The Power and Politics of Art in Postrevolutionary Mexico

The Power and Politics of Art in Postrevolutionary Mexico

The Power and Politics of Art in Postrevolutionary Mexico

The Power and Politics of Art in Postrevolutionary Mexico

Synopsis

Stephanie J. Smith brings Mexican politics and art together, chronicling the turbulent relations between radical artists and the postrevolutionary Mexican state. The revolution opened space for new political ideas, but by the late 1920s many government officials argued that consolidating the nation required coercive measures toward dissenters. While artists and intellectuals, some of them professed Communists, sought free expression in matters both artistic and political, Smith reveals how they simultaneously learned the fine art of negotiation with the increasingly authoritarian government in order to secure clout and financial patronage. But the government, Smith shows, also had reason to accommodate artists, and a surprising and volatile interdependence grew between the artists and the politicians.

Involving well-known artists such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as some less well known, including Tina Modotti, Leopoldo Mendez, and Aurora Reyes, politicians began to appropriate the artists' nationalistic visual images as weapons in a national propaganda war. High-stakes negotiating and co-opting took place between the two camps as they sparred over the production of generally accepted notions and representations of the revolution's legacy--and what it meant to be authentically Mexican.

Excerpt

In 1948, David Alfaro Siqueiros gave a talk titled “The Art of Mexico in the Ranks of the People: 37 Years of Struggle by the Mexican Painters” at a rally organized by the Partido Comunista Mexicano, or Mexico’s Communist Party (PCM). Diego Rivera, Siqueiros’s “partner in art,” joined him at the symposium, along with about three hundred other participants. Mexico’s internal security inspectors No. 20 and 58 infiltrated the event to report on the “suspicious” activity, and according to the agents’ accounts, twenty-five women, who were “more or less all decent looking” and dressed well, also attended the artist’s presentation. in addition, quite a few foreigners and Spanish refugees circulated among the crowd, and many gathered to chat below the prominent Communist Party flag with the legendary hammer and sickle. Once the audience settled into their seats, and only after a robust cheer of “viva el Partido Comunista,” Siqueiros began to speak. Throughout his address, Siqueiros focused on three main points, all of which stressed the links between culture, politics, and Mexico’s contemporary art. First, Siqueiros argued that the country’s artistic culture originated from the Mexican Revolution and then evolved under the direction, structure, and soul provided by the Mexican Communist Party. Second, Siqueiros stressed that the current development and life of Mexican art depended on the continued growth of the Communist Party, which reflected the genuine politics of the proletariat as a class. Third, the muralist claimed that the transformation of bourgeois democracy into popular democracy and, ultimately, socialism would result in culture’s escape from the increasing decadence that plagued all parts of the world. Only a strong and vigorous Communist Party, grounded in the doctrines of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin, could lead this struggle.

At the time of Siqueiros’s lecture on art, Mexico’s Communist Party had yet to readmit Rivera following his expulsion from the Party in 1929. Indeed, after several requests, the pcm only approved the muralist’s return in 1954. Still, by 1948, Rivera often spoke at pcm meetings to profess his loyalty to the Party and admit his multitude of prior political errors. Just a few days following Siqueiros’s talk, Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, attended a local meeting of Mexico City’s Communist Party to support both . . .

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