How Mexico Found its Identity Through Art

The Mexican nation has a vibrant and rich culture influenced by the many civilizations which merged into modern Mexico; from the Aztecs and Mayans to the French and Spanish. Their history is very long and fascinating it actually took me three weeks of research to settle on an angle for this article, and no I didn’t land on just one.

What caught my attention was the Mexican revolution; specifically how it influenced a vibrant and exciting art and music scene that has left its mark until today. Throughout the Mexican revolution timeline, the population had an almost 90 percent illiteracy rate, and therefore there was a need for artists and musicians to transmit the desires and news of the revolution. 

This need for artistic expression inspired Mexican female artists such as the famous Frida Kahlo  – residing in the beautiful town of Coyoacan – and her friend Aurora Reyes. It also gave birth to the Corridas genre of music, which acted as the revolution’s radio with many songs chronicling the events of the time. My favorite song originated in the town of Cananea, where the Mexican revolution was ignited.

Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution, which began on November 20, 1910, and continued for a decade, is recognized as the first major political, social, and cultural revolution of the 20th century. It is estimated that 1 million people were killed during the time. The revolution came as a result of the 30-year dictatorship rule of President Porfirio Díaz (1876–1910). The period, labeled as Porfiriato, was a hard time that was full of police brutality and bureaucratic corruption. 

In 1921 the Secretary of Public Education José Vasconcelos launched a crusade based on the idea of Mexicanness, for which he gathered various writers, artists, and musicians, to tell the country’s story through art. He offered up the walls of different buildings for painters who were responsible for the artistic boom that followed in that period. 

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is perhaps one of the most famous artists in Mexican history. Born in 1907, Frida was the first Mexican artist whose work became part of the exhibition at the Louvre. An audacious woman for her time, she is described as someone who smoked and cursed like men, and someone who participated in masculine sports such as soccer and wrestling.

Frida was a symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity, where her battle with Polio and a horrific car accident that left her almost paralyzed fueled her with an unstoppable fervor to pursue her art. She was significantly influenced by the events of her time, yet the most common misconception is the association of her work with the Mexican Revolution. Her work was mainly inspired by the Mexico that was being shaped after the revolution. Moreover, she often depicted herself in most of her paintings. 

Aurora Reyes

Born on 1908 in Chihuahua, Aurora Reyes is described as the first Mexican muralist. She has created 7 murals in her lifetime, one of which is in the colonial town hall – or the Hernán Cortés house –  in Coyoacán.  However, she has sadly been forgotten in the tides of time, unlike her friend Frida Kahlo whom she developed a strong friendship with, starting in their high school years together.

First Encounter – Located in Hernan Cortes House

Aurora had hardcore political leanings and therefore linked art with social and political struggle as she was involved in different cultural and political movements in the country. Moreover, she was an advocate of the importance of teachers to the social order in Mexico, which could be seen in several of her artwork. One of her most famous murals titled, “Attack on Rural Teachers,” was the mural that positioned her as the first Mexican muralist, placing her on par in Mexico along with Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfairo Siqueiros. 

My favorite mural by Aurora is “Trajectory of Culture in Mexico,” painted in 1962. This mural depicts three periods of Mexican history: pre-Hispanic, colonial, and modern. Aurora died on 1985; her ashes were buried in the magnolia tree toots that she had planted in the garden of her house in Coyoacán.

Trajectory of Culture in Mexico

A Corridos Called La Carcel De Cananea 

Corridos are a narrative style of Mexican music that started during the revolution to commensurate the events of the times. This style of music gained quick popularity due to its ability to reach an illiterate population and often talked about many topics, such as the heroism of revolutionary figures of  Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Corridos were also used to communicate throughout the country in response to the propaganda spread by the government.

 My favorite song of the period “The Cananea Jail” talks about the subsequent arrest of a participant of the copper miners strike in 1906, in Cananea, Sonora. Mexican workers were paid less than their American counterparts, working longer hours and under harsher conditions. The riots turned into bloodshed when American troops were brought- in from the USA to quench the angry mob, killing 10 people in the process. The strike is considered the precursor to the revolution.   

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