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Diego Rivera’s Powerful Messages in Mexican Muralism


Art, in any form, is one of the best, non-verbal medium to express oneself. Many artists relay their views, political and otherwise, through their work. For instance, Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s murals conveyed powerful messages that were perceptible to everyone.

What is Mexican Muralism?
Mexican muralism is an art movement initiated during the 1930’s which acquired significant attention from the public. Why does this movement stand out more than others? A blatant conclusion is that it not only expressed social opinions, but also addressed controversial political issues. Most Mexican murals were conspicuously displayed in public places, causing much discomfort among all levels of society.

The History of Mexican Muralism
The heart of the movement developed when the Mexican bourgeoisie began looking to Europe for art that did not portray Mexican-like themes. The end result was a distancing between the lower / middle classes and the upper class, which soon grew into a strong animosity towards the upper class and anything associated with it. It is said that national pride played an important role in the movement, creating a feeling of optimism in regards to post-Revolution Mexico and its government.

At the start of the 1920’s, many artists looked into native traditions as inspiration for their work, and speculated that murals were a good medium because everyone would be attained. Artists were commissioned either by local governments, businesses or via grants to decorate the walls of institutions such as schools, government buildings, churches and museums. In Mexico City, and other big cities like Guadalajara, murals made native art and culture accessible to the lower-classes.

Between 1923 and 1928, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was commissioned to create murals for the Mexican National Preparatory School and the Ministry of Education. Many believe that his work was the start of the Mexican muralist movement.

The Great City of Tenochtilan
The Great City of Tenochtilan Mural Art Print

Los Tres Grandes
Artists Diego Rivera, José Orozco and David Siqueiros, came to be referred to as “los tres grandes” (the three great ones) who led the art movement known as Mexican muralism. Rivera is generally considered the chief figure among them. All had strong political opinions, which leaned predominantly towards the left-wing.

All three used the traditional form of fresco painting either in the interior or on the exterior walls of public buildings. Their murals were a convenient avenue to expressing their opinions to the masses, as they believed art should be accessible to all.

Los Tres Grandes formed the Labour Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, and committed themselves to large murals which would show Mexican history, its people and society.

Diego Rivera’s Influence
The word that Rivera and other artists were being commissioned by governments to create public murals spread to the United States, as well as the account of their influence on people. When President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration which employed artists to produce murals and sculptures, it prompted U.S. institutions to commission “los tres grandes”.

In 1932, the Ford Motor Company called on Mexican muralist Rivera to create a mural of the car plant in the Detroit Institute of Arts. He accepted and produced a series of fresco panels called ‘Detroit Industry’.

A year later, Rivera was requested to paint a mural in Rockefeller Center with the theme ‘Man at a Crossroads’. However, once the work was completed, Rockefeller, among others, was not happy. Rivera had included a likeness to Vladimir Lenin in one of his figures. Rockefeller asked Rivera to change it or remove it altogether, but the strong-willed artist refused and the mural was subsequently destroyed.

Rivera later returned to the United States to paint a 10-part mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, California.

Diego Rivera’s murals had a unique style; they were politically-charged and especially powerful in view of their bold colours and simplistic forms. His work celebrated Mexican culture and addressed Mexican issues via Mexican muralism. His influences were many. See more about Diego Rivera’s influences here.

 

This article was written by Betty Botis
Betty Botis is an avid art collector and fan of all Diego Rivera's art. She is also a freelance writer for Diego Rivera Prints.

 

 

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