The history of Mexican murals is intimately tied up in revolution, radical self-determination, and innovation. It is a long and storied history, overlapping with the use of murals as political tools elsewhere in Latin and South America.
Murals are also a prominent avenue of anticolonial speech in the Latin American tradition. Mexican murals are often intended to honor the indigenous roots and resilience of the Mexcian people, as well as to assert their independence.
Mexican muralists are responsible for developing much of the stylistic vocabulary, and characteristics of social realism in the time after the Mexican Revolution. They were some of the first to depict the everyday worker, and common person as a hero, worthy of elevation in artwork. Mexican muralists did major work establishing the visual vocabulary of postcolonial art, setting the scene for future artists. Their work is also reflective of the move towards Expressionism throughout Europe and the Americas.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of Los Tres Grandes, or the Three Greats, of Mexican mural painting, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Siquieros. They sprung onto the scene after the Mexican Revolution which roughly spanned the years 1910-1920. The war overthrew the dictator Porfirio Diaz, and established a reborn Mexican state that was rooted in the power of farmers and folks who worked the land.
Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros were approached by the post-Revolution Mexican secretary of public education, José Vasconcelos, and commissioned to execute several murals in public places. Vasconeclos wanted to promote the ideals of the Mexican Revolution, as well as to educate the public on Mexican history. As a majority of Mexicans were illiterate at the time, Vasconcelos thought that murals would be the perfect vehicle.
Los Tres Grandes illuminated the precolonial story of Mexico, for the first time publicly honoring and celebrating the Mesoamerican indigenous people who built the foundations of modern day Mexico. Non-European figures were elevated as heroes in the images of Los Tres Grandes, as was the working man, and the farmer.
Representation is a powerful tool and can encourage community, social growth, and hope. In the post-Revolution period the government-commissioned murals inspired all of those things, promoting the unified vision of a new Mexico.
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