Mexican Revolution ESSAY
Topic I. The Mexican Revolution ended a long time ago, in the year 1920. We are now in the year 2013 and I want you to take and elaborate the following stand: Explain to a close friend or relative the final result of the Mexican Revolution. For instance, was it a battle in which there was a winner? Was it a battle that came about in order to restore a specific order for the nation?
In your essay, you must provide the following.
1. Use any three murals that illustrate your stand.
2. Quote one article we have read in class to further prove your points of view.
Your essay should be double space and font 12, and at least three pages long. ONLY ORIGINAL WORK, DONT WASTE MY TIME IF YOU CANT DO IT. I have included some articles and murals to choose from.
Aurora Reyes’s “Ataque a la Maestra Rural”: The First Mural Created by a Mexican Female Artist
Dina Comisarenco Mirkin
Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 2. (Autumn, 2005 – Winter, 2006), pp. 19-25.
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The First Mural Created by a Mexican Female Artist By Dina Comisarenco Mirkin
Despite the recent interest in female easel painters who worked in Mexico during the early-20th century,’ the coun- try’s female muralists have been virtually ignored. Their names and the titles of their public projects are rarely cited in texts, and the murals themselves, dismissed as secondary works, are given only cursory analysis. This omission may be explained by several commonly accepted assumptions: that women lacked the energy and physical strength required to paint murals, that they displayed little interest in public art during the early years of the 20th century and more important, that Mexican mural painting was traditionally the exclusive domain of men.z Consequently, the monumental works produced in Mexico during the first half of the 20th century by Mari- on (1909-70) and Grace (1902-79) Greenwood, Isabel Villaseiior (1909-531, Fanny Rabel (b. 19221, Rina Lazo Wasen (b. 1923), and Aurora Reyes (1908-85) provide clear evidence of the inconsistencies inherent in these assumption^.^
Reyes proudly described her fresco, Ataque a la Maestra Rural (Attack on the Rural Teacher) (1936; back cover), as the first mural created by a Mexican female artist.’ Produced for the Centro Escolar Revoluci6n in downtown Mexico City, where it s d stands: this re- markable work reveals the political message of a woman who was a distinguished figure of the Mexican artistic renaissance.
Aurora Reyes was born on September 9, 1908, in Hidalgo del Parral, in the state of Chihuahua, two years before the outbreak of the Mexican Revol~tion.~ Those were complex and distressing times, and in 1913, due to his political convictions, Aurora’s father, Captain Le6n Reyes, was forced to flee his hometown. He remained in hid- ing for a year, while the rest of the family went underground in the capital.’ To support the family, Aurora’s mother, Luisa Flores, baked bread, which her daughter sold in the Lagunllla market. Cut off from her comfortable life in Chihuahua, Aurora witnessed firsthand the harshness of life for the poor.S These experiences shaped her charac- ter and commitment to society’s underclasses. Aware of the implica- tions of her life story, in a 1953 interview Reyes stated:
I am interested in social issues because I have suffered hunger; I myself have suffered misery.. . . I am concerned for the people because I belong to the people. I believe that art has the means to penetrate the emotions of human beings, and that is why it can be a powelful weapon tofight for the people.Y
When the political persecution against her family ended, Reyes entered the National Preparatory School. At 13 she began taking night painting classes at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, where she was stimulated by teachers and classmates who shared her cre- ative interests and political aspirations.” She graduated in 1924, at age 16, ending her formal art training.
The following year, Reyes had her first solo ehbit ion of draw-
FALL 2005 1 WINTER 2006
ings; she also manied the journalist and writer Jorge Godoy.” During their brief union, which was marred by Jorge’s drinking,” Reyes gave birth to two chddren, Hkctor in 1926, and Jorge in 1931. Soon after, Reyes divorced Godoy, a difficult decision for a young woman in Mexico during the 1930s. After the divorce, they never saw each other again, and it is reasonable to assume that the full responsibility of raising the boys fell on Reyes’s shoulders.
For almost 40 years, beginning in 1927, Reyes taught art in the public school^.’^ In 1930, along with her teacher colleagues, she ex- hibited in the first group show of posters and photomontages held in Mexico City. In 1936, she became a member of Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios, known as LEAR, which, in its few short years of existence-1934-1937-had a profound effect on the art of the period.’Many LEAR members considered themselves academic workers with an important social duty that extended beyond the realm of art. The stimulating discussions, lectures, and other activi- ties organized by LEAR greatly influenced Reyes’s artistic and politi- cal direction.
Also during the 1930s, Reyes formed lifelong relationships with many artists and political activists, among them the painters Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Man’a Izquierdo, Jos6 Clemente Orozco, and Raul Anguiano;15 folklorist Concha Michel; composer Silvestre Re- vueltas; writer Renato Leduc; and the Cuban poets Juan Marinello and Nicolis Guil16n.16
Even with her responsibilities as a single mother of two, earning a modest salary as a teacher in the public schools, Reyes worked at her art. She also lectured on the position of women in art and society, and actively participated in the political life of the time.” During the 1940s she saw several of her poems published and participated in so- lo and group shows in Mexico and abroad.
Reyes’s intense activity as a union leader provides a good intro- duction to the beginnings of the women’s movement in Mexico.'” enthusiastic member of the Mexican Communist Party, from 1938 on she held influential posts in the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Enseiianza de la Republica Mexicana (Mexican Republic Teachers’ Union) and in the Confederacibn Nacional Campesina (National Peasant’s Confederation).
