“Mexican Pyramids on American Walls: Revivals, Restorations, Reinventions”
“Mexican Pyramids on American Walls: Revivals, Restorations, Reinventions”

>>Michael Taylor: So, good evening everyone. My name is Michael Taylor, I’m the director
of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College and it gives me immense pleasure to welcome you
to the second in a series of annual lectures that have been made possible by an
endowment from the Manton Foundation. We began this series last year with
a wonderful lecture by Mary Coffey of Dartmouth’s History Department and I’m
thrilled that the Manton Foundation Endowment which promotes scholarship and provides care
and conservation for the Orozco [inaudible] at Dartmouth, will allow us to host this
prestigious lecture on an annual basis. We would like to express our profound
gratitude to the Manton Foundation which is also through a separate ground made
possible when new lighting scheme for the mural that’ll be
unveiled later this evening. After the lecture I invite you to join me for a
reception in the west wing of the main corridor of Baker Library and then to the
Orozco room for the official opening of the stunning new lighting scheme. This is a very exciting moment for
those of us at Dartmouth who’ve known and studied these murals and we’re
very pleased that we’ve two members of the Manton Foundation Board
with, here with is this evening. Please give a warm Dartmouth welcome
to Sandy Niles and Julia Krapf. [ Applause ]>>Michael Taylor: And it is now my great
privilege to introduce to my speaker James Oles, known to his friends as Jay who is
internationally recognized as one of the leading authorities on
Latin American Art with a focus on modern Mexican art and architecture. He received his BA and PhD from Yale University
and his JD from the University of Virginia. Currently, he teaches at Wellesley
College as a senior lecturer in art for one semester each year. He is also an adjunct curator of Latin American
art at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum and Cultural Center and is an independent
scholar and curator in Mexico City. As both scholar and curator his research has
focused on Mexican modernist art and culture from the 1910 revolution through the 1960s,
although he often ventures further a field to places like Venezuela and Argentina or
the southwest region of the United States. He’s particularly interested
in the cultural interchange between Mexico and the United States. His first major exhibition project was the
critically acclaimed South of the Border, Mexico in the American Imagination,
1914 to 1947, an exhibition opened at the Yale University Art Gallery in
1993 and travelled to several venues. The catalogue which is co-wrote
with Marta Ferragut remains one of the most important scholarly text in the
field of Mexican modernism and the reception of America, of Mexican art in the United States. In 1996, he authored the book Frida Kahlo, Diego
Rivera, and Mexican modernism: From the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection which was
published by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with
an exhibition of the same name. A few years later in 2002, he contributed an
essay titled Orozco at War: Context and Fragment in Dive Bomber and Tank (1940) to the Museum of
Arts landmark publication, Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States 1927 to 1934. He also contributed to an important
monograph from the German born Mexican artist and industrial designer Pedro
Friedeberg in 2010. And just this past year, he
published a book in the Museum of Modern Arts artist series titled
Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and he’s currently
working on a survey textbook on Mexican art for the Thames and Hudson World of Art series. At Wellesley he teaches the history of
Mexico from the ancient through modern eras. In more focused seminars the courses he offers
deal with some subjects as public art in Mexico and the United States, the representation
of Mexico in cinema or exhibitions of Latin American art and he stated
that one of his proudest achievements is that he has had five former students go
on to pursue PhDs in Latin American Art. Please join me in welcoming James Oles, he
talk this evening is titled Mexican Pyramids on American Walls: Revivals,
Restoration, Reinventions. His lecture would explore the diverse ways
that muralist envision the architecture of ancient American cities in several
murals created in the United States in 1930s including Orozco
celebrated Fresco mural at Dartmouth. Please turn off your cellphones
and welcome James Oles. [ Applause ]>>James Oles: Ah, thank, thank you
Michael for that very nice introduction and I appreciate every single body that’s here on such a beautiful warm fall
afternoon, on an Friday afternoon. I should take a cell phone picture of the,
of the crowd just and to members of the, the representatives from the Manton Foundation
for and, and to everyone here at the Museum, Kathy Hart and Shawn Reid and others who’ve
facilitated my, my visit and, and I really the, the, my most heartfelt thanks to, to Mary
Coffey of the Art Department who brought me, brought me here and has really been a tremendous
wonderful, warm and, and helpful colleague in many ways over the past, past years. And she was also very helpful in helping me
through the final chapters of this Thames and Hudson survey which I proud to say
is now being copy edited in London. So I want to begin this, this talk
with a statement by, not by Orozco but by his great colleague
David Alfaro Siqueiros. In his 1921 manifesto three appeals for
the current guidance of the new generation of American painters and sculptors which
was published in the first and only issue of this magazine Vida Americana or American
Life, an art magazine that Siqueiros invented and edited which he was living in Barcelona in
1921 and really a magazine that Siqueiros used at a very early moment in his own career to
