As artists and educators, dealing with our own government is a game we must all play at some point. Their support is often crucial to our success yet we are always afraid of their oversight becoming too overwhelming. A perfect example of this was Soviet Russia, where all the arts were strictly bound to their government’s ideals and special processes were necessary to simply present new ideas. Today we will take a look at this problem through a different scope in a different part of the world, early 20th century Mexico. Let’s observe two Mexican artists who tackled this issue in two very different ways.
No one served as Mexico’s president longer than Porfirio Diaz. He managed to hold office from 1884 to 1911, a fact that would help spark the Mexican Revolution. In the art world, Diaz was only concerned with matching the ideals of the European’s to gain as much respect from them as possible. This greatly frustrated Mexico, for the country lacked a national “image” in their art. How would you go about changing this?
Justo Sierra, a government minister, tried to give the artists what they wanted. He appointed Antonio Fabres, a Spanish art master to the faculty of the Academy of San Carlos, a government-supported art school. Their hopes were to create a “Mexican school of painting” and Fabres approached this by essentially giving the art students freedom of speech. Students were able to choose from whatever subject matter they pleased and academics in the school were pointed back towards Mexican culture. Fabres was not popular at an administrative level at the school, but he essentially made a counter to Diaz’s “non-nationalistic” approach to art by setting the nation’s students loose.
The next individual took what I believe to be the “riskier” approach. Jose Guadalupe Posada was a political printmaker who was most active during the final years of Porfirio Diaz’s reign. He is most famous for his printings of people represented as skeletons, which he used to mock and criticize the current rulers of government and the upper class. This technique of protest is by no means unique to this artist or to Mexico, and I believe the risk with this can be far greater than the reward. As many know, Soviet composers used their music often to protest the happenings within their government. More often than not this method saw their music banned or the composers themselves exiled.
Berdecio, Roberto, and Stanley Applebaum. Posada’s Popular Mexican Prints; 273 cuts. New York, NY: Dover, 1972.
Frank, Patrick. Posada’s broadsheets: Mexican popular imagery, 1890-1910. Albquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
Patterson, Robert H. “An Art in Revolution: Antecedents of Mexican Mural Painting, 1900-1920.” Journal of Inter-American Studies 6, no. 3 (July 1964): 377-87.
Siqueiros, David Alfaro. Art and Resolution. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1975.