Date of this Version
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, 2003-2004
The Spirit of Aztlan celebrates Mexican and MexicanAmerican art and its significant contribution to the development of American culture. Referring to the homeland of the ancient Aztec civilization, the term "Aztlan" evolved during el Movimiento (Chicano Civil Rights Movement) in a conscious effort to reclaim Native American ties and improve economic, political and cultural situations. This spirit of self-identity began in Mexico, with the Mexican muralist movement and artists such as Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco. Large mural and printmaking projects strengthened national identity and instigated change in Mexico in the1920s and 1930s. The United States government was directly inspired by the Mexican public art concept and consequently initiated the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to support art projects during the Great Depression. The Chicano art movement, which began in the 1960s, continues the Mexican muralist practices. Utilizing art as a tool for change and unity, artists Ester Hernandez and Rupert Garcia mass-produce posters and paint murals in a campaign to recognize Indian ancestry, address the lives of working class people, and promote spiritual and revolutionary themes. California artists Manuel Neri and Salomon Huerta create figures that lack identity and Mexican cultural associations and therefore further the conversation regarding the term "Aztlan."
Although the style of the Mexican muralists' work echoed that of their European counterparts, the subjects were inherently Mexican and realism was maintained in order to communicate with the masses. Equipped with strong personalities, artistic genius and support from good relations between the U. S. and Mexico, the "three greats:' Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco, received much attention in America and made lasting impressions. In 1931, Rivera (1886-1957) was commissioned to paint a mural at the San Francisco Stock Exchange, and a retrospective of his work followed at the Museum of Modern Art, drawing a record crowd of 57,000 people. Rivera's self-portrait was created in 1930, the year he began experimenting with lithography. Capturing his full, rounded face and forthright stare, the work communicates confidence at this point in his career. I In Open Air School, Rivera depicts students of all ages, including adult field workers, who gather to broaden their education.