Learn about the work of these ten sidelined muralists whose work reconfigures the history of Muralism in Mexico and the world.
Muralism isn't just art. In the early twentieth century, the murals told stories, or rather, histories of countries that wanted to create, control, and spread narratives of their own. The muralist movement became a symbol and source of nationalism, particularly in Mexico, where world famous artists like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquerios, and José Clemente Orozco gained recognition.
However, there is a historical debt to the artistic work of women muralists and their contributions to one of the most important cultural movements in Mexico. Their role has been likewise sidelined, but each of their work reconfigures and opens new aspects of the history of muralism, not just in Mexico, but in the world. Here's a list of ten muralists you may not have heard of but who are certainly worth getting to know.
Arenal (1935-1969, Mexico City) was an extraordinary sculptor, muralist, and poet whose untimely death cut her career short. She was the daughter of artist Elena Huerta, another artist on this list. As a muralist, Arenal was trained with her mother, who assisted in the frescoes of the Antonio Narro Autonomous Agrarian University in 1951, and with Diego Rivera, with whom she worked on the exterior murals of the Olympic Stadium of the University City and the Insurgentes Theater between 1952 and 1954. As an independent muralist, she painted murals in Cuba, attracted by the ideals of the Cuban revolution. Between 1961 and 1965, she went through a prolific period that includes the sculptural murals Canto de la revolución (1962), Atoms and Children (1963) and Cuban Revolution (1965).
(1923, Guatemala) She has lived in Mexico since 1946, where she got into muralism when she assisted Diego Rivera in the Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central (1947) of the Hotel del Prado. In 1949, she painted The Four Elements, a work in temple for the Masonic Lodge of the Valley of Mexico. In 1954, she painted in Guatemala, in the dining room of the capital city's Italian Club, the fresco called Fertile Land. Some time later, the venue was transformed into the restoration school and, in 1981, the mural was cleaned, detached from the wall with the strappo technique and placed in a transportable panel. It was donated and transferred to the University of San Carlos, where it remains to date. It was re-inaugurated in 1989.
(1922 Poland - 2008 Mexico City) In 1942, she attended La Esmeralda art school in Mexico City, where she joined the "Fridos" group, and with them made her first forays into wall painting. Her muralism was not predominantly political, unlike most Mexican school artists, but rather of absolute emotionality, probably derived from Frida's teachings. She argued that, to her: "the fundamental painting has been Muralism." Rabel managed to make wall paintings of extraordinary aesthetic and historical value. Her first individual work was Alfabetización (Literacy) (1952), painted for Coyoacán printer, which is currently missing. In 1957, the Israelite Sports Center of Mexico City commissioned an important mural work for her, Sobrevivencia de un pueblo por su espíritu ("The Survival of A People by Their Spirit").
Reyes (1908 - 1985, Chihuahua) was a central figure of the cultural renaissance of the 1930s. Her grandfather, General Bernardo Reyes, had led the 1913 revolt against President Francisco I. Madero, in an episode that later became known as "Ten Tragic Days." Reyes had her first individual drawing exhibition in 1925, and from 1927 on, she began to make a living as an art teacher in public schools. In 1936, she became a founding member of LEAR, the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, and began to hang around some of the most prominent intellectual artists of the time, such as Frida Kahlo. The mural at the entrance hall, painted between 1934 and 1936, was entrusted to a group of plastic artists members of the LEAR, which Reyes was a part of.
(1911-2000 Almenar, Spain) She received a solid artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, and at the time when she was preparing to begin her career as an artist, the Spanish Civil War broke out. As an illustrator and painter, her main interests were human nakedness, the representation of animals - particularly bulls, horses and pigeons, symbols all of her native country - and religious painting, because, despite being anticlerical, she always defined herself as pious.
Although she never took muralism classes, she learned by practicing and had the good counsel of her friend José Chávez Morado, who guided her through her first works. Gascón made several wall paintings using different techniques, such as fresco, temperament, experimental - like concrete - and Spanish fresco - flattened on iron and unfolded metal frames. Many of them were painted in churches and convents, and some others in exterior walls of public and private buildings, mainly in Mexico City.
(1908-1997 Coahuila, Mexico) She is also known by her nickname, "la Nena Huerta," or "the Huerta girl" and famous for, with good reason, being the author of the largest mural made by a woman in the history of Mexican art. She carried out two main works: the one at the Auditorium of the Antonio Narro Autonomous Agrarian University in Coahuila (1952), and the one located at what is now the Vito Alessio Robles Cultural Center, painted from 1973 to 1976. The first one is called "The School in the Countryside," for which she had the assistance of her daughter Electa Arenal and Eloy Cerecero. For the second one, some of her assistants were women: María Romana Herrera and Chacha Martínez Morton.
(1931, Spain) At only six years old, Raull moved with her family to Mexico. She studied Fine Arts at the Academy of San Carlos. Raull has an ample mural oeuvre. Some of her most remarkable murals are "Education in the Mexican Era" for the National Museum of Anthropology, and, located in different hospitals, "Child Care and Rehabilitation" and "The Origin of Life." It is worth mentioning that for Christmas in 1971 she made twelve luminous murals for Mexico City, which contained different figures made up of spotlights of moving colors.
(1949 Mexico City) She studied Plastic Arts at La Esmeralda and has had about twenty-one individual exhibitions and more than nine hundred collective ones, both national and foreign. She has ventured into virtually all plastic disciplines: drawing, painting, mural, printmaking, mail-art, object art, artist's book, set design for theater, cinema, advertising, and design for television. In 1973, when Bustamente was still a student, she painted the work called "Homage to Belisario Domínguez" as part of her muralism workshop. The educational environment, particularly that of primary schools, was conducive to the work of young artists and women on more than one occasion. In this case, the Dr. Belisario Domínguez Elementary School provided Bustamante and other painters the opportunity to put actually make a public wall painting.
(1904 London- 1973 Mexico) In 1942, Swann settled in Mexico. She presented her work in around sixty individual exhibitions, seven of them at the international hall of the Palace of Fine Arts. From her primitive Mexican work, different series of topics related to rural life in small owns stand out; the artist focuses on traditional festivals. Her second Mexican creative stage could be described as "sublimation" to which Cosmic Symphony (1960), privately owned, and Las delicias (1964), created for the National Museum of Anthropology, both works of artistic maturity belong. The first of these was inspired by the conjunction of mythology, history and traditions of Popol Vuj, the sacred Mayan mythological book. The second is the result of his deep observation of the daily life of the peasants. The women represented by Swann are dressed in everyday wear.
(1941 - 2008) She made numerous public works: a mural on the roof of the Pent House on Chapultepec Avenue (1973, missing); a painting at the Mexican Senate (1974); murals at the zoo in Chapultepec (1975, missing); murals for Vanity (1977); a mural at the Presidential Guard Headquarters (1981). Her thematic repertoire is characterized by portraits, self-portraits, nudes, erotic, and surreal paintings, landscapes in which mysterious winged characters live next to fire birds in fantastic labyrinths and neighborhoods.
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