Through her work in the teachers’ union, Reyes defended the rights and participation of women, not only within the different teacher organizations but also in government positions. Among other important issues, she fought for the right of women to vote and to be elected to civd posts, for extension of the time allowed for maternity leave, for the legal recognition of breastfeeding time for mothers of young infants, and for the creation of daycare centers in schools for the children of teachers. In many of her lectures and writings, Reyes emphasized the need for direct female intervention in the creation of an integral cultural project for the nation.” She later reminisced about those years:
invariably accompanied by its counter- part, male chauvinism, which wus at its peak, and which wus mqwdblefbr many of the em’s mistakes.. . . [During thosepln]toornentoere~consult- e d a s t o h o w t o ~ k e y i s s u e s f b + achieoing emancipaEion as such.”
Reyes’s feminism guided her per- sonal life, her scholarly discourse, her public actions, and her artistic career. She and her colleagues realized that so- cialist ideals in themselves were not enough to solve women’s problems. Just as her male colleagues denounced the unfair relationships between the classes. the female artists and activists denounced the unequal relationships between the sexes, an integral feature of the capitalist system, usually ignored by the political parties and artistic orga- nizations of the day.
Although Reyes was a professional painter first, she has received more critical acclaim as a poet. The publica- tion of “Hombre de MBxico” in 1947 marked the beginning of her career as a poet, followed by “Nueve estancias en el desierto” (Nine Stays in the Desert) (1950) and “Astro en camino” (Star On Its Way) (1951). Her first book of poet- ry, HU-mnos paisajes (Human Land- scapes), was published in 1953. In 1974, “Palabras al desierto” (Words to the Desert) appeared in Tres poetas rnefiicanos. a collaboration with Roberto L6pez ~ b r e n o and Sergio Armando mmez, and in 1981, a compilation of Reyes’s works, including a new poem entitled “Cosecha estelar” (Stellar Har- vest) was published under the title Es- pi& en r e t m (Returning Spiral).
Reyes’s verses are original in form and profound in content. Some are po- litical, but most are lyrical and intimate. Her interest in re-Columbian d t u r e I ins~ired her complex world view and ex- pressive metaphors for universal preoc- cupations such as life, death, nature, loGe, the passage of time, anguish, ab- sence, and Gscendence. contrary to expectations, Reyes’s approach to her writing and her painting are at variance. She recognized this peculiarity, once commenting that she made “paetry with colors, and painted on a base of ~ords . ‘~ ‘ The “brushwork” of her wetrv and the narrative character of heipaini- ings are what make her work unique. The paintings, more descriptive and po- litical in content than her poems, are in-
Fig. 1. Aurora Reyes, Juchitan Market (1 953). Photo: Colecci6n Fotografica, Centro Nacional de Investigoci6n,
Documentaci6n e Informaci6n de Artes P16sticas/lNBA.
Fig. 2. Aurora Reyes, Sick Child (1 937). Photo: Colecci6n Fotografica, Centro Nacional de Investigac7611, Documentaci6n
e Informaci6n de Artes Plasticas/lNBA.
fluenced by the same sensitivity, delica- cy, and love of life. She expressed herself through a wide spectrum of media and art forms: lithographs for political leaflets, posters, and banneq ink draw- ings for book illustrations; oil on canvas for private commissions such as portmits and genre works; and tempera, fresco, and acrylic for public commissions.
Like many of her contemporaries, Reyes favored subjects related to her social commitment and political con- cerns, @ d y the plight of women and children and education. Her aD- proach, she claimed, was in the tradi- tion of the Mexican School of art: “real- istic and figurative, whose content re- lates to the struggle of the people and to the exaltation of their bea~ty .”~ Also, like most of the Mexican School artists, Reyes was concerned with celebrating the country’s history and traditions. In her last mural, El primer enczrentro (The First Encounter), painted be- tween 1977 and 1978 at the local office of the Coyoadn area council in Mexico City, Reyes focused on the dramatic im- pact of the Spanish Conquest on the na- tive population. In several easel paint- ings she highlighted the Mexican strug- gle for independence, and in paintings such as Escmas de la rewlzrcidn,,paint- ed in 1935, she drew attention to the most recurrent theme of the Mexican School. the Mexican Revolution. Reves also produced some genre paintings, such as Juchitan Market (1953; Fig. l), and studies of female figures wearing traditional regional costumes, such as The Golden Bride (1955).23
Also prominent in her oeuvre are de- pictions of children. Young Boy by the Sea (1947), Boys and Star (1948), and The Girl Mareiia (1953) show Reyes’s tender understanding of childhood and the physical and emotional changes in- herent in the process of growing up. Sick Child (1937; Fig. 2) summarizes the sensitivitv and honestv with which she internre& chilclhood~ ~t the same time, with its melancholic tone and background landscape populated with oil towers. the work denounces the ex- ploitation of the poor and other social inequities that characterized Mexican society during the 1930s. In 1938 Reyes became an enthusiastic supporter of the expropriation of foreign-owned petrole- um companies ordered by President L6za1-0 Cdenas (1934-40).