give himself a cultural and artistic context. He wrote, he wrote this manifesto and it’s,
it’s long, I’m not going to quote extensively, but in this manifesto he rejected what he said
were all sorts of decadent art influences, end of the, end of the century, turn of
the century influences like impressionism and symbolism and things like that and even
implicated his, himself in this, in this error and he called for renewal that American
artists, meeting artists from all over the Americas needed to renew their
work, looking at Cezanne, Cubism and Futurism and at one point he writes let us live
our marvelous, dynamic age, that’s, that’s something that’s echoed in so many
European [inaudible] manifestos of the period. He also though talked about something a
little bit different than looking at machines and factories and, and steel skyscrapers and
all in this manifesto he, he wants to look back in time not only forward in time, but he
wanted to look back in time and he says, “In order for all of us to strengthen our
art, it’s essential we restore the lost values of painting and sculpture,” and
I’m paraphrasing a little bit, “by returning to the constructive
foundations and great sincerity of antiquity, but let us not use our archaic motifs,”
he says, “for that would be exotic.” Now I, part of this project is to really
dig in and parse a lot of the language in this manifesto which has never really
been, been analyzed critically by in, particularly in terms of comparing it to
some other period manifestos and I think in that part of, of the manifesto Siqueiros
might be thinking of European antiquity in classical civilizations,
but the text is vague. But later on in the same manifesto he becomes
much more specific about what he means by this antiquity in these,
these archaic motifs. He says, “Understanding the
wonderful human depth in primitive art has given
the visual arts a clarity and depth lost centuries ago
along the hazy path of error. For our part so,” so he, he kind of calls
out this idea of primitivism which was going on of course those of you, you know
familiar, most of you probably familiar with the you know Picasso and his
engagement with African arts right, the beginning of the, of the 20th century. So, so Siqueiros is saying, “But
for us, for American artists, it just make a little different, we need to
return to the work of ancient inhabitance of our value”, he says, “The native painters
and sculptors,” he enumerates them, he says, “The Mayas, the Aztecs and the Incas,”
in capital letters, and he says, it’s kind of getting a little bit misty eyed
here, he says, “Our atmospheric proximity to them will help us assimilate the
constructive vitality of their work which shows a genuine knowledge of nature
that conserve as our point of departure.” And he goes on and he says, “Let us absorb
their synthetic energy, but let us avoid,” what he calls, “lamentable
archeological reconstructions. So we got to absorb their synthetic energy but
avoid these archeological reconstructions.” Now there’s something he adds there at the end. He, he, he says, what he wants
to avoid he says is primitivism. So it’s funny because he starts the whole
paragraph saying we, wonderful insights that primitivism has given artists like
Picasso and then, then again he says I want to avoid primitivism, Indianism
and Americanism which are so in vogue here but are only passing fads. This is very muddied and this is why I really
want to dig deeper into this paragraph, but for, for today’s talk what I want
to focus on is this idea of the lamentable archeological reconstruction
and what Siqueiros might haven’t thinking about when he was talking about that. One thing is he’s probably thinking of both
when he talks about Indianism, primitivism, Americanism in these archeological
constructions, he’s probably thinking about works like you see here in the screen,
very, very, very different, different works. On the left side is a painting by a, a
Guatemalan born artist named Carlos Merida, this painting was done in, in Paris, but it was,
what have been widely known to Siqueiros already by 1919, Merida moved to Mexico City
before Siqueiros went on to Barcelona. So this is a sort of Americanism, this modern
American art takes these archaic motifs from pre-Columbian art, from ancient Maya Art
in the case of Merida but also from folk art and kind of synthesizes it with the modern
flat quality that is coming from say Cubism. So that’s something it’s unclear to me to what
extent Siqueiros likes or doesn’t like Merida, that’s one thing, but one thing I know he
doesn’t like is what you see on the right side. This is what he’s, this is the
lamentable archeological reconstruction. This painting by a Mexican academic
painter named Felix Parra of the great, one of the great missionaries that was
involved in the conversion of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, Bartolome
de las Casa and you see here in this background a direct citation of
ancient American art, but it’s really more of a pastiche made up of,
here’s an Aztec sculpture, this is actually a round column
that’s more something that would be, you’d find in you know may be in, may be in
[inaudible] but probably more likely in Pompey and then some freezes that come from various
buildings both in southern and central Mexico, it’s not in, in any way an accurate
reconstruction of a real building, but a pastiche and although this painting seems
so out, out old fashioned in a year like 1921, Felix Parra in, was still teaching in
the academy of San Carlos in Mexico City where Siqueiros had studied at this time. So I think there is a, there is a
rejection of this very typical what we see in the post revolutionary period in Mexico,
these modern artists, many of whom have gone to Europe are rejecting their
academic routes and I think this, this is partly to give you a sense
