Murals: wall-to-wall “messaging”
We live in times of walls: through our daily and informal postings on social media, we regularly send or receive messages that affect our lives using a virtual wall. And so did painters of the Mexican Muralist Movement in the 1920´s through the 1950´s. However, even when we can compare those times to our days, media communication was not as prolific and fast as it is today. Yet art was, is and will always be ever present in our lives.
Back in the days of the Mexican Revolution, murals were "immense painted walls" that made art accessible to everyone in public places. And, most importantly, they were "educational and informative walls" that presented messages about politics and identity, social oppression and resistance, labor and progress and other important topics of the time for everyone to reflect upon. As a matter of fact, Diego Rivera, renowned painter and muralist, put it quite bluntly: “every strong artist has been a propagandist. I want to be a propagandist and I want to be nothing else. ... I want to use my art as a weapon”. His colleague, David Alfaro Siqueiros, said the same yet subtly: “The artist must paint as he would speak. I don’t want people to speculate what I mean, I want them to understand.”
This is clearly how the Mexican Muralist Movement became an invaluable communication tool, especially because it escaped the formal walls of galleries, museums and private art collections. That is, besides being art masterpieces, murals were an extension of the artists´ thoughts and feelings and made their thinking, ideology and emotions available to everyone without distinction. Having said this, today we can find the finest Mexican murals within the walls of the grandest public building and most important performance hall and art center in Mexico City: the Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes). This stunning white-marble example of Art Noveau features murals by world-famous Mexican artists. Put differently the walls in Fine Arts do not have ears, they have mouths and speak loudly, clearly and highly and in the voices of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco. A few examples will suffice.
Rivera’s famous El hombre en el cruce de caminos (Man at the Crossroads), also known as Man, controller of the Universe (1934) depicts a worker right at the center and an enormous machine at the crossroads of the political ideologies of the time: capitalism and communism. In a similar vein, Siqueiros painted La nueva democracia (New Democracy, 1945) in vivid and passionate colors to celebrate the victory over fascism at the end of World War II.
Orozco’s mural Katharsis (Catharsis,1935) is complex and ahead of its time. It depicts the conflict between individuality and the implications of technology on humanity. And the question poses itself: Is it possible, in times of mass media, mass production and mass destruction to maintain our individuality? Indeed, a profound question, especially if we consider that Orozco took part in the Mexican Revolution and that Katharsis was completed four years before the outbreak of World War II. Yet, now more than ever we continue to struggle with the fact that technology has destructive implications and impacts highly on our personal, social and spiritual identity.
This brings us back to our own personal walls in our daily lives mentioned in the beginning … They do not really seem to work very differently than the finest murals that adorn the walls of Fine Arts. Either because they are influential and life-changing to many o simply because they are an expression of our individuality, they are all too similar to Siquieros´s definition of art, one with which I am sure Diego would agree as much as I do: “Art is a weapon that penetrates the eyes, the ears, the deepest and subtlest human feelings”.
By Agustina Tocalli-Beller September 11, 2017