The treatment of women in contem- porary life that was the focus of her p litical activities and lectures also mani-
fested itself in her artwork, especially in her powerful portraits, for example, of Lenin’s collaborator Nadeja Kroupskaia (1930; Fig. 3), Chabela V i f i o r (1938), and Frida Kahlo (1946). Her allegorical fe- male figures such as Woman of War (1937; Fig. 4)24 are emotionally powerful statements about motherhood and. svn-
onymously, a persuasive call for peace. Another major theme in Reyes’s oeu-
vre was education: she believed onlv an educated populace could construct a new society. Indeed, education was the theme in her most important mural series, Pres- ence of the Teacher throughout Mexican Histmy (1959-61), painted at the Sindica- to Nacional de Trabajadores de la Edu- caci6n (National Union of Education W~rkers) .~~ Her first mural on the theme was Attack on the Ruml Teacher.
The elementary school, Centro Escolar Revoluci6n. for which Reves’s mural was created. was vlanned as a &ode1 center to implement &e long delayed democratiza- tion of education promised by the Mexi- can Revolution. It &IS built d&ng the last phase of the interim mandate of fresident Abelardo L. Rodriguez (193234), at the same time as the philosophical foundation of the s d e d “socialist education” pro- gram was being initiated.%
The building was erected at the cor- ner of the avenues Arcos de Bel6n and Niiios Heroes in Mexico City, a p r and densely populated neighborhood in the 1930s and an ideal location for a large, modem public primary school. The k t building on this site, dating from colonial times, housed the Antiguo Recogimiento de Mujeres, a religious retirement center for women, which later became a school for girls, and in 1863, a jail, the infamous CQrcel de BelBn. The prison’s dungeon was used as a torture chamber, and dur- ing the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1911), it housed not only common criminals but political prisoners as well.
With the destruction of the infamous jail and its replacement by a modem edu- cational center, President Rodriguez an- nounced his government’s radical social shift. The monumental functionalist building07 was dedicated on November 20, 1934, the 24th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution from which it took its name and inspiration, and only a few days after approval of the constitutional amendment mandating socialist educa- tion.” The speeches at the opening cere- mony hailed the event as the triumph of revolutionary ideals.*
The election of General k o Ch- denas del Rio to the presidency in 1934
Fig. 3. Aurora Reyes, Portrait of Kroupskaia (1930). Photo: Colecci6n Fotogrbfica, Centro Nacional de
Investigaci6n, Documentaci6n e Informaci6n de Artes Plbsticos/lNBA.
Fig. 4. Aurora Reyes, Woman of War (1 937). Photo: Colecci6n Fotogrbfica, Centro Nacional de Investigaci6n,
Documentaci6n e Informoci6n de Artes PIasticas/lNBA.
revitalized the radical democratic promis- es of the revolution, bringing new hope to the devastated countrv. Chdenas wanted to sever the Church’s intervention in edu- cation and strengthen the quality of public education. He saw education as a tool for social reform, a means to indoctrinate the young with the ideals of the revolution. Establishing direct contact between the schools and the workers was of the utmost importance to the government. A system of popular education was created, with study programs and classroom activities adavted to the economic needs of the co&try. f i e teachers, particularly in rural areas, played an important role in spread- ing socialist education, since not only were they in charge of teaching basic literacy, they were also key players in the diffusion of the fundamental ideals of the revolu- tion and the unionization of the peasants. Under Caenas, the Centro Escolar Rev- oluci6n played a central role. It was the experimental, model school for testing so- cialist education, and the essential instru- ment for building the broad popular sup- port needed for social reform.”
The murals in the school’s foyer were created between 1934 and 1936. The task was assigned to the members of LEAR, most of whom believed in the Dower of art to awaken the political consciLusness and improve society. They drew their inspira- tion from the unique history of the place, the war against fascism, and the emblem- atic value of the new school as the embod- iment of the triumph of socialist education and the revolution?’ Six artists were corn- missioned to paint the eleven fresco pan- els: Radl Anguiano, Everardo Ramirez, Gonzalo de la Paz P6rez, Antonio Guti6r- rez, and Aurora Reyes, all Mexicans, and Ignacio G6mez Jararnillo, a C~lombian.~ The panels, filled with heroic and dramat- ic images, reflected the atmosphere of 1930s Mexico, with its proliferation of public demonstrations and strikes in favor of socialist education by impassioned workers. teachers. and students. and the brutal a&ks against them.
The first group of three panels, on the left wall as one enters the school, by G6mez Jararnillo and Anguiano, depicts the discrimination and violence of the Porfirian regime against all political dis- sent, a theme closely associated with the past history of the building. These pan- els also alluded to the recent release of political prisoners ordered by the CQr- denas government.
On the right wall of the entrance, in the second group of three panels, Ramirez and de la Paz Perez emphasized the
groundbreaking role of socialist education. The subjects were in- spired by the Inass political demonstrations of the times and summa- rized the imagined final triumph of sociahst education in Mexico.
The main wall of the foyer, directly across from the main en- trance, consists of five panels. The central one, by de la Paz Pkrez, shows a modem building with the inscription “Escuela Sociahsta,” symbolically combining the architecture of the Centro Escolar Rev- oluci6n and the emblematic Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City Two adjacent murals, by Anguiano, represent in their lower lev- els the clerical and military establishment’s association with religious intolerance, fascism, war, and violence, and in their upper levels the new, just, sociahst \vorld.
