Art history is a fascinating way to learn more about Mexico and the figures who shaped the nation — political, social, cultural. Through their interpretation of characters and events, the famed muralists — Diego Rivera, David Alfara Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco — gave definition to a new nation seeking to redefine itself post-1920 Revolution. We call this Mexican Muralism.
While I’m now in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I’m reflecting back to last weekend in Mexico City, where, in collaboration with my art historian friend Valeria, we led a group of nine participants from the USA through the historic center. Here is where a turbulent history is interpreted through art. We started on Thursday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon, packing it in, walking miles each day, absorbing a fascinating evolution.
Mexico is defined by many internal and external forces, mostly her on-going desire to reconcile the Spanish conquest with her indigenous origins. Embracing Mestizaje — blending indigenous roots with conquerors, occupiers and immigrants, is what makes Mexico unique among nations, and very different from her northern neighbors.
Rivera, who sat out the 1910-1920 Revolution, painting and making a name for himself in Europe, returned to Mexico City in 1921. Jose Vasconcelos, the first minister of education, recruited Rivera to paint the murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica (SEP), his first commission.
The murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros are commentaries on national identity, statehood, oppression and power. The Rivera murals at SEP in particular were part of a national communication plan (aka propaganda) to embrace native culture and arts. Critics say Rivera’s murals are romantic and idealistic. His contemporaries, survivors of the Revolution, painted a more hopeless, violent vision, expressing their belief that the past must be destroyed in order to create a new order.
By Sunday, we move more deeply into the life and times of Frida Kahlo with a visit to Casa Azul, a stark contrast to the muralists.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, the year Rivera went to Europe as a young man. During her lifetime she was dwarfed literally and figuratively by her imposing husband. It wasn’t until after her death in 1954 at age 47, that she became the iconic figure she is today — representing women’s strength, pain, fortitude, perseverance, endurance.
We revere her because her art is self-expression. She painted emotion and the internal life. She was a participant, not an observer. She hid her deformities under extraordinary handmade Mexican clothing — popularizing the style, corseted beneath to hold her injured spine erect. Andre Breton called her surrealist. We call her survivor.
Our art history tour weaves the relationship between Diego and Frida with the times in which they lived and worked. We also examine the politics of Socialism and Communism in Mexico, how the Rivera’s gave sanctuary to Leon Trotsky, the idealism of young American artists like Pablo O’Higgins, Isamu Noguchi, and the Greenwood sisters — Marion and Grace, who were drawn to the movement. We see their deteriorating murals in an obscure market blocks from the city center.
We understand Mexico more now, how the creative stream of artistic energy here continues to express social and political inequalities, injustices, and discontent.
Here in Oaxaca, our beloved Maestro Francisco Toledo, carried the mantle of social justice art until he died in September 2019. Young graphic artists follow in the footsteps of the masters, use wood, linoleum block and metal plates to carve out images of truth to power. Mexico offers creative opportunity to any and all who choose to express themselves.
Note: If you put together a group of 5-6 people, I am happy to organize this experience over a long weekend in Mexico City.
Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera: Art History Tour 2015
Come to Mexico City for an art history tour to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art.
We will have a long weekend — 4 nights and 5 days, to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum. Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history.
If you want to register, send me an email.
Our guide is art historian Valeria Espitia, M.F.A., who shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists and narrates the expedition. She leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:
Casa Azul — Museo Frida Kahlo is a tribute to the life of both artists. Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño has the largest private collection of Frida and Diego paintings in the world. She was a benefactor and life-long personal friend of Rivera.
Plus, we will shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants!
The trip includes:
Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more! Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack the treasures you pick up along the way.
Cost: $695 per person double occupancy. $995 per person single occupancy.
What the trip doesn’t include:
Cost: $695 per person double occupancy. $995 per person single occupancy. Maximum: 6 people.
Optional: Arrive early and/or stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will provide you with a list of recommendations to explore on your own. $200 per day per person additional. Tell us your dates and we will make your hotel reservations and include this in your invoice.
Reservations and Cancellations
A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot. The final payment for the balance is due 45 days before the program start date. Payment shall be made by PayPal. We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.
Please understand that we make lodging and other arrangements months in advance of the program. Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts. If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email. After 45 days before the program starts, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel on or before the 45 day date, we will refund 50% of your deposit.
Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure. If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!
To register, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.
This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.
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Posted in Cultural Commentary, Mexico City, Photography, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged art, Diego Rivera, frescoes, Frida Kahlo, history, Mexico, Mexico City, muralism, murals, painters, study, tour, travel, workshop