Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Viva la Revolúcion! / Long Live the Revolution!

(for best viewing of photos, click to enlarge and begin a slideshow)

One aspect of Mexican culture that I’ve always appreciated is how the arts engage with political thought

"Self Portrait Along the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States,"
by Frida Kahlo,  1932

This, of course, is well-known through the work of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and others from a certain era.

(detail) "Production and Manufacture of Engine and Transmission" from the mural cycle "Detroit Industry," by Diego Rivera, 1932–33
(detail) The Dictatorship of Porfiro Díaz to the Revolution," by David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1957–1966. Museo Nacional de Historia

But this tradition lives on throughout Oaxaca, as evidenced in my last blog post about street art and graffiti in this city.

Espacio Zapata Arte Popular, one of the print collectives in Oaxaca

Currently connected with this are the print collectives and their resources for various creative enterprises. More about this below. 

Taller Siqueiros, another print collective. This is the outside sign

The political spirit in Mexico perhaps stems from the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1920), when workers revolted against greedy landowners, condoned by long-time dictator Porfirio Díaz. 

Women revolting during the Revolution
The women's march!

A lot happened during those 10 years, not least the death of up to 2,000,000 people (by some estimates) who were fighting (and another 300,000 people who died during the flu epidemic in 1918). As for the rulers, Francisco I. Madero overthrew Díaz in 1911, was then ousted by counterrevolutionary Victoriano Huerta in 1913; Huerta was exiled in 1914; Venustiano Carranza became the new leader until he was shot in 1920; then Álvaro Obregón became president. Whew!

The hero of our story, Emiliano Zapata Salazar,
photographer unknown, [ca. 1911]

The award-winning Hollywood film, Viva Zapata!, made in 1952 about revolutionary leaders Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata Salazar, was etched into my memory (and probably altered the course of my life) when I viewed it at a young age. 

Marlon Brando playing the role of  Zapata
in Viva Zapata!, 1952

This movie was written by John Steinbeck (of Grapes of Wrath fame), directed by Elia Kazan, and stared Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn. It was hot! Thus was born both my passion for black & white films of high drama and a revolutionary spirit!

poster for the Hollywood film, Viva Zapata!, 1952

Within a decade after the war, many Mexican painters had changed their style and subject matter to represent their political alignment, and mural painting "became the official art form."

"Liberation of the Peon," by Diego Rivera, 1931

Although Mexico’s 1917 constitution called for a democratic government, it never really took hold until relatively recently. For most of the 20th century. the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) imposed a "patronage-based social order." 

Despite its democratic disguise, "with all of its forms and trappings conveyed through elections and campaigns, it was largely a façade." This included manipulation of the voting system, and a "militarized rule prevented the authentic practice of democracy by often nullifying what should have been the effective powers of the electorate." Hmmm, sound familiar?

"Trump Poison: Not Suitable for Human Consumption"

Corruption in Mexico is legendary and the country is ranked 123rd among 176 countries in the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index. Freedom of the press is another issue, and Mexico ranked 147 out of 180 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

“62% of journalists murdered in Mexico since 1992 had investigated cases of corruption, political or otherwise, and 86% of these homicides have gone unpunished.”

The pun says "Revolubien" which translates "Revolt well"

The impulse for artists in Mexico to reflect on social issues and injustices was recently highlighted after the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College in the state of Guerrero. 

Protester for the 43 missing students. Courtesy of the BBC

A government-appointed panel found that the students, “who may well have been targeted for their left-wing activism, were brutally attacked and abducted by local police officers in league with members of the criminal organization known as Guerreros Unidos.” 

"You Cannot Bury the Truth," by K.S. Helinska, 2015.
Designed in Poland

Along with country-wide protests, art and posters were created around the world to commemorate the missing Mexican 43. 

September 26, 2014," by Sahar Jalayer, 2015. Designed in Iran.

A powerful figure in Oaxaca who led this movement is renowned artist/activist Francisco Toledo, who has been instrumental in spearheading the revitalization of Oaxaca City, as well as nurturing and supporting printmakers, painters and writers in the city.

The entrance to one of the print collectives
Getting ready to print

“[Toledo] united the energy of the country and eight weeks after the incident [of the missing students] made a call to everyone saying that we need to make images to keep them alive and in the memory of everyone so that we keep asking questions,” says Marietta Bernstorff, a curator and an Oaxaca native. “Historically, Mexicans are known to fight with the arts because it’s the only voice they have. There’s no money and you’re not allowed to have guns so you can’t pick up arms after revolution. People are only left with one thing and that is to use a medium like the arts to voice their concerns on issues.”

Working inside Taller Zapata

Of course, the melding of art and politics is not limited to Mexico -- it is thriving in other countries as well. Check out the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Los Angeles. But that's another blog post. 

All photos here were taken by me unless otherwise indicated (or are historical). Adios, and Resist! [special thanks to Laurie Price for help with translations].

T-shirts. "We will not forget Ayotzinapa"
Screen for a print of Zapata

Students working at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca
A student working at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca
"We want them alive:
Ayotzinapa resists"
"We will not forget, we will not forgive"
"Justice for Ayotzinapa!"

"What happened to our corn?" This is in reference to the
genetic modification of corn in Mexico, ala Monsanto

The entrance to Siqueriros Centro Cultural
Sign in front of Siqueriros Centro Cultural
"Courageous Heros: To be a people makes a people"
The pun says "Revolubien" which translates "Revolt well"
"Live to be Free"
"We will defend the territory"

"For the mothers who cry over empty tombs for the children never return"
"We won't adapt to this system"
"Monopolies, Capitalism, Fascism = The Internal Security Act"
This refers to a new act that makes it legal for government officials to search
a home or other place at any time without previous notice or warrant
"To protest is a right; to repress is a crime. No to the  Internal Security Act"

"Without gold one lives, without water one dies"
"The Boss"
MoMA | Diego Rivera Mobile | Electric Power,
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Explore CPJ's Database of Attacks on the Press.” Press Freedom Online - Committee to Protect Journalists,
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Grasso, Costantino, University of East London. “Mexico's Corruption Problems Are Still among the World's Deepest.” The Conversation, 19 June 2017,
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Viva Zapata!” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Jan. 2018,!