of, of, of context for where I’m going to go for the remainder of this talk. Okay, but ironically even though they Siqueiros in particular disdained these archeological
reconstructions, he and his colleagues Orozco and Rivera definitely engaged in them and did
so at sometimes more overtly than did others. The most famous of these reconstructions I
would argue are those overblown panelists by Diego Rivera in the corridor of the
National Palace painted in the 1940s and 1950s in Downtown Mexico City. This is one of several panels, this is an
idealized recreation of life at the city of El Tajin in this present day state
of Veracruz this was done in 1945. In this talk I’m going to
look at works that are earlier and that are a little bit less obviously
reconstructions done in the early 1930s. At the beginning, I don’t
like this either, this, this is overblown archeological reconstruction. Done, done, I’m going to look at primarily
at murals done in the early 1930s, some in Mexico but, but most in United States
and I think a close examination of some of them particularly these images
of pre-Columbian architecture, these images of pyramids on these
walls and I’m going to focus on Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco today, should illuminate
not only their precise iconographic sources which is part of this project and there,
but also these artists’ relationship to ongoing archeological projects
taking place in the country. I also think it’s going to show that the ways
that these artists cited and engaged with each, with each other was much more
complicated and extensive perhaps than has been previously discussed. And I also want to show and/or get into
something that is very interesting to me and that’s that one of the
structuring oppositions in the history of Mesoamerican studies, Mesoamerica meaning
you know sort of ancient Mexico Guatemala. One of the structuring oppositions
in the history of Mesoamerican studies is the difference
between an idealized an international Maya and a demonized but nationalist Aztec and this
reflected in these Mexican murals that I’m going to talk about in particularly in works that
they did on the walls of United States. Now I’m afraid that today rather
than any polished slick conclusions, all I’m going to be able to offer are
some preliminary ideas of refined reading or two of a panel and some closing remarks
that might open rather than close the topic. This is really a quintessential
work in progress. It builds on a paper that I wrote up
mainly focusing on Siqueiros but obviously because I was invited here I
wanted to open it out to Orozco which meant I could not leave Rivera out
the story either, so I just found more and more images and you’re going to see that
I have some tentative conclusions but I want to really survey this vast terrain today
and it’s really part of a much wider study of my own work which I’m very much interested
in the linkages between archeology and, and advertising popular culture,
tourism and art. So defined images of the pre-Hispanic past in
Diego Rivera’s great mural cycle in the ministry of public education, the first mural that he
did that has to do with take Mexico as a theme in particular are done between 1923 and 1928,
we’re going to have to look fairly closely. There’s a image for example of an Aztec
sculpture in, in the jungle which I’m not going to talk about, but for the most part
Rivera downplayed pre-Columbian imagery in this, in this vast cycle. The only real image of the pyramid
in this entire building in fact is in a gresei [assumed spelling] panel, one
of these grey sort of foe sculptural reliefs on the third floor in which he
painted several allegories of the arts and sciences, one of which is architecture. The little pyramid there which I think you
can all see very clearly is a little hard to identify, but it might be a stylized
rendition of the so-called Castillo Chichen, a building that I’ll discuss
more extensively in a bit. In fact, Rivera has visited the Yucatan in 1921
just a few years before painting this panel. In any case, there’s not really any
cultural information here or context and I think the most important thing we can say
about this early tentative image of a pyramid is that Rivera wants to ground Mexican architecture
both in an, a ground modern architecture, both in this sort of idealized Mexican
past as well as in the classical orders which is symbolized by the
column there below it. Ancient pyramids however become far more present in Rivera’s next important
mural project in Mexico City. Mexico of yesterday, today and tomorrow which
fills the stairwell of the National Palace, this was done in 1929-1930, really 15 years
before he went back to the nearby corridors to create these idealized reconstructions. Now the north wall, the pillar on the north
wall which is usually titled Mexico of, of yesterday shows a very idealized
view of, of, of ancient Mexican life, what’s important about this panel and I’m
not going to go into details, take me, take me forever and I’m probably going to
be afraid of running over time anyway is, is that if you know all these people
what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, the landscape around them particularly this
prominent volcano here locate this scene in central Mexico, in the valley of Mexico, in
this territory around Mexico City, this has, had been the heart of the Aztec empire, it
was the center of the, of the colonial regime and it was of course the center in the heart
of the modern Independent Republic of Mexico and the country, the government when,
when Rivera was painting of course. So he’s really locating Mexico of yesterday,
the origins of Mexico in central Mexican culture and this is really not surprising,
in fact, the name Mexico comes from the Mi Chica the Aztec people and the
Mexican flag today all many of you know is Eagle on a Cactus with the Serpent in its mouth and
this is derived from the [inaudible] or the sort of hieroglyph for the capital of the Aztecs