At either comer of the main wall, the remaining two frescoes dramatize the fierce attacks on rural teachers perpetrated by conser- vative forces. GutiCrrez’s painting, on the left, depicts a male teacher surrounded by his loving children, while a murderer, sd l holding a h i f e in his hands, lurches sideways as he begins his escape. On the right, Reyes shows a female teacher being violently attacked by two men: one is beating her with the butt of a rifle while the other drags her by the hair. Both paintings give vivid testimony to the cruelty that results from religious and political fanaticism, and to the sacrifices made by rural teachers in the service of education and social reform. Considering the highly expressive value of Reyes’s painting, her pro- fession, and her lifelong preoccupations with the situation of women, Reyes’s selection of a female heroine was clearly not random.
Together Guti6rrez’s and Reyes’s paintings express the LEAR artists’ outrage at the violent attacks on rural teachers during the 1930s. A decade earlier, the Secretary of Education, JosC de \’ascon- celos,’? had organized “cultural nlissions,” placing groups of teachers in the most remote regions of the country for the noble purpose of teaching the peasants basic literacy His underlying philosophy was that education is the most effective way to advance toward the social emancipation of the poor. The traditional economic and political in- terests in the srnall villages where they were placed were not easily altered. For centuries, education had been in the hands of the Catholic Church, and change met resistance from both the aggres- sive rural congregations and numerous mercenaries paid by conserv- ative forces to spread terror and counteract the revolutionary ideal.
The situation of rural schoolteachers became especially danger- ous during the Cristiada Rebellion (1926-29),% when misinformed, fanatically religious peasants and mercenaries brutally attacked, even murdered them. The violence continued throughout Cirdenas’s presidency; more teachers n7ere assaulted, many of them permanent- ly disfigured.”
On March 29, 1936, a particularly bloody massacre occurred that most likely inspired Gutikrrez and Reyes. That Sunday, in the village of San Felipe Torres Mocha (later renamed Ciudad Gonzilez) in the state of Guanajuato, some parishioners emerged fi.0~1 inass armed with stones, sticks, and pistols, and attacked the county cultural mission’s celebration at the plaza, attended by teachers and peasant families. The newspapers reported that at least 16 people were killed during the assault and another 25 seri- ously injured. President CBrdenas traveled to the village and at the same church where the disturbance had started delivered a defiant speech condemning the criminal act. Charges were brought against the priest, and three other nonregistered ministers were exiled from the village.
Attack on the Rural Teacher clearly registers Reyes’s outrage. The composition is organized horizontally: in the foreground are three monumental figures; in the middle ground a stylized building and three children; and in the background a silhouette of a mountain. The simplified, rounded shapes and limited color scheme create a dynamism that is emphasized by the predominance of the diagonal
coln~ositionalaxes that structure the subiect. The three main figures, two male aggressors framed by the sin-
uous landscape and their female victim who is close to the ground, approximate the outline of Mexico’s territory. The strong rhythm created by the repetition of curvilinear shapes, color, and direction suggests a macabre dance symbolic of Mexico’s violent histon in particular the recent shameful abuse of women.
Consistent wit11 her ideology, in Attack on the Rural Teacher Reyes clearly identifies the perpetrators of the recent slaughter as enemies of the revolutionary ideals of modem Mexico. The murder- er on the left clutches in one hand currency bills, suggesting that he is a mercenary. In Reyes’s image, capitalism, clearly symbolized by the dishonorable bills, \vas at the core of the perpetuation of brutality in Mexican society For the LEAR artists, capitalism was the nation’s main foe, and the conuption inherent in this economic system was to blame for contemr>orarv Mexico’s ills. I i
Another enemv of the state-and the LEAR artists-was the worldwide emergence of facism. The murderer’s fascist affiliation is made clear by cis golden shirt and leather boots, the “uniform” adopted by members of the Alianza Revolucionaria Mexicanista, Nazi s~mpathizers notorious during the 1930s for their brutal attacks on leftist groups. At the same time, without resorting to the obvious depiction of the swastika symbol used elsewhere in the series, Reyes positioned the attacker’s bod)7 to insinuate the symbol.76
The LEAR artists also believed that religion was a conservati\7e ” force that impeded progress, and that the peasants’ ignorance made them susceptible to enemies of the revolution. Describing the am- bush in San Felipe Torres Mocha, the newspapers reported that the attackers came out of the local church and were incited by the priest, -7110 was judged by the government to be responsible for the attacks. To symbolize the religious component of the crime, Reyes painted the other male aggressor, whose face is concealed under a peasant’s straw hat, barefoot, with a scapular hanging from his neck. This reli- gious artifact is commonly used in Mexico as a sign of consecration to the Virgin Mary. Here, though, the peasant is boldly exposed in the sinful act of bnitally attacking a defenseless woman. Symbolically he serves to summarize the prejudices, misinformation, and crimes that were committed in the Mexican countryside in the name of the Catholic faith.
In the lecture Reyes gave at the Congreso Naciond Femenil in Havana, in 1939, she pointed out the continuing subjugation of women:
Analyzing the process of culture through the history of humanity, we find that the values that create it, although important, are insuficient tofulfill the needs of a humanity that is composed of both women and men, since, up to the present day, culture in general has displayed ex- clusively masculine characteristics, because it has been created by them and for them, casting women aside to a greater or lesser degree; women are relegated in all of their activities to the status of protected beings, that is, slaves to be exploited by men who are, in turn, en- slaved and exploited by other men.3′
The mural depicts the “exploited men” who, in turn, exploit and en- slave women. From Reyes’s perspective, as experienced many times through her writings and political activity, the inequities in Mexican society have more to do with gender oppression than class.
