Propaganda and Art by Raquel Tibol



[00:00:00] In twentieth-century Mexican muralism there isn’t propaganda in the way we associate propaganda with commercial advertising. Diego Rivera, [Davíd Alfaro] Siqueiros, and [José Clemente] Orozco weren’t publicists in this absolutist, ham-fisted sense. It’s another issue that they ideologically unfolded their political platforms and tried to establish a certain relationship between what the government was doing with respect to popular protest and what the government wasn’t doing. In terms of this, there was an entire critical element involved—it was more of a negotiation. It was said that muralism was a concession by various, more or less, populist governments. But it’s enough to look closely at the most important murals—the National Palace or Chapingo murals of Diego Rivera, or the triptych of Guadalajara of José Clemente Orozco, or the Hospital of the “Race” or the Electricians’ Union of Davíd Alfaro Siqueiros—to realize that, in these murals, each one of these artists developed his own ideological platform with about as much latitude as he could exact from the government of the moment.

Diego Rivera: An Example

[01:32:00] There’s a very interesting example which has two parts. Both [parts of the example] are by Diego Rivera in the National Palace. In the first version of the central portion of the National Palace, Rivera was moved by the patriotic sensibility that had developed in the first years immediately after the Revolution. We are reminded that he painted the first version of this mural in 1929. Years later he came back from the U.S. in 1931 to modify this first version, which was a very symbolic, majestic mother-of-the-nation; and he modified this portion by adding Zapata and other peasant, revolutionary leaders who point towards the already existing part of the mural. This second part, like the first, was painted during the administration of the authoritarian Calles, or his puppet-successors. The subsequent mural, “The Mexico of Today and Tomorrow,” was painted later, in 1935, under the administration of Cárdenas [a more socialistic president]. There is ample criticism [of Calles] in “The Mexico of Today and Tomorrow” and a very strong revolutionary re-affirmation. But we must link the desire of Diego Rivera to paint this with the fact that he was given the opportunity only in 1935. That is to say that the idea percolated within him until he found the adequate socio-political climate to criticize Mexican “charro” populism” [a “cowboy” populism]. It was a critique of the Calles administration, which had begun with great socialist promise but degenerated into repression against the Mexican workers’ movement and oppression of the peasants. This is all very clearly laid out in “The Mexico of Today and Tomorrow,” including the collusion of the clergy with the most reactionary sectors of the government.

Art and Advertising

[03:45:00] Political eloquence is one of the modes of propaganda, but one can’t say that the murals [by Rivera and others] are “billboards” like those that promote underwear or cigarettes. One has to make a serious distinction. Siqueiros’s mural in the Hospital of the “Race” is a mural that exalts the convergence of the workers’ struggle with those of the professional and public sectors. He thought that it was through this convergence that great strides would be made. This mural was painted between 1952 and 1954. Previously, and for the most part, they [the muralists] had made, more or less, decorative murals like those of Montenegro at St. Peter and Paul’s and Rivera’s “The Creation” in the Bolivar Amphitheater. It was when Rivera broke with the Ministry of Public Education [his major sponsor] that his language became militant and consequently politically eloquent, expressive, when he propagated revolutionary ideas.