which we came the capital Mexico City. So the in, in the entire history of Mexican
murals in fact we’re going to see Mexico and Central Mexico privileged
at the expense of the Maya, the ancient Maya were almost always excluded. In fact in the national palace panels where
Rivera goes back in the 40s and 50s to kind of fill in this much more complete
history of Mexican ancient culture, he includes all of the major
civilizations except the Maya. He excludes the Maya from this, not only
are they absent here but they’re, they’re, they’re not, they don’t even
come in later in his what, what you know sort of Technicolor
reconstructions. Now Rivera was a great researcher, I’m
going to focus here, here’s the pyramids so that I’m going to really focus on, on them. Rivera was a great researcher and he used
all sorts of visual and textual sources for his works as well as direct observation
when possible, but it’s difficult to identify as actual source of inspiration here. The two pyramids you see one slightly larger
than the other, not only slightly are associated with a, a volcano and that again situates
the scene in the valley of Mexico. Two pyramids like this next to each other might
refer to the pyramids of the sun and the moon at Tiotiokan [assumed spelling], it’s
not quite so associated with the volcano like that, but it’s close enough. A city that into the 1940s was associated within
ancient mythical city that the Aztecs talked about named Tollan which simply
means the place of the reeds and, and it’s sort of like saying Newton
or I don’t know you know ford, you know ford was something generic, there
could be many different new town or place of a ford something could be anywhere. Anyway, for the Aztecs this fabled Tollan
was the seat and the city that was the sort of capital of the Toltec civilization the,
the primary civilization prior to the rise of the Aztecs in the valley of Mexico and for a
period that city, this is again before the rise of the Aztecs was led by a
philosopher king named Quetzalcoatl, those of you know about that Orozco murals
know that he, he plays an important role there, here and, and so there’s Quetzalcoatl
over on the right surrounded by these bright green resplendent green
Quetzal feathers in his city of Tollan and since Tiotiokan was thought to be Tollan,
this could be Rivera’s sort of idealized image of the sun and the moon, the pyramids of the
sun and the moon, although it’s a little strange because these two pyramids are both oriented
frontally, you can see the stairways, a single stairways both oriented towards
us and actually the pyramids of the sun and the moon are placed at
right angles to each other. So Rivera I think it’s just very, very
loosely playing with archeology here. On the main wall, there’s also a pyramid and
this is not only a hard mural to photograph in its entirety, you can see here rising the
stairway, you get this avalanche of imagery, but I wanted just if we can pull out
the largest single object in this wall, which is very densely populated with figures
and, and images is this pyramid right here and the pyramid is associated with eagle on
the cactus and this is actually the toponym, the hieroglyph for to [inaudible], Mexico City
and this is lifted from an Aztec sculpture that was found in the foundations
of the building just about three years before
Rivera started painting. So here he’s even more graphically associating
the platform with, now with Mexico City, not with Tollan, not with this mythical Tollan
which may or may not have been Tiotiokan for Rivera, but, but specifically with,
with Mexico City and he not only associate, associates it with Mexico City, he
associates it with hard sacrifice and that’s even a little hard to say but here
is a guy whose bloody arm is lifted up right into the center, right under here and he’s
actually holding a human heart in his hand. So this platform here, this
Maya, I mean this I’m sorry, obviously Aztec platform is associated
specifically with heart sacrifice and this heart sacrifice therefore is sort of
the, you know to, to avoid a kind of a pun, it’s the heart of the whole
use of the image here which is the center of this great, great wall. I’m going to come back to, to this
point about the, the equation of, of Aztec human sacrifice
and, and pyramid in a minute. If we go to Cuernavaca with where
Rivera was working on a mural project to basically the same time he’s working
at the National Palace, also 1930, his murals were commissioned in fact by the
US ambassador Dwight Morrow as a gift to, to the Mexican people, they filled the
second story corridor of this colonial house that so called Cortes Palace in Cuernavaca
and this is just to give you a little bit of the sense of the, of the context, but we’re
going to focus here on this far wall, the, the north wall and here it is and again there’s
a battle scene very similar to what we see in the, on the main wall in the National Palace with different indigenous groups fighting
each other, also the Spanish are coming in, this is a scene about the conquest and, and
the conquest is framed here again by a pyramid and here again up there you can
see at the top, now very clear, you don’t have to really look very
carefully, you can see a clear image of human sacrifice taking place on this sort of
stone, the stairway has been bloodied by this, meanwhile dancers and musicians and, and
others parade around, but this, this looming and I can go back here, this looming
terror of human sacrifice up there is sort of the beginning of the whole movement
forward that we get in, in the, in the cycle and as others have discussed this, this
narrative here in Cuernavaca which is nominally about the conquest of this city of Cuernavaca
and the, and, and the states of Morelos by the Spanish is located here by
Rivera in terms of a national history and that national history is this Aztec pyramid
that’s associated more with, with Mexico City. And why, why do I think this
