Mexico’s history is laden with severe social and economic challenges.
In the beginning of the twentieth century under the rule of Porifirio Diaz (1867-1911), political corruption and the ever widening gap between rich and poor caused the country to erupt in a bloody revolution that lasted from 1910 until 1920. Once the Constitution of 1917 was put into action in 1920, changes slowly became evident.
The lasting effects of the revolution have been primarily cultural. The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the political party that was born in the revolution, held onto power for decades. Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, the symbol of land reform and proud ideological purity, has become an international icon for just rebellion against a corrupt system, and the charismatic rebel Pancho Villa lives on in art, literature and legend.
The Mexican Revolution also gave way to an artistic movement known as the “mural renaissance.” In the beginning of the 1920’s, during the administration of General Alvaro Obregon, the most important of the Mexican muralists were Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. They may not have been able to alter the history of events in the Mexican Revolution, but they were successful in creating thought provoking and emotion stirring artwork.
All three artists dominated and defined the movement, transforming art to make it more accessible by painting on huge, public surfaces with political content. Many murals, representing the social ideas of the revolution, were commissioned as permanent fixtures in some of the most important buildings in Mexico such as: the National Preparatory School, the National Palace, the Ministry of Public Education building, and the Palace of Fine Arts. As well, all three artists were independently commissioned to paint murals in different cities in the United States, where their works provoked criticism as well as admiration.
There are some major differences between Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros and their art. Rivera was very optimistic in his work, using bright colors, soft lines, and often showed peasants and workers in a Utopian setting. His hopeful images may have been related to the fact that he was out of the country during most of the revolution. Orozco and Siqueiros however, were major participants in political events of the revolution and experienced its horror first hand. Their work shows the harsh reality of the Revolution, usually shocking and done in dark colors, with harsh lines. They each may have dealt with the political ideals of the times and romanticized the gore of the revolution in their own ways, but all were instrumental in starting the search for national identity that continues to be so dominant in Mexican art today.