Reyes’s depiction of violence against women broke a taboo in art, adding extra value to the work. The artist’s intention was not to mani- fest a morbid, sadistic, or sentimental obsession to exorcize violence. Rather, she sought a hopeful moralizing act that would create an awareness of the cruel reahty of women’s lives, and at the same time help forge a new social order able to guarantee the highest, most ac-
WOMAN’S ART JOURNAL
coinplished exercise of hunlan rights. One of the most inportant objectives of the artists of the Mexican
School was the creation of metaphors for the secular “martys” pro- duced by the ongoing revolutionary stn~ggle.During those troubled times, women roved themselves capable at tasks previously as- signed only to men, including fighting at the front.” Still, most of the secular martyrs depicted in the murals during the 1920s and 1930s were male. In the Mexican mural movement, women were depicted not for their deeds, but as allegorical, id~~llicfigures that embodied the alxtract concepts of earth, motherland, democracy, and occasion- ally, evil. \+’hen depicted as real women, they usually appeared faith- fully following and providing for the men, but never actively partici- pating in the struggle; as grieving mothers and wives; or as idealized teachers, the only profession considered acceptable for women. Even so, Reyes’s image of the female schoolteacher daringly con- fronted the traditional iconography on the subject.
Jean Franco claims that early-20th-century political discourse placed the female teachers of the rural nlissions in a position similar to that of nuns during colonial times. They were to be single and chaste. They were denied opportunities to advance in their careers, since ma- ternity ws considered a.women’s main “career” objective. First-gen- eration muralists like Diego Rivera and Roberto Montenegro depicted female teachers in their classrooms reading a book or writing on a blackhoard, or if out in the open, protected by a revolutionruy male soldier, and always surrounded by their surrogate off~pring.~’Their be- nign expressions and consenlative dress mncealed their sexuahty and suggested the motherly, devotional aspects of teaching, which allowed the profession to be regarded as acceptal~lefor women.
Reyes rejected tllis iconography. Her schoolteacher wears high- heeled shoes and a red dress that accentuates her round hips and breasts. An imposing figure, Reyes’s teacher was not the abnegated “second mother” but rather a sexuahzed modem professionalwoman for whom the significance of her gender causes no shame, No longer the incarnation of motherhood, she instead becomes the epitome of the essential concepts of freedom, education, and culture longed for by followers of revolutionary ideals. The extreme violence exerted on the teacher’s body contradicts the idealized versions of male mural- ists. It reveals the terrifying dangers that rural schoolteachers, both male and female, faced in real life, and the historical challenges faced by postrevolutionary society.
Reyes’s mural goes far beyond the socihst agenda of the Mexican School. Designed by a teacher, unionist, and feminist, it metaphori- cally reveals the violence and excess of the patriarchal order. The painting stands as a denunciation of sexism, \vkich together with po- litical repression, exploitation of the poor, fascism, and religious fa- naticism, bears witness to the social inequities of the capitahst system opposed by the LEAH artists.
The accounts of female lallings during the 1930swere frequently published in the so-called “red notes” of the newspapers, but only rarely was the theme denounced in works of art.a Reporters usually described the crimes as acts of passion, the result of an illicit rela- tionship rather than a terrorist act, thereby diminishing their signifi- cance. Gender violence, a serious social problem that manifests it- self in a multitude of ways, domestic violence and rape, for example, is forcefully condemned in Reyes’s work. This terrifying image of the murder of a female teacher rendered visible the harm caused by prejudice and discrimination. Her painting also revealed the ideo- logical affiliation of the murderers so that their culpability could not be moderated or concealed. The victim, a dedcated teacher, a true heroine of the revolution, lost her life at the hands of cruel and cow- ardly male assassins. The painting is a deeply affecting symbol of pain, sacrifice, and heroism.
Within the drama of the scene, Reyes affirms the eventual
achievement of revolutionary ideals. She once wrote that “those who give their lives for the ideals of a ulortlly cause in favor of humanity never h e ; their words and blood are interwoven in all those who fol- low them.”” Accordingly the artist suggests that in spite of her death, the schoolteacher \dl triumph by affecting the future. The children will continue the struggle for the noble causes of freedom, human dtgnity, and culture. Through education by teachers such as she, so- ciety will eventually transcend sexual divisions and violence, and at- tain socialjustice.
On the right side of the composition,tllree cMdren witness the at- tack; a girl and two boys. The young girl, dressed in wlrite and stand- ing assertively,signals hope for the future. Despite the horrific scene before her, she remains composed. With one hand, she restrains the older boy. who nervously grabs the u~all;with the other she protects the younger child, who hides h s face from the atrocious spectacle.
In Attack on the Rural Teacher,Reyes convincingly states that sexual inecpality, hierarchy, and oppression are not natural, absolute condi- tions but products of a culture, a combinationof social and psychologi- cal practices that can be transformed through the socialist educational model.The meaning of womanhoodcan be constmcted anew.
