Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Fighting Education

"Art must no longer be the expression of individual satisfaction that it is today, but should aim to become a fighting educative art for all," David Alfaro Siqueiros once said, emphasizing the political activism behind so much of his work. Born December 29, 1896, Siqueiros lambasted the rich ruling classes in murals for the masses such as Portrait of the Bourgeoisie (above, from 1939-1940). With fellow muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, Siqueiros revitalized the mural as a medium for public political protest. Siqueiros centered much of his imagery on the history of the Mexican Revolution, using that period’s violence and chaos to provide a language through which he could express his ideas of an ideal society, based heavily on his own Marxist ideals. Rivera and Orozco both loved their country passionately, but Siqueiros took that passion to another, perhaps dangerous level.

In The New Democracy (above, from 1944) a woman carrying the torch of freedom explodes from the center of the mural as she shatters the chains of oppression. The idealized classical bodies that Siqueiros depicts lend a timelessness to his message, which is basically the eternal struggle between the powerless many and the powerful few. Siqueiros preached his universal message beyond Mexico, traveling to South America, Europe, Russia, and even America to spread his vision and paint more ideologically charged murals. While in America in the late 1930s, Siqueiros ran a political art workshop attended by many young American artists, including Jackson Pollock, who saw the expressive potential of liquid paint in Siqueiros’ hands and later used that potential to create his own Abstract Expressionist works.

During that period in America, Siqueiros painted many smaller works, including Echo of a Scream (above, from 1937). It’s hard to imagine a more excessively disturbing scene than the bizarre infant of Echo of a Scream. As much as Siqueiros strove to bring light to the workers’ world, he fostered a dark side as well, particularly in his possible involvement in the assassination plot against Leon Trotsky that led to his 1940 exile from Mexico. Fighting against the excesses of capitalism and fascism, which he wed in the imagery of Portrait of the Bourgeoisie that he barely finished before his 1940 exile, Siqueiros fell into an excessiveness of his own. Like many artists of the early twentieth century, Siqueiros looked to Socialism as a solution to the ills of the exploitive capitalism sucking their country dry. Sadly, that promise soon disappeared as Communism became the next incarnation of authoritarianism and oppression. To the end, Siqueiros fiery passion for social justice could never be quenched, and his scream echoes on today.

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