is a, a Mexico City pyramid? Well, first of all on the south wall directly
facing it is another image of sacrifice which is a scene of this Spanish inquisition,
so you have sort of ancient sacrifice and then on the far wall sort of you
know post conquest sacrifice. The inquisition was based in
Mexico City, so that’s one thing, but the other is that if we compare
this pyramid to the actual pyramid that Rivera might have found in Cuernavaca
which is there in the lower level, we see that he hasn’t really copied it in
anyways, made a much more generic image, it’s got one stairway rather than two stairways. Anyway, he’s not in any way
copying this pyramid, this pyramid was completely excavated
by the time he was working here. He’s not making the copy, I’m going to talk
about artists looking at actual pyramids and trying to make copies
of them, Rivera is not, what he’s looking at are 16th century
illustrated manuscripts showing human sacrifice and that’s what shown on
the, on the lower screen. Although some late 19th century academic
painting showed scenes of human sacrifice, Rivera’s direct source is to be found here,
perhaps even in the specific codec’s [inaudible] which is now in, in, in Italy, of
mid 16th century indigenous work that Rivera would have known in fact Simile. These illustrated manuscripts were made by
indigenous scribes in the new post conquest, in a new post conquest context as part
of a new order that was both political and that’s why we see all these images of bloody
human sacrifice, these are now done 20, 30s, sometimes 40, 50 years after the conquest and these indigenous scribes are
showing how things used to be and by implication how they are not now in the
new order, I think this is sort of demonized, the, the bloody sacrifice and see how
they particularly exaggerate all the blood everywhere. There’s also a new visual order by the
way and that is the use of perspective, although it might seem a little awkward
to us the way that the building is shown in three dimensions with some
shading here is definitely reflection of the new European visual order
that’s also come in into Mexico. You can see here that the, the pose of
the body is very similar in both of the, the murals even the orientation and so is this V
shape of blood on both and I think this is the, this is the closest I found, but this bloodied
stairway is typical of these representations of in early colonial manuscripts even
when no bodies are shown on the pyramid, the blood is often there as evidence of the
sort of, again is of demon of, of the buildings. You can see how Rivera streamlines
his original source. He fixes the awkward perspective for example
and, and I think Rivera’s mural is partly about the need for continued resistance
to all forms of conquest and oppression and the heart sacrifice is a sort of originary
one, he’s not idealizing sacrifice in any way but it’s sort of done by the elites, you know I
think in Rivera’s vision it’s done by the elites against the worker in a way and
this resistance to that is going to partly animate the conquest and, and
the support of certain indigenous groups to who ally themselves with the
Spanish to defeat the Aztecs, the, the evil heart sacrificers and then sort
of create this ongoing Marxist dialectic, this struggle between forces that’s
going to animate Mexican history up till the, up to the present day and this is the importance of this image
of Aztec heart sacrifice at the beginning as if it’s a sort of example of working
class oppression in a way located there deep, deep in Mexico’s, deep in Mexico’s past. Rivera very frequently idealized
indigenous people, certainly living people and often Aztecs themselves and but here he’s
really picking up on something that was sort of proof positive that the Aztecs
were you know quote unquote bad. Now this privileging of the Aztec or the valley of Mexico really informs Rivera’s
hypernationalist narratives in both Mexico City and Cuernavaca and it necessitated
I think the exclusion of the Maya. From a centralist perspective and, and
Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros are all artists who are working primarily in Mexico City
for a centralized political regime and, and for these artists and, and for
many people that live in Mexico City, the Maya are peripheral, they’re not only
peripheral meaning far away from Mexico City, but they’re also sub-national, they’re,
they’re or multinational, they’re shared, they have to be shared with
these other countries because the Maya are civilization
that’s not confined to the present day geographic boundaries
of Mexico, but rather the Mayas that all of you know, they occupied Guatemala,
Honduras, Belize etc, so they don’t function, the Maya just are never going to function very
well for as an, as a, as a people that are going to get Mexicans a national identify because
one thing the Mexicans really want to do in forming national identity is
distinguish themselves from Guatemalans and if you share your identity with the
Guatemalans, this is going to create a problem. So it’s a geographic thing that the Aztecs
are associated with, with Mexico City, but it’s also this national issue as
well in terms of geographic boundaries. Now we do however see citations of Maya
architecture in the murals done by Orozco and Siqueiros in United States, not by Rivera, in his U.S. murals Rivera never touched Mexican
themes, dealt with exclusively American themes, U.S. themes I should say, but so we’re going to,
we’re going to see first Orozco’s mural cycle for the new school first done at the
new school for social research in, in New York which is a recently
founded center for adult education and these murals were done in, in 1930-31
and this is just a view, this was, it’s now, it’s even changed from this photograph,
it was a classroom for a while, but it was originally a cafeteria and Orozco