In a moving, undated letter, Reyes wrote to her unborn child, whom she imagined a girl:
This community, that you will be part of, is amazing: it has resisted so much hardship, so many cruelties and plundering; it has been be- trayed in every possible way by strangers and by its ownpeople, and it has raised itselffrom the dead and stood upright, and still walks with unhurried,silent dignity…. I want you to know that we women have dreamt about dignifying our lives, [ a n a that now, we need to se- cure a place ofjustice and respect for thefuture, in order to achieve equality and brotherhood among our children, to avoid wars instigat- ed by blind ambition, and to destroy for once and for aU the chain of slavery created by ignorance, hatred and rn i s e~ .~ ‘
In the first mural painted by a Mexican female artist, Aurora Reyes exposed not only a monumental historical event but also the evil of a social system that promoted ignorance, violence, and religious fa- naticism. In Attack on the Rural Teacher, this female artist de- nounced and challenged the discrimination and violence permeat- ing Mexican culture during the 1930s, including the oppression of women, themes that still resonate in contemporary society.
The powerful image of Reyes’s teacher pays tribute to the many women who lost their lives during the revolutionary and postrevolutionary struggles. Close to the earth, she will follow the cycle of death and rebirth that are part of the natural order, which, in the teacher’s case, is cultural rather than biological. Reyes here challenges the hegemony of male artists in the Mexi- can School. Her bold recognition of the power relations of gen- der, her exposure of the social construction of sexual difference, and the significance of her representation in confronting the prevalent system, challenged the traditional paradigm of analysis of the Mexican artistic renaissance.
Reyes’s uncle, the distinguished Mexican philosopher Alfonso Reyes, evoking her poem Magnolia,” described the artist as a “flowered heart.” Later, the poet Roberto L6pez Moreno expand- ed the metaphor, referring to the artist as “the irascible magnolia, a class of perfume raised in arms, with rebellious petals.”” Having lived a full and intense life, Aurora Reyes died in Mexico City on April 26, 1985. Her ashes were scattered under a magnolia tree in the garden of her house in CoyoacBn. It is said that the tree blos- soms each year on the anniversary of her death. Her corpus of written and painted works, while not large in size is monumental in its scope, rebelliousness, and beauty.
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N O T E S An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the conference “Excellence in Research-30 Years of Art History at Rutgers,” on October 25, 2003, Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University.
1. I refer in particular to Frida Kahlo (1 90754), Maria lzquierdo (1 90255), Remedios Varo (1 908-63), and Leonora Carrington (b. 191 7).
2. See James Oles, 10s hermanos Greenwood en M k i c o (Mbico D.F.: CONACULTA, 2000) and Edward Sullivan, Introducci6n, in l a mujer en Mexico (Mexico D.F.: Fundacion Cultural Televisa y Centro Cultural/ Arte Contemporaneo, 1990), LII.
3. Oles, Greenwood en Mexico, points out the precedent of women assisting established male muralists: lone Robinson, Ana Teresa Ordiales Fierro, and Mercedes Quevado Bazan helped Diego Rivera. In 1945, Maria lzquierdo was commissioned to paint a mural in Mexico City, but Rivera and Siqueiros succeeded in canceling the contract, allegedly due to her lack of preparation. See Sylvia Navarrete, Maria lzquierdo (Mexico, D.F.: Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, 1989), 92-94.
4. In 1946 Reyes declared in an interview that she was “the first female Mexican mural artist.” In the same interview, she recognized that there were “gringuitas” who had come before her, disciples of Diego Rivera, who worked at the Market Abelardo Rodriguez. See Villa & Remolino, Revisfa de Revistas (Mexico, D.F.: September, 1946). The gringuitas to whom Reyes refers were the Greenwood sisters, Marion and Grace.
5. In 1955, the city government tried to construct an avenue through the middle of the Centro Escolar. Reyes joined a group of parents in signing a petition and picketing the site to prevent the ordinance from taking effect. They won their battle, but the murals are still not safe from damage and pos- sible removal. When Reyes’s panel was last restored, in 2002, the Centro Nacional de Conservaci6n y Registro del Patrimonio Artistic0 Mueble (National Center for the Conservation and Registration of Artistic Heritage Sites-XNCRPAM) reported that the surface of the mural was in good condi- tion, but that the painting itself was marked with drips of vinyl paint, water, and a thick layer of dust and grease due to vehicle emissions, as well as damage caused by ~lasticine and mud impact. (CNCRPAM Report, Septem- ber 4, 2002, file #229). Two years later the painting shows additional signs of damage, which may require further intervention.
6. Most of the information on Reyes was obtained from documents and newspaper clippings archived in the Fondo de Autor Aurora Reyes, at the Biblioteca de las Artes, Centro Nacional de las Artes (CENART).
7. General Bernardo Reyes, Aurora’s grandfather, was a leader of the revolt known as the “Decena Tragica,” a period of around ten days in which dissidents, disappointed by the government of Francisco I. Madero, staged an uprising. He died in the attack on the National Palace, and when his family was condemned to death, they fled to Mexico City.
8. This was a very difficult experience. Aurora recalled that groups of older boys frequently beat her to steal her bread. She defended herself by throwing stones at her attackers. Her defiance and the fact that her father was called Leon, or lion, earned Aurora the nickname of “la cachorra,” the lion cub.
9. Excerpt from an interview published in the newspaper Excelsior, February 24, 1953, entitled “De Poetisa a Pintora” (From Poet to Painter). All translations are by the author unless indicated otherwise.
