Social, Political and Cultural Upheaval in Mexico
The Mexican Revolution was a social, political and cultural upheaval in Mexico that radically changed society and was overall social and political transformation making radical shifts in the country and culture that took place from 1910 to 1920. It gave many artist a chance to convey their identity and their artistic language uniquely through their works of art. Murals were indeed painted to elucidate a story because majority of the population during the time in Mexico were illiterate.
Throughout some of the works of David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, communism was influenced upon them by highlighting the exploitation of the working class, government corruption and the rejection capitalistic paradigms. These murals being painted were open to the public in places such as schools, markets, government buildings, and public buildings, when often art would be put up in museums, which cost to enter. Murals were painted for the working class depicting the day to day struggles and remembering indigenous cultures, which showed their roots and values.
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For example, Diego Rivera for used indigenous patterns in his works and studied the art of the Aztecs, Mayans, and many others across Latin America. You can see these in murals such as the, “Pan American Unity” of Olmec artisans working and “The Arrival of Cortés”, Palacio Nacional de México, showing the Totonac civilization and the Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations. Indigenous people were shown in art works to recall appreciation, identity, and ancestry. Mexican painters believed art was the highest form of human expression and used their art as a political tool to impart Mexican content matters. As for aesthetics, painters had unique forms of expressing themselves and had complete freedom of them. Their aesthetic choices were a part of their beliefs and life which reflected a message onto their art work.
Painters had unique forms of expression and used their medium to send a message of the struggle of the working class, exploitation of the proletariat, communist struggle for social justice, and mestizo culture. For example in Walter Benjamin’s article it is mentioned how war only can set mass movements and contributes a political aesthetic. Works commissioned by the Vasconcelos were aesthetic, ideological, and had his own distinct philosophical vision. The second group were works included political and populist art which were executed during his tenure as Minister of Education.
The article also mentions the development of art through technology and mechanical reproduction, such as photographs and lithography. Their aesthetic choices reflected their beliefs and life which showed a message onto their artwork. Many artists like Diego Rivera were highly influence by European artwork, cubism, while expressing both social and political importance that are established in his murals. A new revolutionary notion took place for Mexican muralism in a way to educate about Mexican culture, pre-columbian heritage, history, and development from the Conquest to Independence. Murals today are used for educative purposes and manners in school that made an enormous impact to later generations. Diego Rivera explains art as physiologic phenomenon that is both social, political, and and is a form of expression. Art is an essential activity for human life, just as essential as nutrition that is essential to human life. He also makes a clear point that art as whole helps us grasp human society, civilization and humanity.
In Diego Rivera’s murals he depicted the exploitation of the working class and the eulogize of the bourgeoisie. Class society is portrayed in his murals, that are commodities that the bourgeoisie in power pays for them.When society split to class statuses art was controlled by those in power and states cave paintings as miraculous and finely detailed because it was during a time that society was not divided into class. To keep the human race alive we must have these different forms of art such as poems and music that are essential for our lives that add beauty and peace.
Diego Rivera’s murals also revolve around man and industrial architecture and indigenous culture. He mentions the Universal laws to this and the evolutionary of art and tools from our past ancestors and how we apply to our lives now, it requires exact conditions for its proper functioning, it has to have the right air quota, the proper amount of light, natural or artificial, and relates it back to Mayan sculpture, a first Greek sculpture, or a Hindustani sculpture. Rivera mentions education and children being born with talent and school is a necessity in the socialist world which is linked to art, murals are also played as educative purposes. We purchase works of art because it is essential to the human body and life that we submerge into imagination, erudition, and the labor that these artist collect to create these forms of art. He is there to paint to the absolute truth and that all forms of art are propaganda which remove themselves from the real world and escape to indulge into the imagination of color and shape.
The United States of America will be subsequent towards peace and progress, a fitter society, industry, agriculture, reciprocated fondness, science, and live a superior way of life. For example in Diego Rivera’s mural, Man at the Crossroads later named ,Man, Controller of the Universe which was created and destroyed at the Rockefeller in New York because it was controversial. In this mural Rivera incorporates science and machinery with atoms, cells, and a sun erupting. He incorporates machinery and man made objects with science by examining these findings with microscopic items and the invention of the telescope. He incorporates the bourgeois and and Lenin holding hands with workers. At the bottom of the mural there is nature, trees, and fruit, which represents natural resources being controlled.