painted these frescos on the surrounding walls. He was inspired by a, a group of intellectuals
in New York that he was part of mainly because his dealer was a part of
it, called the Delphic Circle, a very utopian intellectual salon and because
and I’m, and I can go into detail here but because of his relationship with the ideas
that are circulating around in this circle, Rivera, Orozco’s very interested in developing
a themes of, of universal brotherhood that he develops not only in this central
panel where you see all the different races of the world clustered around
a table, but in the side panels which depict these very specific enlightened
leader prophets, they’re were interesting to him, they were interesting
to him even when he was in Mexico City even before he got involved
with the Delphic Circle and I think his, his, his interest in joining in with this very
strange esoteric group in York was partly because of their you know elevation
of the leader, the heroic prophet and, and Orozco had always been interested in this. And on, on one wall there, he shows two of
these, and, and, and a facing wall we have a, a scene called struggle in the orient
and it basically focuses on Gandhi and, and the struggle in the oxidant or the
west, he focuses on Lenin obviously on the right side is one of these great prophets
changing the world, these enlightened leaders and a Mexican and for the Mexican he chooses
the former socialist governor of the states of Yucatan, Felipe Carrillo Puerto
who’s shown there in a coat and a tie, it’s him, right there, right, obviously. So why Orozco selected Carrillo Puerto
rather than other revolutionary here, heroes is of some, some interest. In fact, other people like Emiliano Zapata
or Pancho Villa certainly more famous to you all today and they certainly
would have been more famous and familiar to audiences in New York. If you’re looking for one of these great heroes and by the time Orozco was painting here
both Zapata and Villa had been assassinated, so they were sort of martyr figures. Lenin of course had, had died, while
Carrillo Puerto was also someone who had been assassinated but I think
the difference he’d been assassinated in December 1924, the difference is that unlike
those guerrilla generals, Zapata and Villa, Carrillo Puerto who’d actually accomplished
revolutionary reforms without violence and I think this was very
important to, to Orozco. He had taken control of the local hemp
industry, he accelerated land reform and passed a whole host of liberal
laws like legalizing divorce and, and prison reform laws etc, and
things like that and he embarked on an extensive school and
road construction campaign. By contrast when we look at Orozco’s
images of Zapata, you, you sort of have, you should know one here at Dartmouth,
but in his oil painting Zapata and Villa are usually these more, more
threatening figures who’re the leaders of a possible unbridled and dangerous mass
or every specific perpetrators of violence, Orozco had no, no love I think
for, for Zapata or Villa, but he, he does really elevate Carrillo Puerto here. But Orozco was all, all, also always
watching what Diego Rivera was doing and Rivera was always watching
what Picasso was doing and, and Orozco was always watching what Rivera was
doing and Orozco often reworked Rivera’s themes. Here he eulogizes a figure well there is
a detail, I’m sorry I could have brought that up a little bit quicker, but may be
come back to that, he eulogizes a figure who actually appeared twice in Rivera’s
ministry of education murals both as a living revolutionary here,
it’s actually with Zapata who’s sort of instructing a young child and both
of these men are dead at this time, but notice the association here with
the red, triangular red banners, so you get that here too as well. And then also as a martyred figure done
a five years later on the top floor with a bullet hole right there on his chest, so Carrillo Puerto had already
been elevated twice by, by Rivera in, in his murals in Mexico City. And I think may be the least important reason,
although it’s often the one that’s underscored by scholars is that Carrillo Puerto had been
the lover of, of Orozco’s patron Almer Reid, and she might have been an
inspiration for the selection here, but I seriously wonder whether it was
that simple that Orozco simply took her, took her idea for, for the figure. In any event, in the panel
Carrillo Puerto appears as a sort of monumental rendition based
directly on a photograph by the Yucatakan photographer Guerrero
looks pasted to the wall in a kind of an awkward montage, Orozco was really
grappling here with how to join multiple images or vantage points in a single space still and
he’s next to an abstracted light grey pyramid, now very clearly the so-called
Castillo, it’s a Spanish name the Castle, but it’s really the main
pyramid at Chichen Itza. Its presence here is to clearly justify
not only because Carrillo Puerto is himself from the Yucatan but during his regime as
governor, he had promoted the restoration of the ruins at Chichen and that all this also
the, that restoration project was also covered by Almer Reid in a series of articles she
published in the New York Times in the 20s. As part of Carrillo Puerto’s broader
plan to foment the development of tourism in the undeveloped Yucatan peninsula
and increase a sense of pride and class consciousness in once down
trodden and abused local Maya populations. There’s also a symbolic connection
too, Almer Reid later recalled that Carrillo Puerto’s supporters had likened
him to the great philosopher hero Quetzalcoatl which we saw featured in
Rivera’s National Palace mural, according to Aztec legend Quetzalcoatl had been
exiled from the central Mexican City of Tollan by a military order and he fled
eastward, quote across the water and one common gloss on this myth was that
his destination was in fact the Maya city of Chichen Itza which did have complex artistic