10. From a very young age, Reyes was rebellious. A newspaper article reported her expulsion from the Preparatory School for hitting one of the school’s ~refects, and it was only then that she entered the art school. See Patricia Cardona, “Aurora Reyes ingres6 a la Academia de Son Carlos por una golpiza que dio a una prefecta de la prepa,” Periodico Unomasuno (December 30, 1985), 1 15.
1 1. Jorge Godoy was the author of El libro de 10s Rosas Virreinales (Mexico, D.F.: Herrero), 1 923. He died in 1949 at age 55.
12. This information was taken from a statement given by the artist reproduced in “Aurora Reyes,” from the television series Solo Mujeres, Canal 22, 1996.
13. In a letter Reyes wrote to President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, she
complained of the difficulties she experienced in developing her artistic skills due to her heavy teaching load.
14. The debates and works that emerged from the LEAR artists’ interest in politics and current events are among the most fascinating in the history of Mexican art. The group’s publication, Frente a Frente, made forceful political statements, particularly against the rise of fascism in Spain.
15. 1 thank Raljl Anguiano, a renowned secondgeneration muralist, for sharing his memories of LEAR and, in particular, of his friend Aurora Reyes. lnterview with RaOl Anguiano, May 23, 2004.
16. Reyes met Nicolas Guillen in 1939, while attending the Feminine Con- gress in Cuba. They had a passionate affair that ended because neither wanted to live in the other’s country.
17. Reyes was particularly active during the nationalization of Mexico’s oil industry in 1938, the Cuban revolution of 1959, and the 1968 international student movement.
18. As an example, in 1935 the Frente ljnico PreDerechos de la Muier (United Front for Women’s Rights) comprised more than 50,000 women who belonged to about 800 organizations around the country. For a complete story of the women’s movement in Mexico, see Anna Macias, AgainstAll Odds: The Feminist Movement in Mexico to 1940 (Westport, Conn.: Green- wood Press, 1982).
19. CENART contains several documents on Aurora Reyes’s political activi- ties. Among other papers is the speech she gave at the Feminine Congress in Cuba in 1939.
20. Quoted in Patricia Cardona, Periodico Unomasuno, 1 15. 2 1 . lnterview with Armando Carlock for El Nacional (June 7, 1971). 22. Reyes, quoted in “Sobre pintura mexicana hablo ayer Aurora Reyes
en Bellas Artes,” in El Nacional (March 15, 1958). 23. Her portrayal of Estela Ruiz, a teacher of folkloric dances, appeared
on the old Mexican ten peso bill. 24. The painting has also been titled Una mujer en la revoluci6n and
dated 1939. Reyes donated the painting to the Comite Femenino de Solidaridad Continental in 1954; see Leticia Ocharan y Robert Lopez Moreno, Aurora Reyes: l a sangre dividida (Chihuahua: Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua, Conseio Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Programa Cultural de las Fronteras, 1990), 64.
25. The series included the works: Trajectory of Mexican Culture, Teacher’s Presence in the Mexican Social Movements, Mexican Great Teachers, and The Book Open to Space. The dates attributed to the work, 1959-61, were determined by CNCRPAM at the time their specialists restored the murals.
26. On November 2 1, 1934, the newspaper El Universal reported the opening of the Centro Escolar Revolution, the launch of the new socialist education proiect, and the imprisonment of several protestors. See El Universal, November 2 1, 1 934, Sec. 1, 1 .
27. The school was designed by the architect Antonio Mufioz, who had overseen construction of the Market Abelardo Ramos.
28. The constitutional amendment was approved by the Senate on October 1 1, 1934. Its final text declared that “the State education will be socialist, and will exclude every religious doctrine; it will fight fanaticisms and preiudices; therefore, the school will organize teaching activities to encourage the creation of a rational and exact concept of the universe and of social life for subsequent generations.” The amendment took effect on December 1 , 1934. See Gilberto Guevara Niebla, l a educocion socialista en Mexico ( 1 934-1 945) (Mexico, D.F.: Biblioteca Pedagbgica de la Secretaria de Educacion Pbblica, 1985), 63-64.
29. Aaron Saenz, Mayor of the Federal District, after analyzing the differ- ent stages of the revolution, stated in his inauguration speech that “the revolu- tionary effort will now focus on the construction of centers of education” and concluded that it was highly symbolic that a filthy prison, previously an instrument of political vengeance, had become a large school. Luis Tijerina Almaguer, a high ranking officer of the Ministry of Public Education, eulogized the creation of the proletarian school for five thousand students as signifying the final triumph of revolutionary ideals. See El Universal
WOMAN’S ART JOURNAL
(November 2 1, 1934), Sec. 1, 1,4. 30. For a complete analysis and documents related to socialist education in
Mexico, see Niebla, l a educacibn socialista en Mexico ( 1 934- 1945). 3 1 . In the face of the accelerating pace of totalitarian regimes, the VII
International of 1933 called for the formation of a united front against war, the Nazis, and fascism. Consequently, the LEAR artists, many of whom were communists, intended their paintings not just to raise the Mexican people’s consciousness about class struggle, but also to reinforce the an- tifascist message that was considered vital for the preservation of a civi- lized society.
32. The set was complemented by four stained glass windows created by Fermin Revueltas, which were placed in two architectural structures adjacent to the main school building. They address the topic of Mexican his- tory and offer images of the benefits of science and technology for the future.
