Saturday 20 June 2015

Sunday afternoon 31 May: San Ildefonso, muralism, Orozco

People don't go to Mexico drawn by the art of José Clemente Orozco. They are drawn by Frida Kahlo and the hugely prolific muralist Diego Rivera.

I'm very pleased we found Orozco's work dominating murals in the Antiguo Colegio di San Ildefonso.

This New York Times article provides some background to the neglect and revival of Orozco.

When you are in the street behind the Templo Mayor, Justo Serra, your attention is drawn to the ruins of the templo and when you are there on Sunday afternoon you are among the happy.

The hole on the left of this street view is the Templo Mayor, 
the building on the right is the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso

 But you could miss the inscription at #16.
See it modestly on the wall, right hand side above and here below.

This is in fact historically a remarkable place. Founded by the Jesuits in the 1500s, the building itself reached its present baroque beauty by 1750, shortly before the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico and the church. San Ildefonso was not just for religious teaching but a base for wider education of students born in Mexico, both indigenous and the criolos, Spaniards born in Mexico, who were denied full citizenship in New Spain.

With the departure of the Jesuits, the college building had a century of difficult decline, as reported in Wikipedia. Its revitalisation came with the decision of President Benito Juarez to make it the National Preparatory School, a cornerstone of his drive for secular and scientific education, in 1867. The story of Benito Juarez, the only indigenous president of Mexico and reportedly the smallest-stature elected head of state in world history, is truly remarkable.

The National Preparatory School survived till 1978. It re-opened as a cultural centre in 1994.

In 1968, the school had been scene of the first deaths of students in what became a notorious crushing by government of student unrest.

We go to Mexico City in part to marvel at the murals. We see murals and say aha, this was painted here. Under patronage, as part of the government's determination to place the history of the nation in front of all. But it's more complicated than that...

Exploring the history of San Ildefonso and the murals there, in the National Preparatory College, it becomes evident that painting murals was no simple procedure, but was opposed by conservative forces, accompanied by media campaigns, uproar and violence.

This blog presents a valuable account of the fighting over the murals here. Ms Google will provide a somewhat trashy but useful translation if you access this link in Chrome.

Here are some bits of Ms Google's translation, I do commend to you that you look at the whole text. This translation leads me to suspect that as I too write at times in driven, non-simple English, her translations of my writing may also be a bit quirky. But you'll get the vigour and drift here:

The manifesto extolling the art of the people and the indigenous tradition, however repudiating bourgeois individualism masturbatory, art easel by aristocratic, acting by a monumental art, because of their public utility, its ideological propaganda good of the people, with an object of beauty for everyone. 

...José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros were violently thrown into the street by students like rabid dogs and their murals were severely beaten with sticks, stones and stabs.  It was the natural reaction of a country, careerist and hypocritical middle class, formed under the confiscation of armed revolution by the national bourgeoisie, immersed in the machinery of political corruption and the servile meanness that would rarefying in the educational system, thereby forming a establisment refractory, inclined to prejudice, superstition and corporatism.
Orozco's murals dominate the walls of this building. We sought the ceilings by David Siqueiros at higher levels but did not find them. It becomes evident, exploring Orozco, that while Diego Rivera idealised the people and the mass movements and Siqueiros was determinedly Stalinist in perspective, Orozco reflected on and painted the violence on all sides in the revolution... while savagely depicting rich people. When you walk down the middle, in my experience, you can get whacked from both sides...

I am not a historian, I have had the honour only to visit this museum very briefly.

I present photos representing the work of Orozco and others, together with photos of the building and happy visitors on a Sunday afternoon. This museum is not free on Sunday but it's worth visiting, especially if you look into the background, as I have only achieved several weeks after visiting. Over to you, add comment if you wish.

Here is an extract from a valuable commentary on these Orozco murals from the Arab Studies Institute:
Historians tend to disagree on why Orozco chose to spare his “Maternity” scene, which was attacked by a group of Catholic women who (ironically) deemed it sacrilegious. Of the artist’s many frescoes exploring Mexico’s epic narrative (including murals in the US), his 1926 National Preparatory School panels of the Spanish conquest are perhaps most damning with overt references to the sexual violence that defined the founding of New Spain. As he resumed his commission for the institution, his approach also became starkly pensive in an additional grouping of frescoes that ushered in the pluralist nature of the muralist movement. Sharing a wall with “Maternity” is Orozco’s masterwork: “The Trench” (1926), a disconcerting yet restrained depiction of the revolution’s violence. Abandoning the airy and robust physicality of his previous “nationalist” rendering, his figures are painted with the formal temperament of early twentieth-century expressionism and the muscularity of Toltec stone carving. Against a jagged boulder, three soldiers are frozen in motion as they fall to their deaths, their nearly fixed bodies forming a tilted crucifixion.

We found no information on this work in an adjoining courtyard.
It's Sunday and in this crowded city, a place of freedom and love.