and cultural connections with central Mexico in this early post classic period, period and
I gave a whole lecture on this to my students and I still don’t have enough time so I’m
going to really have to skip over this. But Tollan is now actually thought to not be
Tuiotiokan it’s thought to be the city of Tula in the state of Hidalgo, if we, if you
go to Tula there’re building identical to the buildings of, of Chichen, so there,
there’s contact between central Mexico and the Maya in the pre-Columbian period,
it’s very important and that contact which is probably economic, military, cultural,
artistic is, is symbolized by the story of Quetzalcoatl moving from central Mexico
over the waters, over the gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan, to Chichen
Itza and so huge can of worms. For our purposes suffice to say that
for Orozco associating Carrillo Puerto with the emblematic building in a city that
scholars believe to have been the refuge of Quetzalcoatl that benevolent
misunderstood exiled on the case of Carrillo Puerto assassinated, philosopher
only enriched to the more direct connections. Now this perfect form of the Castillo is a
little bit, it resonates actually quite a bit with Rivera’s mural in the
ministry of education, but you see Orozco’s really shows it much
of this three dimensional object rather than this sort of schematic pyramid
which really could be any place. This is much more clearly
an image of the Castillo, but one thing for me that’s very interesting
and a, a theme that’s going to run through the rest of, of this talk is how,
how we, we can see the way that rather than show the pyramid as ruined, Orozco is
showing it as perfectly restored streamlined. He’s recreating and restoring the
past just exactly what the archaic, archeologists in the period were
doing at Chichen Itza itself. And the, the let’s see because I’m between of
living and lost my place I’m sorry, and this, this restored version of the pyramid is
what we see mostly as we’re going to see in the popular press and also in being
emphasized in archeological reports. Now Chichen Itza, the site in
the Yucatan peninsula how many of you’ve been there to Chichen? So quite a few. Had been famous in the popular imagination
particularly in the United States since the mid 19th century travel accounts of
John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, which were best sellers of the 1840s
and when Orozco was working in New York, this site was the subject of renewed
attention due to the massive architectural, archeological project undertaken there by
the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Archeologists had actually wanted to
excavate Chichen as early as 1914, but the Mexican Revolution and,
and local bureaucracy intervened, but the Carnegie Institution which is
really one of the main archeological forces in the United States obtained a concession from
the Carrillo Puerto regime, it excavated in 1923 and they began work there in the spring of 1924
and that project went all the way up until 1941. When you go to Chichen today the ball court, the
Castillo, the temple of the thousand columns, all of those buildings were impeccably
restored by these Carnegie Institution of Washington archeologists among them Earl
Morris, during that, during that period. Now of course they had to promote
their archeological project and they promoted it not only
through scientific publications, but also through the popular media. The wife of Earl Morris, the lead archeologist
published a book called Digging in Yucatan, which is the best seller in 1931 and it
as well as several articles published in National Geographic in the late 20s and early
30s were all illustrated with photographs taken by uncredited Carnegie Institution
of Washington photographers and I’m showing you two examples
there on the bottom. Now many of these photographs simply showed the
beautifully restored, clean, slick buildings but others articulated a rhetoric of
cultural continuity between the living Maya and their ancient ancestors, this
who’d built this city of Chichen Itza, which was specifically the, one of the political
visions of Carrillo Puerto and they did this by taking living Maya, probably workers
who was during the day had work boots and you know they take off your work boots,
put on these sandals, here’s the you know put on this sort of loin cloth thing or here he’s
wearing a actual jaguar pelt, carrying a shield, posing on these beautifully restored buildings
right, particularly here they’re even put in these wooden standards, everything is
redone as if you’re going back in time and National Geographic loves taking people back
in time and but, but it’s, it’s not only that, it’s not only taking the armature traveler
back in time, it’s evoking this idea of, of continuity between present and past. The Maya men here are meant to evoke the
past just as the restored ruins evoke, lie their own existence as works of modern
architecture and get us to think ooh, that’s the way it was in the past and of
course they, they never are the way they were in the past, but the goal is to
give you a sense of traveling back in time whether you’re a tourist and that’s one
audience, but also for the local populations in Yucatan or for the national audience
as well, the sense of the restored ruin, there’s no archeological reason, there’s
no scientific reason to restore a pyramid and make it looks, make the stairway perfect,
the reason you make a stairway perfect is so modern people can climb that stairway and
therefore reenact and go back in time and, and have a sense of the lost splendor or the
actual splendor of this city that the ruin which is a whole other type of
archeological form doesn’t quite provide, the ruin reminds us the time has passed. These perfectly slickly restored ruins make us
think that may be no time has passed at all. Now I think Orozco was actually thinking
about this juxtaposition of men with pyramids when he did this and I, I think
