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Indigenism in the Mexican Mural Movement of the 1920s

Mexican Mural Movement of the 1920s

he Mexican Mural movement started in the political scope of post- revolutionary Mexico in 1921. Indigenism has survived through all phases of Latin American history, conceived and raised by Catholic priests during the colonial period. After independence, it was kept alive by numerous associations and dedicated to protecting the Indios. It cannot be distinctly discerned with any exceptional social class. Furthermore, indigenism is also a political, literary, and artistic movement that started developing itself during a second half of the nineteenth century in various republics. It was a clear vision for many politicians and intellectuals that the Indios’ separation from the mainstream society has prevented an establishment of true nations even after independence (Martinez n.p).

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The Mexican revolution of 1910-1920 was a remarkable period of artistic and intellectual indigenism in Latin America. The muralists painted their artworks on various public buildings, including governmental offices, schools, theatres, union headquarters, and hospitals. The Mexican muralist movement, represented in the art pieces of Diego Rivera and  Jose Clemente Orozco became worthy of imitation. The same point can be noted in diverse literary indigenist trends like novels, poetry, and essays. They spread out in Latin America during the first half of the twentieth century. A radical policy has cleared a way to transform indigenism in a basic political force throughout the whole region (Martinez n.p).

The indigenist art movement developed in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico with various although similar features. The main objective was the social vindication of primal communities and the revalorization of their cultural traditions. The movement was developed by white people and middle class. In spite of cultural and social varieties, they were aware of such segregation. All of them are represented the indigenous world as an origin of national culture and paradigm of genuine nationality. The Mexican indigenism has entrenched in the Great Revolution and muralism with its great expression. The indigenous people with their oppressed and exhausting life, creeds, traditions, and their mythologies gain vast dimensions in their art pieces. Wearing heritable clothes, barefooted with calloused hands, rough facial features with brilliant eyes, indigenous humans have been the protagonists of Latin American art since the 1920’s. They appeared so forlorn and vivid, activated by social pressure groups that triggered two radical distant revolutions such as the Russian and Mexican revolutions (“Indigenism in Latin American Art” n.p.).

Indigenism in the Mexican Mural Movement

The representation of the indigenous Mexican people was a central point to the nationalist image of unified Mexican nation. The work of the muralist representatives continues to have a deep impact on Mexican identity and art. The Mexican Mural movement was born under the patronage of the modern post-revolutionary state. It is undoubtedly one of the strongest expressions of public culture in the history.     

The mural painting is one of the oldest and most remarkable forms of social, artistic, and political expression in the history. Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siquieros, and Diego Rivera were the leading muralists. They have revived such form of painting, creating a genre of public art unmatched in its impact and significance. The artists came to prominence during the cultural regeneration in Mexico arising from the Mexican Revolution. General Alvaro Obregon was one of the revolutionary leaders fighting for power during and after the war. His presidency helped to create a social and political environment for the muralist representatives. Such environment comprised various revolutionary ideals, such as civil liberties, public education, land reform, welfare and public health, and other liberal reforms.

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The three muralists considered a mural painting as the exceptional genuine art. The artists made such a judgment since their art had the target of humans’ education, representing their beliefs and setting ideals for them. It was not like the popular contemporary European art since it served as a social function. It was the modern and exceptional art for people of the twentieth century. The revolutionary art of major Mexican painters has several common subjects essential to explaining the murals and comprehending their role in American and Mexican society. All three muralists applied topics of rewriting history, creating common national identity and commenting political and social challenges. They did not hold similar and ideological points of view. The pre-Columbian society, the contributions and devastation of the conquest, modern cultural and political issues, hope and forecast for the future permeate their artworks’ imagery and content.

The prominent artists such as Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera recaptured overwhelming murals on public buildings, which are designed to entertain, inform, and convince at the same time. The novelist, Mariano Azuela found in the revolution itself a focus for the investigation of the Mexican reality. Popular culture celebrated the remarkable events and heroes of the revolution in a score of ballads that were sung to celebrate. The revolution with its eminent themes has provided a stimulus to an incredible creative burst in music, literature, and arts (Stearns, Adas, and Schwartz n.p.). 

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The avant-garde of Latin America was a postwar phenomenon flourished in the early 1920s. It was not a late version of earlier European literature and art as some people have argued. It was a continuation of trends that were interfered in Europe by the First World War. The movement has synthesized futurist and cubist aspects with indigenous vision of nationality. Chronologically, the avant-garde of Latin America overlapped with Modernism, displacing it. The avant-garde representatives considered Modernism as quite a romantic movement, and it is not capable to express the ideas of the dynamical contemporary era (Thayer n.p).

The avant-garde movement was prevalently an urban appearance that matched with the growth of indigenism. A movement was dedicated to the modern status of Indians and a sense of national pride in an ancient heritage. It helped to determine cultural identities for the painters and the general public. Indians and workers were the major subjects in the art of the 1930s and 1940s in most of the countries while in Mexico, such depictions started developing in the 1920s. The artists from all the countries were responding to idealized and romanticized depictions of a lost heritage by attempting to represent challenges related to the modern indigenous population. In both art and literature, the avant-garde had two courses. The first one is an ideological aspect focused on issues of national identity in Cuba and Mexico. The second one is an aesthetic and cosmopolitan with an international orientation like in Brazil and Argentina (Thayer n.p).

The prominent Mexican artists Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros have become strongly associated with the sociopolitical art and mural painting of that time. All of them believed that art as the highest form of human expression was a crucial force in social revolution. Together, they established the Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors and devoted themselves to great murals representing the history of Mexico, its nation, society, and revolution. Their art pieces were not always received a positive response. The artists used to spend time in the USA creating artworks.

The Mexican Muralist movement was connected with the official requirements of the post-revolutionary authority. The government and painters believed that art had a social and ideological character. Under the presidency of Alvaro Obregon in 1920-1924, the government decided that the public artworks could play a significant role in recovering a nation damaged by a civil war. As a part of the inspiring cultural conception, expatriate Mexican artists were summoned to come back from abroad to participate in a program of mural decoration of public constructions.

Early murals had no necessary political character; rather, they were allegories of Mexican cultural history. The government’s major purpose was similar to the sixteenth century monks who aimed to educate a huge and significantly illiterate population (Thayer n.p).

It was decided that the murals would be painted on the extensive, undecorated walls of Mexican governmental buildings. Like the Mayans and Aztecs of an earlier time, who painted on the walls of their tombs and temples, the Mexican muralists left their public edifices awash with color. The Mexican muralists applied native themes as their inspiration being evocative of their Mesoamerican precursors. Instead of creating portraits of Spanish aristocrats, the prominent muralists glorified the everyday lives of the modern American-Indian population and Mexican peasants tilling the soil. The painters faced two main challenges: introduction of a modern public monumental art requiring special technical skills and creation of an efficient visual language for certain targets.

The appreciation of the aesthetic concepts of pre-Conquest art directly stemmed from the Mexican artists’ exposure to the contemporary European art, particularly the Cubist movement and Paul Cezanne. The awareness of major similarities between indigenous Mexican art and contemporary European art originated with a European interest in primitive art. The attraction to monumental art was an important moment in their decision to adopt the fresco as an artistic view in particular the murals of the Baroque traditions and Italian Renaissance. Each of the remarkable Mexican artists individualizes his own styles, but definite similarities still remain. The essential moment is that the painters were creating for the public planning their murals respectively (Thayer n.p).


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