Rosa Rolanda (Rosemonde Cowan)

1985Asuza, United States | 1970Mexico City, Mexico
Rosa Rolanda (Rosemonde Cowan) — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Rosa Rolanda by Edward Weston, 1926 © ADAGP, Paris 2022

Mexican painter, photographer, choreographer and costume designer.

Rosa Rolanda was born to a Scottish father and Mexican mother in Azusa, California as Rosemonde Cowan. She produced a body of work that intersected with newly formed ideologies of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and transnational modern artistic trends. She was involved in the theatre and the visual arts from a young age, displaying a talent for costume design, sculpture and dance. In 1916 she was chosen out of 300 applicants to perform as one of six Marion Morgan Dancers, allowing her to travel to New York City where she performed on Broadway. She soon adopted her stage name, Rosa Rolanda, as her legal name and began a solo career, touring Europe as part of the Ziegfeld Follies. Upon her return to New York she met her husband, the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957), during her final performance of Rancho Mexicano. The two married in 1930 and settled in Mexico where R. Rolanda continued her studies in art and photography.

R. Rolanda was first introduced to surrealist photography while in Paris in the 1920s when she met the American artist Man Ray (1890-1976) who photographed her wearing a flamenco costume. She later modelled for the American photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958), dressed as a Tehuana. R. Rolanda and her husband had recently befriended E. Weston and Tina Modotti (1896-1942) while in Mexico, and the pair were influential on R. Rolanda’s own photographic practice. She was interested in capturing scenes of everyday life in rural communities and, similar to T. Modotti, often focused her camera on women and children.

R. Rolanda began experimenting with different photographic processes in the 1930s in an effort to produce abstract effects and became an expert in the photogram technique. The process involves placing objects onto photosensitive paper and then exposing them to light in various ways and was popular with the surrealists. She created her work Autorretrato (Self- Portrait, c. 1930) using objects from around her home: a jade deer, a butterfly pin, a seashell and a plastic ruler, arranged to surround her simply rendered nude self-portrait.

She applied a similar approach to painting, developing her characteristic neo-figurative style, rendering figures with large, almond shaped eyes combined with personal and folkloric objects. She painted a number of portraits of friends and notable women, such as María Felix and Dolores del Río, but is best known for her self-portraits. In Autorretrato (Self-Portrait, 1952), she paints herself staring directly at the viewer, surrounded by a swirling background of bodies and objects laden with symbolic meaning. There are references to her past as a dancer, memories she combines with popular symbolism related to death, notably in the skeleton that places its hand on her forehead. R. Rolanda remained a key figure in the Mexican art world until her death in 1970.


Eduardo Martinez

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Rosa Rolanda (Rosemonde Cowan) — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Rosa Rolanda, Self-portrait, ca. 1945, gouache on paper, 40 x 33 cm, private collection © Rosa Rolanda

Rosa Rolanda (Rosemonde Cowan) — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Rosa Rolanda, Self-portrait, 1952, oil on canvas, 86.1 x 110.2 cm, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City © Rosa Rolanda

Rosa Rolanda (Rosemonde Cowan) — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Rosa Rolanda, Girl with Taco, 1947, oil on canvas, 75.3 x 60.3 cm, private collection © Rosa Rolanda

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