Chicano Murals in Los Angeles

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Murals are the quintessential public art embodying the spirit of the community in which they are created. They say this is who we are, this is what we think, this is where we come from, and this is what we want, reflecting most clearly any changes in the sociopolitical environment. Murals lay out a powerful visual image of the ideology of their creators or sponsors, be it the Church during the Renaissance, government funded projects, or individuals expressing opposition. In Mexico, after the Mexican Revolution of 1917, the government commissioned a vast number of mural projects to transmit its revisionist history of the country, and celebrate the empowerment of the underclass in their recent victory. Predominate themes were cultural reclamation, history, pre-conquest civilization, anti-colonialism, anti-bourgeoisie sentiment, celebration of the working class, and highlighting the beauty and struggle of life as a Mexican. This movement moved north, across the border into California as the artists moved and government funding was discontinued. As the sociopolitical environment was rapidly changing in California the emergence of mural work of the Chicano Movement was gaining power and recognition. Their distinct style stemmed from their Mexican predecessors as they delved into their cultural heritage to define what it meant to be Chicano. The rhetoric of visual imagery of the murals created during the 1960's – 1970's addressed the economic, educational, historical, political, religious, and social aspects of the Chicano Movement. Chicano muralism has a long history, dating back prior to the great muralists of the Mexican Revolution in the 1920's, beginning in the late 8th century A.D. Murals are prevalent throughout Mexico geographically and historically. From its southern border with Guatemala, the first frescoes are found in the ancient Mayan city of Bonampak, located in the state of Chiapas. The frescoes date back to the year 790 A.D., realistically depicting spiritual rituals of the Mayan culture. Aztec murals are also found in Teotihuacan, dating from 650 – 750 B.C. Pre-Columbian art had a tremendous influenced the great muralists who emerged from Mexico in the post-Porfiriato years of the Mexican Revolution and continued to be represented in murals of the Chicano Movement. Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, were the three great Mexican muralists who emerged in Mexico during the 1920's. These three artists were heavily influenced by the artistic movements of the time – Cubism, Expressionism, and Futurism. They took from these and developed their own, unique genre of socially motivated realism. Although each artist has their own individual style, they collectively formed the basis for the modern mural language of social realism (Cockcroft 6). Themes of their work were dominated by the sociopolitical ideals of the revolution: glorifying Mexico's native and indigenous history, portraying Spanish and colonial exploitation, celebrating Mexico's natural beauty, celebrating the heroes of the revolution, and celebrating the struggles and lives of common men and women. The murals were easily understood by non-literate people and presented a populist view of history. When a new, more conservative government came into power, the three renowned artists moved to the United States. Following in the footsteps of government sponsored murals, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his New Deal, commissioned murals during the Great Depression in an effort to provide jobs for artists and promulgate American ideals. Government funded murals denied the artists freedom of expression, especially in the political realm. What emerged in the Chicano Art Movement, was individual and collective sociopolitical ideology being freely expressed without the constraints of sponsor censorship. Unlike the previous mural movements, their art was unofficial and unfunded – an arm of struggle, a way of claiming urban...
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