That the Mexican mural renaissance is understudied is clear from the fact than not one of its artists has been the subject of a scholarly biography. Moreover, the movement as a whole has usually been viewed through nationalist prejudices and partisan interpretations. A current reevaluation uses the wedge of several hitherto marginalized artists who figure more prominently in documents and chronology than in popular history. Among them, Jean Charlot can be placed securely at the beginning of several major developments, which were continuations of his work in France. At the open air art school of Coyoacán, he helped the young teachers move from impressionism to a geometry-based postimpressionism more appropriate for mural composition. He introduced woodcut, which he had practiced in France and which became the print medium of choice for generations of Mexican artists. His first mural, The Massacre in the Main Temple, was important for its successful use of fresco—immediately adopted as the preferred medium by other muralists—and its dynamic geometric composition, an alternative to Diego Rivera’s static classicism in Creation. Charlot further broadened the thematic and stylistic options of the movement in a series of small oils and in the first studies of the indigenous nude. He continued to nourish his colleagues with the results of his work as an archeological draughtsman at the Chichen Itza expedition of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC.
Charlot also participated in the notable collaboration between artists and writers in 1920s Mexico. Along with Manuel Maples Arce, he was on the two-man Direction Committee of the estridentista movement, illustrating books of poetry and joining group exhibitions. His writings are among the earliest discussions of contemporary Mexican art—publicizing the movement in Europe and the United States—and continue to influence interpretation today. His collections of documents and interviews, as well as his personal experience, became the invaluable basis of books like his The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925 and numerous articles in several languages. His latest bibliography is 173 pages long. Charlot fulfilled the unique role of insider-outsider, participant-observer, in the Mexican mural renaissance.
Robert M. Buffington and Jesus Osciel Salazar
José Guadalupe Posada (b. Aguascalientes, February 2, 1852; d. Mexico City, January 20, 1913) was a prolific printmaker of exceptional technique, range, and originality. By the time of his death, his images had become a staple of Mexico City popular culture, appearing regularly in theatrical posters, advertisements, book illustrations, broadsides, and the penny press. Despite his popularity with impresarios, advertisers, publishers, editors, and readers, Posada received scant formal recognition during his lifetime. That changed in the 1920s with his “discovery” by prominent artists and art critics including internationally renowned muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. By the 1940s, exhibitions of his work had begun to appear in major galleries and museums in the United States and Europe, promoted as evidence of a unique visual aesthetic rooted in traditional Mexican culture and committed to exposing the long-standing oppression of the Mexican people at the hands of corrupt politicians, greedy bourgeoisie, cruel caciques (local party bosses), and foreign interlopers. Although scholars have disputed the genealogy and political nature of Posada’s vision, the revolutionary nationalist interpretation of Rivera, Orozco, and others has provided inspiration and a sense of cultural legitimacy for succeeding generations of artists in Mexico and throughout the Mexican diaspora. Posada is best known for his striking calaveras, notably Calavera Catrina, a fashionable female skull with bows and a fancy hat; and La Calavera Oaxaqueña, a machete-wielding male skeleton dressed in a charro outfit. Published in conjunction with the annual celebrations for Day of the Dead (October 31–November 2) and accompanied by satiric verses, Posada’s calaveras poke fun at the pretentions of the living in the face of their inevitable mortality.
Helen Delpar and Stephanie J. Smith
Cultural nationalism characterized much of Mexico’s artistic and literary production during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Much as Mexico City’s centenary festivities in 1921 and the accompanying Exhibition of Popular Art celebrated Mexico’s resurgence from a decade of violent revolutionary struggles, the month-long event also foreshadowed an extraordinary flowering of art, music, and literature that would gain unprecedented international admiration, especially for the murals created by the three masters: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. During this vibrant era, contemporary intellectuals, composers, writers, and artists produced art that would serve as a nation-building tool to unite a country fractured by years of regional fighting. To many contemporaries, not only was this cultural renewal an expression of the forces and aspirations unleashed by the revolutionary process, but the various art forms also provided a bright beacon that lit the way for the creation an “authentic” Mexican national identity. In his role as the director of the Ministry of Public Education from 1921 to 1924, José Vasconcelos understood the influence of culture well. Indeed, as the initial sponsor of the mural movement, he first employed the three great muralists, as well as other artists, at the National Preparatory School. The creation of a national culture, though, went well beyond the work of Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, as artists from other countries also participated in Mexico’s blossoming cultural environment. Women, too, played crucial roles in the production of Mexico’s revolutionary culture, and their striking influences continue in the early 21st century.
