The Mexican Muralism movement that followed gave us some of the most important arts of the 20th century, most notably those of the “Big Three”: Diego Rivera (otherwise known as the husband of Frida Kahlo), José Clemente Orozco (a master painter despite losing a helping hand for gangrene) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (who once dismissed easel painting as “aristocratic,” framed Jackson Pollock in New York and allegedly attempted to assassinate Trotsky, but it is a another story for another time).
Things did not go exactly as planned: Obregón moved to the United States and was replaced, re-elected and assassinated before he could resume his duties. The artists became thugs, severing ties with the government and using their murals to portray both history and current events as they saw them. Siqueiros and Rivera became radicalized, Siqueiros as a Stalinist, Rivera as a Trotskyist.
The Big Three are also responsible for the introduction of Muralism beyond the border, although this process was hardly a bridge between cultures without conflict: in 1932, Siqueiros was commissioned to paint a large-scale public mural. , “América Tropical,” on the wall of a tourist street in downtown Los Angeles. He worked under cover of night to finish it, and the neighborhood woke up one morning to an 80-by-18-foot mural of a native man crucified under an American eagle – not exactly “Mexican” art. town folklore. considered. It was partially cleared in a year and fully cleared in a decade. Nelson Rockefeller’s 1932 commission for Rivera suffered a similar fate. Rockefeller, furious that Rivera had incorporated the image of Lenin into the scene, ordered the mural to be destroyed.
The boldness of these Mexican muralists and the magnificence of their work laid the foundation for the Chicano mural movement that began in the 1960s in the southwestern United States, when Mexican-American artists visited the walls. of their city to paint their own struggles against racism. and oppression. This century-old Mexican tradition of telling stories on public walls, which arguably dates much further back to Aztec cave paintings, continues to thrive in El Paso.
Although the city is quite safe (or overcrowded, depending on who you ask) and undeniably beautiful, with its palm trees and mountains and its rich bicultural history, El Paso lives with a sore heart: inextricably linked to their neighbors of Juárez, El Pasoans is feeling the violence of the border detention centers, the ICE raids, the femicides, the narco wars, the resulting bad press. In 2019, 23 people died, most of them Mexican or Mexican-American, after a mass shooting at a Walmart here. Officials said it was carried out by a 21-year-old man who posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online claiming the attack was a response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Last fall, residents of El Paso were hit by a terrifying Covid-19 spike, closures of businesses and hospitals and overflowing morgues. And the muralists are the city’s documentary filmmakers. “A mural should be didactic,” says Francisco Delgado, an artist from El Paso. “He has to talk to the community. A mural with no social background is just a painting. “
Walking around the city, checking the walls, is a master class in border life.
Christin Apodaca, another local muralist, wears her thick black hair stacked on her head, Ray-Ban sunglasses and a black and white floral bandana as a face mask. “I don’t listen to what’s going on in the world,” she says. This is not an easy and privileged dismissal, but the hard line of a serious artist on the Texas-Mexico border, refusing to let the news cycle distract her from creation. “I like to separate art and politics,” she says.
We stand in front of “Contigo” (“With You”), the black and white mural of Ms. Apodaca on a brick red wall – a female face in profile surrounded by thorny cacti.