On the right we see Ceaser without a head and Jupiter who is raging in anger which represent the overthrow of liberated workers. Diego Rivera who was a part of Mexican Communist party, his work was traditional and had an architectural composition and was inspired by European modernism and the art of ancient Mexico. His inspirations made a new form that would allow him to express his social and political ideas. Diego’s artwork showed appreciation for Mexico and its roots and indigenous cultures.
For example, such native influences are present in Rivera’s The Great City of Tenochtitlan. It shows the unspoiled beauty and splendor of the Aztec capital before the Spanish conquest. Diego Rivera incorporated machinery, science, and universal laws, indigenous people, and the struggle of the working class into his murals to send a message and to educate. He used fresco painting and technique, a process, to create these outstanding murals that the public eye can view today. Frida Kahlo, also highly known as Diego Rivera’s wife until shortly after she passed away in 1954. She was not as recognized for her individual artwork because she was a woman and sexism during the time and believed she was born during the revolution. Frida Kahlo was influenced by indigenous cultures of Mexico and European influences.
Realism, Symbolism, and Surrealism, played an impact to her art pieces even though she did not consider herself a Surrealist because she said she painted her own reality, not dreams. Frida Kahlo used art as a coping mechanism to fully express her pain especially after her incident in the bus where she injured herself badly. Many of her works are self-portraits that symbolically express her own pain, life, and sexuality, especially womanhood. Frida Kahlo’s work reflects independent Mexican women who created means of expressing their own vision of a revolutionary society and added women’s rights in their work, gender violence, femininity, women empowerment, and finding strength in art with the difficulties of sexism and poverty. Hardships and pain with her relationship with Diego Rivera were incorporated in her art.
For example in the the piece “My Birth” when she had lost a baby and experiencing her pain. In the portrait, “Diego and I” we see a portrait of her and Diego on her forehead, this painting reflects the distress of Diego’s love affairs that would leave Kahlo heartbroken. David Alfaro Siqueiros is known to be a controversial figure and revolutionary through his political outstands. Siqueiros techniques were unique by using airbrushes and continued to try new and evolved techniques. His works main focus and stand point was about the hardships and oppression of the low and working class. He used sharp and vivid contrasting colors which represented his political expressions. Many of his artworks, because of his controversial figure, were taken down or sensored in the United States.
For example America Tropical being known as a powerful political statement which also helped the movement and involvement later on with the Chicano art movement in Los Angeles, California. Jose Clemente Orozco’s work is brusum with darkness and ache compared to Rivera and Siqueiros. He is seen as an increasingly controversial figure as well with the suffering painted on his artwork. He used dark intense colors such as blue, black and red, which were his main colors in his palette used. His work pointed out the brutality and demolition of the revolution and instead pointed out the dark side of these experiences instead of glorifying them.
In the late nineteen thirties a new society was created after the revolution, which created challenges facing political overtones and mediums. Both Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco painted murals about the history of Mexico in the National Palace and reflected on the nation’s past. Political fights expelled Diego Rivera from the Communist Party and chose to go to the United States in 1930, where his reputation was in a different point of view being considered the leading figure in Mexican muralism. Rivera painted murals in San Francisco at the Stock Exchange and the San Francisco Art Institute) and Detroit Institute of Arts with his popular mural.
Man at the Crossroads, it was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in the Radio Corporation Arts Building in the Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller asked Rivera to remove Lenin’s image and replace it with an anonymous figure, but refused so, which was then covered and then destroyed in 1934. Siqueiros returned to Mexico and was working on Portrait of the Bourgeoisie in the Mexican Electrician’s Syndicate that represented radical views on the aesthetics of muralism and painted a radical social content mural-fascism as a war machine. For Siqueiros revolutionary socialism, technological modernity remained and Mexican reality. The New Democracy that was painted in 1944 was about 40 feet long and was larger than most murals than common.
Siqueiros incorporated post war murals which were increasingly textured, architectural work and pointed out the expressive qualities of the painting. Siqueiros style was figurative and represented the victory over fascism. Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros moderately became institutionalized during the postwar period and cultural nationalism. Many younger radical artists were inspired during these postwar times and revolutionary cultural radicalism. Artists central point still evolved around Mexican cultures subject matter, with variety of themes and concerns. For example on the panel, Allegory of Mexico in the 1940’s examined the revolutionary struggle and Mexico’s concept. Siqueiros expressed his themes in his murals in the 1940’s, Death to the Invader through the mechanics of dynamic visuals and symbolic imagery.