The major art form produced in Mexico during the years following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, especially during 1920–1940, was mural painting, mostly in the technique of fresco. Three artists dominated this period: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, known collectively as the Big Three. Rufino Tamayo, younger and less ideologically aligned to those three, followed his own path of a more modernist style. An important easel painter of this period was Frida Kahlo, who traveled in the cultural and political circles of the muralists but who produced strongly personal images, especially of herself.
In addition, examples of mural paintings by the Big Three in the United States receive their due attention, as does the more independent mural production in Mexico of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The paintings are analyzed in terms of context, meaning brief references to biographical details, more expansive on the general sociohistorical setting, with accounts of the patronage where highly relevant, and relations between the artists themselves. Discussions of the style of the images, in the most comprehensive and general sense, are dedicated to revealing the ideological content of the style as it serves the more straightforward subjects of the paintings.
Raquel G. Paraíso
Among the many musical traditions of Mexico, the son is one of the most representative of the richness and diversity of Mexican culture. Son (or sones) is a generic term that describes both a complex of genres and the various regional subgenres that make up that complex. Son is a type of traditional music performed by small ensembles, with or without singing, and danced. It serves to entertain, but is also performed at celebratory occasions and festivals as well as in rituals. Although sones appear throughout Mexico marked by regional differences in both instrumentation and performance styles, they share common characteristics that define the genre as a whole, musically (i.e., their rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic structures), lyrically, and choreographically. Because of the particular cultural traits and sociocultural contexts that each son subgenre encompasses, it can be argued that regional sones are a powerful expression of Mexican regional musics, cultures, and social identities.
Born as a hybrid genre out of the intermixing of European, American Indian, African, and Afro-Caribbean musical elements and contexts, Mexican sones have moved through time defined by many as a symbol of Mexican identity, even if the very concept of that “Mexican identity” has changed over time. What might be called the son’s “Golden Age” lasted from the 1890s until the middle of the 20th century. By the 1960s, sones were in serious decline all around Mexico: they had lost the favor of their audiences, old performers had passed away, and new generations did not engage with these musical traditions. Cultural politics contributed to selective processes through which some son subgenres faded away. Sociopolitical processes from the 1930s to the 1980s contributed to the re-contextualization of the Mexican son through modified versions of sones staged and broadcast in theatres, radio stations, and film productions. Post-revolutionary nationalism, the music industry, and folkloric ballets created these new versions and exercised an ideological control that both affected popular musical expressions and shaped musical tastes. Changes in urbanization and life conditions transformed social relationships and furthered this intense transformation.
With fewer performance occasions and little support from either the government or private patrons, several regional son subgenres became thin and isolated, with minimal projection outside their regions. In the 1980s, some of the son subgenres underwent a renaissance owing to various private and official initiatives that infused new life to the music. This article provides an overview of the son, past and present, connecting the relevance of this musical style with the social history of the country.
