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Mexican Muralism

Mexican Muralism Collage

Started: 1920

Ended: 1950

"The artist must paint as he would speak. I don't want people to speculate what I mean, I want them to understand."

David Alfaro Siqueiros Signature

Summary of Mexican Muralism

Originally spawned by the need to promote pride and nationalism in a country rebuilding after revolution, the Mexican Muralist movement brought mural painting back from its staid retirement in the history of ancient peoples as a respected artistic form with a strong social potential. With it, a rich visual language emerged in public spaces as a means to make art accessible to all. It provided an opportunity to educate and inform the common man with its messages of cultural identity, politics, oppression, resistance, progress, and other important issues of the time. It was a fiercely independent movement; many of its early artists rejecting external influences and used this new, vast, and freeing medium to achieve personal expression. This movement proved that art could be a valid communication tool outside the confines of the gallery and museum.

Key Ideas

Murals were originally used as a way to spread visual messages to an illiterate population, which opened up new possibilities in the inclusion and cohesiveness of community within a people. Oftentimes these messages promoted pride in cultural identity, rich historical traditions, or political propaganda. The potential in murals bypassed more traditional forms of advertising and pamphlet printing.
Although the early Mexican murals were inclined toward the favoring of socialism - as did its most important artists including Diego Rivera - they would evolve over time to also favorably portray the industrial revolution, the progress of technology, and capitalism. The mural's role as key gauge of current events cannot be denied.
Mexican Muralism was a heavy predecessor of today's public art. It liberated art from the art market and its elitism, making it free and available to all people. The opportunities this presented for artists was vast and unfettered. They could now find exposure on a grander stage.
Many mural artists commissioned by government or other authoritative bodies would come to reject the direction being handed down to them, instead creating work that incorporated some of their own ideas and values. Sometimes this proved highly controversial and sometimes they were allowed to get away with it. This impetus can be seen as an early example of what would later influence the graffiti and street art scenes. It is also interesting to note that in today's social media (Facebook) sphere, the sharing of our opinions - both visual and textual - are called "posting" on our "walls."
Part of Diego Rivera's <i>History of Mexico</i> (1929-35) mural at the National Palace in Mexico City

Saying, "The role of the artist is that of a soldier in a revolution," Diego Rivera pioneered Mexican Muralism. He said his portrayals of the revolutionary Zapata and his followers were meant to make "the masses the hero of monumental art."

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