with members of the Taller Grafica Popular (TGP) such as David Alfaro Siqueiros, Antonio Rodriguez Luna, and other politically-minded artists. In 1940 she was invited to help paint a mural for the Mexican Electricians Union titled "Retrato de la Burguesia" (Portrait of the Bourgeoisie), an anti-war mural depicting Nazi atrocities. She was considered the first woman muralist in Mexico at the time, as well as one of the youngest female artists to be associated with Mexican muralism.

In 1942 she enrolled at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura, y Grabado (the School of Painting, Sculpture, and Printmaking) in Mexico City. She took classes alongside Frida Kahlo, Jose Chavez Moreno, and Feliciano Pena, with whom she became close. She was invited to attend classes at Kahlo's famed Casa Azul, and in 1945 she participated in her first exhibition with oils, drawings, and engravings at the Liga Popular Israelita de Mexico (Jewish People's League of Mexico). She officially joined the TGP and the Salon de la Plastica in 1950, and worked as an assistant to Diego Riviera when he made the frescoes for the National Palace. She was also an apprentice to David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Rabel maintained a connection to political struggle through her artwork, and set herself apart from her contemporaries by avoiding images of physical violence or struggle and using quieter imagery that invited introspection: solemn portraits of children and families, often poor and with faces reflecting the Indigenous peoples of Mexico. She was encouraged by the words of fellow TGP artist and friend Leopoldo Mendez, who, when Rabel felt her work did not fit in with the masculine works of most leading artists, said that tender imagery is also important to political struggle. Unlike many artists she knew in the cosmopolitan Mexico City, she participated in the entertainment of the working class, attending live concerts and enjoying popular radio and film of both Mexico and the U.S., things that leading art scenes often eschewed.

She continued to work until well into the 1980s, exhibiting nationally and internationally. Her most important mural, "Ronda en el Tiempo," created 1964-1965, is in the permanent collection of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. Her work is in the collections of New York Public Library; the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; the Royal Academy of Denmark; the National Library in Paris; Casa de las Americas in Havana, Cuba; and the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, among others. Major retrospectives include "La Fanney de los Fridos"  at the House of the First Print Shop in the Americas, Mexico City, 2007, and a memorial retrospective in 2009, "Retrospectiva in Memoriam, Fanny Rabel (1922-2008)", at the Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla.

Fanny Rabel died in Mexico City on November 25, 2008.