The Departamento de Bellas Artes (DBA; Department of Fine Arts) was founded as one of the departments of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). It had a Music Section, which centered its activities on teaching music, at all levels in the entire country, with socialist ideology and under the firm belief that the fine arts should be part of the education of the people. To do so, it defined a repertoire of songs and their arrangements that was coherent and had a nationalistic discourse. The selection of songs was taken from diverse sources, some of which were the result of bibliographic research, mostly done in the DBA, but the important groups of melodies and songs that were sung in schools and adult choruses came from the National Music Archive, which was created to be the foundation and massive sample compilation of Mexican music. The composers and researchers at the time had little or no idea what the characteristics of indigenous music was; and to create nationalistic music and national dances, they needed references of what was Mexican, what was traditional. The archive was a massive and ambitious project, and the DBA was a national institute with the authority to write to all the governors in the country asking for references of folk music, local fiestas, and traditional dances, of which composers and researchers knew very little. Composers and musicians participated in sending in samples of scores or lyrics, then institutional programs were designed for rural teachers to compile music in distant regions and towns. Much of the material that was sent in was well known songs, popular ranchera music, and the indigenous music that was expected to create teaching and nationalist programs required so further research. Much of the music used in the educational programs derived from contributions made by rural teachers, and the indigenous music was compiled by few specialists who travelled only with their ears, pencils, and paper and returned with a rough selection of melodies that outlined the indigenous music of Mexico. Other sources of reference, music scores and dance descriptions, came from official events and dance contests held by the DBA in Michoacan, Hidalgo, Estado de México, and Mexico City.
Ricardo Pérez Montfort
From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, Mexican popular music underwent a significant transformation, thanks to the growth of Mexico City as an urban center and to the influence of both regional and international music genres. At the same time, the Mexican public experienced a profound shift in the way music was consumed. Over the course of five generations, traditional modes of encountering music gave way to a more cosmopolitan enjoyment of new and old musical styles.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, Mexican culture became the subject of enthusiastic interest across the Americas and several European countries. This interest was due, among other things, to transnational networks, pan-Americanism, and the development of mass communication technologies. In the late 1930s, facing a wave of negative perception abroad and domestic pressure to fulfill the promises of the revolution, the Lázaro Cárdenas government embraced all available means of communication. In addition to graphic and visual media (crafts, mural paintings, literature, cinema, etc.), radio added an audio dimension: music, reports, historical and tourist narratives, news, radio-theater, conferences, and advertising. Pan-Mexicanism refers to the convergence of the appropriation of Mexicanness abroad and the efforts of Mexican propagandists to construct a positive national image.
Pan-Mexicanism by radio originated in the educational missions of the 1920s as government stations sought to strengthen public knowledge of national culture and spread what they called “good taste.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ station, XECR, wielded the greatest power and international prominence. However, the demand for Mexican sounds sprang up in several countries in the Americas and Europe. Networks between diplomats, politicians, intellectuals, artists, musicians, businessmen, owners of radio stations, and independent consumers contributed to turn Mexican culture into a transnational phenomenon. The Mexicanist programs abroad varied according to their designers, technical resources, local demand, and reception. The contents and structure of these programs reflect different intentions, attitudes, tastes, and preferences, from the Hispano-American devotion to music to the exoticism, idealization, and romanticism of European and North American programs.
Jennifer L. Jenkins
The visual and technical culture of the Mexican Revolution shaped and was shaped by cinematic innovation in newsreel and fiction filmmaking, which evolved simultaneously with those social changes, presenting the image of those changes for the first time to Mexican audiences. While Russian Sergei Eisenstein has been (wrongly) credited with inventing Mexican cinema, a strong tradition of family-based production units existed long before Eisenstein’s visit and persists to this day. From the earliest newsreels of the conflict to the melodramas and historical epics of the epoca de oro, the Revolution infused cinematic narrative in the first half of the 20th century. As such, distinctive visual tropes and film language evolved in response and counterdistinction to Revolutionary ideals. Moving toward midcentury, cinema developed genres and narratives that continually revisioned the Revolution, creating the epoca de oro films. In this period, the film industry developed in direct correlation to the agendas of the sitting presidents, Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940), Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940–1946), and Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946–1952). Influential directors Fernándo de Fuentes, Emilio Fernández, and Spanish immigrant Luis Buñuel, along with cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, shaped the charter myths of modern Mexico though their cinematic works. At midcentury, with the advent of television and a postwar economic boom, Revolution-themed films appeared in near-continuous playback on television, while Buñuel inaugurated a cinema of realism that explored the harsher realities of the failure of Revolutionary ideals for the urban underclasses. The cultural imaginary that is cinema continued this exploration up to and after the tragedies of 1968.