33. Jose de Vasconcelos was a controversial philosopher, lawyer, writer, politician, historian, and educator. He was appointed Rector of the National University of Mexico (1 920-2 1) and Secretary of Public Education (1 92 1-24). In a later mural series, Presence of the Teacher in Mexican History, (1 96062), Reyes depicted Vasconcelos with two faces, one as a teacher of the young people, and the other as a traitor to his principles.
34. The conflict between the Church and the revolutionary government ex- ploded in 1926. With the cry, “Long Live Christ the King,” Catholic insurgents rebelled against certain anticlerical measures decreed by the State, burning schools, dynamiting troop trains, and murdering rural schoolteachers. At least 90,000 Mexicans died during the conflict, which lasted until 1929.
35. In 1939, the Secretary of Education commissioned some of the artists of the Popular Graphics Workshop, the successor of LEAR, to produce a s e ries of lithographs denouncing the atrocities committed against the rural mis- sions. Leopoldo Mendez’s series, En nombre de Cristo, produced in 1939, is a powerful, critical work that illustrates some of the most notorious crimes car- ried out against rural teachers.
36. Antonio Rodriguez, El hombre en llamas, Historio de la pintura mural
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adds another level of understanding to the Vigke-Lebrun project in Singular Women.
Birnbaum also reviews Essays on Women Artists. “The Most Excellent,” edited by Liana Cheney. Three contributors to this book-Cheney, Lilian Zirpolo, and Alicia Faxon-also appear in this issue as reviewers. Cheney reviews the first comprehensive English-language study of Lavinia Fontana, by Carolme Murphy (Cheney published an article in WA]on that artist in 1984).Zirpo- lo reviews Architecture and the Politics of Gender in Early Mod- ern Europe, edited by Helen Hills; and Faxon reviews Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Arthts by Lisa Fanington (herself a four-time WAJcontributor).
Also included in the Cheney collection is Joyce Cohen’s “Kiki Smith’s Scissors, Paste and Fire,” which complements nicely Cas- sandra Langer’s review of the MoMA exhibition catalogue Kiki Smith. Prints, Books 6.Things, by Wendy Weitman. Langer faults this much ballyhooed feminist artist for denying that appellation.
Andrea Pearson reviews another collection of essays, Saints, Sinners and Sisters: Gender and Northern Art in Mediezjal and Early Modern Europe, edited by Jane Carroll and Ahson Stewart. The essays evolved from conference papers and were designed for classroom use, a mission says Pearson, they accomplish.
Authors of surveys are often faulted for their omissions. Far- rington’s elegantly written, comprehensive survey of African- American women artists devotes only a sentence to the art of Ami-
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en Mexico (London: Thames and Hudson, 19701, 23 1 . 37. Aurora Reyes, excerpt from a lecture entitled “Women and Culture”,
delivered on April 1, 1939. CENART. 38. See, among others, Shirlene Ann Soto, The Mexican Woman: A Study
of her Participation in the Revolution, 1910-1940 (Palo Alto, Calif.: R & E Research Association, 1979).
39. Jean Franco, Las Conspirodoras: l a representacibn de la mujer en M b i c o (Mexico, D.F.: Colegio de Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Economica y Tierra Firme, 1939), 141 .
40. An interesting exception was Frida Kahlo’s A Few Small Nips (1935). The painting was based on the true story of a man who stabbed his wife 20 times, who, when interrogated by the press, declared that he “only gave her a few small nips.” Kahlo stated that she painted the scene “because in Mexico, killing is quite satisfactory and natural” and because of her empathy with the murdered victim, for she herself had come close to being “murdered by life.” Hoyden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 1 80-8 1 .
41. Excerpt from a letter written by Reyes to Gabriel Leyva Velazquez. From the archives of Hector Godoy, quoted in Ocharan and Lopez Moreno, Aurora Reyes, La sangre dividida, 66.
42. Filed in CENART. 43. Originally published in Cuadernos No. 179, from the series Material
de lectura (UNAM,Mexico), edited by Roberto L6pez Moreno. 44. Ocharan and Lopez Moreno, Aurora Reyes, l a sangre dividida, 7.
The original text in Spanish reads: “La magnolia iracunda, una suerte de per- fume levantado en armas, de petalo contestatario.
Dina Comisarenco Mirkin is Associate Professor of Art History at the Instituto Tecnol6gico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, in Mexico City. Her first article for WAJ was “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Tlazolteotl” (Spring/Summer 1996).This is her third appearance in the journal.
nah Robinson. However, this multimedia artist is the subject of a lavishly produced Abrarns book, with quilted cover and foldout re- productions, edited by Carole Genshaft and reviewed here by Robin Rice.
Not to be forgotten is the Israeli artist Ruth Domt Yacoby, whose art and life are documented by Angela Levine. The only living artist in the Portraits section, she represents the kind of artist living away from the established art centers that we have been pleased to introduce to our readers worldwide. Yacoby deals ritualistically with the pain and pleasure of the female experience, with birth and rebirth, and with the anxiety of watchmg your chil- dren go off to war.
With so many familiar subjects and so many familiar names, I was often in a state of confusion during the editing process. It seemed as though all these friends of WAJ had come home to roost in h s issue, what was to have been the last.
I thank all the readers of WAJ,and especially our faithful sub- scribers, for supporting us during our 26 years of publication. The new team promises to retain the journal’s high standards, and I urge you to continue your support. My obsession with the lives and work of women artists began more than three decades ago. It is d~fficult to overcome an obsession, so I am sure you will hear from me again.