... and finally this below, on the ceiling above the main staircase.

Enigmatic, powerful, confronting.

Depicting as perhaps Adam and Eve, the Conquistador Herman Cortes and Malinche.

Wikipedia will introduce you to Malinche. Ambiguously the powerful, influencing or controlling the conquistadors; the betrayer of her people, among whom she was an elite figure; mother of perhaps the first mestizo child, antecedent of modern Mexico. Is Cortes restraining, imposing his will on her, while he treads on fallen Mexico? See this perspective.

Friday 19 June 2015

Museo Casa Diego Rivera

This is, as described in poster below, a museum set up on the initiative in 1971 of one of Diego Rivera's daughters, Guadalupe. It is in the house where her father was born and lived for six years. There is an amount of brushwork over some of the history of Guanajuato. (It is hard to find references also to the fact that the beautiful main building of the university was first established by the Jesuits as a school for disadvantaged children... but then the Jesuits were run out of town, as out of Mexico, as out of christendom.)

That link shows how this fomented early movement towards independence. When rulers start dividing among themselves, the oppressed become aware of frailties and vulnerabilities; when their friends among the mighty are struck down, they rise up.

The Museo Casa Diego Rivera is painted simply as a nice place. It would seem useful, really, to point to the fact that the family was driven out of Guanajuato because the father was a free thinking professor with a social conscience and the boy Diego very much took after his father and was a source of friction too. I am indebted to Israel Torres, our guide on one day while in Guanajuato, for pointing us in this direction, as he noted also that Rivera refused to do the murals in the regional museum in the Granaditas de Alhondiga saying Guanajuato 'stank' both because of the family history and the mine operations in those days. You might begin background reading at this link. This would offer some insight into the origins of Diego Rivera's drive and passion for revolution and social justice... and into his tumultuous personal life. 

...anyway, to the story of our visit!

The famous couple slipped back into social media after greeting us.

It is a rule that photos may not be taken upstairs.

This means that I cannot show you anything of the Diego Rivera works up there. There you will find a number of his cubist works (see here some on a page of the website of the National Gallery of Australia and some more info here) and other things not part of his mural work, including a series of wonderful illustrations for a book on Aztec culture, which for long was not published but was, on information in the gallery, eventually published in Japan... but I can find no trace of this work on the www... A visit to the gallery to see these works is worthwhile.

Downstairs then, two things apart from a good book and poster shop.

[1] A series of rooms with collected furnishings of the period, not actually from the house or family originally.

 [2] A temporary exhibition space.

and in the temporary exhibition space

bombing Palestine 2015

Wednesday 10 June 2015

nuestra última noche en guanajuato.. last drinks and more

We went out at 9 for dinner and walked on through the town.

out the front door and look right down Calle Roque
El Templo San Roque on the left

walk down the hill, look back at our Casa Azul at the corner of Galarza
the copying shop downstairs still looking after students
late in the evening

in the plaza in front of San Roque

down the hill into the Jardin Reforma

dine in the Jardin Reforma

walk back up past San Roque

and on towards...

Plaza San Fernando with its restaurants

and head down to Avenida Benito Juarez
... Benito Juarez, such a man, such an example of Mexico

past fine things

past the legislative building and up towards the
Plaza de la Paz and the Basilica

buy the gelato and sit here

these guys come to get gelatos too

and then we get to meet the family from Chiapas

pass the basilica

look down El Truco, remember lunch at #7

and down to the action at the Jardin Union
with Pipila looking down from the hill and a car going by in one of the underground roads...
That's exactly where we came to the surface in Guanajuato a week ago.
It's extraordinary coming into town through narrow tunnels made with mine digging equipment, arriving at a crossroads underground, cars and buses giving way. 

the air now cool and breezy

the youth of the population evident

the churrigueresco of San Diego, doors shut

poses with a strange figure outside Teatro Juarez, built during the 'Porfiriato' of
Porfirio Diaz, such a combination of dictator, reformer, determinedly modern

both times we passed by the Plaza de la Paz she was sitting thinking

such finery, such attendants.
We see these women, one at a time only, escorted, dressed so
... but we don't know what is celebrated

You see (or I see) the big blue sign WC and duck in.
Pay $MEX5 for the privilege and a supply of paper
while one's consort gets to watch Tom and Jerry

Days in the window and not taken home!

restaurants pack up

we head back up through San Fernando

swinging through the Plaza San Roque we catch the last musical moment of the evening.
Yes, ragged and tired; the Mariachi band has led this audience 
all around the town for a couple of hours, probably paying and signing on at the Jardin Union.

and back up Calle San Roque to our Blue House at #7

... and to go back to the beginning, 
this video below
was our first intriguing look at Guanajuato.

No one in Australia we knew had heard of Guanajuato.

I showed this video to people and over time I began to feel it had to be
a bit fake, it had to be a gloss, it had to overstate.

But no, this is really very much the place we found
 and it's a good place
for you to start...