what he was probably looking at even more are illustrations
and there’s three on the bottom. In, in all three we get women now, not
these warriors with their leopard skins, but woman and notice here in every case the
woman is associated with a restored image of the Castillo, this is by Jean Charlot one
of the staff artist of the Carnegie Institution and a muralist in his own right and a very
close friend of Orozco, this is no question that Orozco wouldn’t have known this painting,
this is an illustrator and minor muralist, Alfonso Akispenia [phonetic] from 1930, there
again the women associated with Castillo and finally this calendar art from 1950s and
I guess this looks more like Rita Hayworth, but she’s associated too
with a Castillo back there. In fact, there’s a whole, I do, I have a
whole part of this project where I talk about that whitening of the Maya women from
the indigenous to the mestizo or mixed race to the sort of Hollywood white, white form
there, but I’m not going to go into that. I think Orozco is exciting these cliches and
also trying to demolish these cliches perhaps which were circulating around an awful
lot, he masculinizes this topos of the, of the juxtaposition of the living Maya with
the, with the pyramid, he politicizes it, but he also critiques the sexualization and
escapism present in the entire field of images. After all in his murals, Carrillo Puerto
is an assassinated martyr wearing a jacket and tie directly situated in the present
and in a particular political reality that makes him the equal of
figures like Lenin and Gandhi. Now I’m going to jump across the
continent LA and look at the first image of pre-Columbian architecture to
appear in any of Siqueiros’ mural. Here too we’re going to discover conscious
but less direct illusion to Chichen Itza. This mural was commissioned by a local patron
in, in downtown LA for an exterior wall of the building overlooking Olvera Street,
which had been the former Mexican neighborhood in Los Angeles, the Mexican
population had basically been displaced and Olvera Street had been converted into
a tourist area that is still is today and this mural was probably intended by the
patron to be a sort of lure for visitors with very pleasant imagery of a title
that he probably gave Siqueiros, I want you to paint me a mural of tropical
America, to which Siqueiros responded with a highly politicized work
that was soon whitewashed. This is a reconstruction by Chicano
artists, which is not so bad actually of what the mural mine have looked like. Up here you can see it, it was not only
whitewashed, Siqueiros was very used to lot of these experimental pigments, he painted
on cement, was exposed to the elements, it began to erode very quickly after it was
done plus it was whitewashed very quickly and so it really exists as a former shade
of itself although the Getty Institute is about to reopen it after a long restoration,
but not reconstruction project in any event. The, the bright visual impact must have
been something that looked a little bit like the colors and tourist
posters over the serapes that you would have seen
in the shops down below. But the imagery was, was
really much more severe. The mural features a large
pyramid with sloping walls. I think you can all see this in grey there
and two entrances which are actual windows on the wall itself surrounded
by stylized tropical vegetation and some fragments of pre-Columbian sculptures. This is another one over here in red. There is a half-naked figure bound to
a modified cross there in the center, Siqueiros identifies him as an Indian
and this cross on top has an eagle, Siqueiros says is the eagle of imperialism
sort of watching guard over this victim. And then on this far building which is
actually, this is a real door that opens out into the wall, this is kind of opens out
into a rood, there’re two soldiers coming in, one is clearly identified as Mexican, one
clearly identified as Indian, that’s important, one Mexican, one from the Andes or Peru
and they’re coming in and they’re armed, they’re dressed as contemporary figures and
they’re according to Siqueiros are coming into sort of save this figure in the center. Now this structure is what I want to
focus on is unlike any specific work in pre-Columbian archeology, it’s instead a
pastiche even more inclusive than any of those in the 19th century academic paintings done in
Mexico City because while the overall profile of the structure is Aztec, the geometric
stone work on it is clearly Inca. And what do I have here I think? There we, there is an Inca wall, here
is a detail of the, of the, of a black and white photograph from the period and
here you see how it’s situated in front of this roof top, so here’s an Inca wall as if
you needed to see one, but that’s what they look like and in, in then there’s a couple of broken
columns that are covered with feathered forms and these are probably serpent columns such as
we find it at Chichen, but what I want to focus on is its band of one of my students once
said that it looked like plates of Macaroni, but this band up here across the wall and
that I think is meant to evoke Maya glyphs like you see here, so if you don’t, if you
can read them they kind of look like spaghetti and so the sculpture, the structure’s
visual references are located in all of these civilizations and particularly in
the three civilizations that he mentions in his manifesto, the Maya,
the Aztecs and the Inca, so he synthesize these three
cultures together in this one pyramid. And these visual references to both
Mexico and the Andes are reflected in those two warriors there that come in to
save the day and, and, and liberate that figure in the center and, and symbolically
perhaps returned power to the oppressed. This is a quintessential American building
in the, in the broad sense of the term rather than one that’s tied to any single cite culture
or nation and one that recalls the rhetoric of his 1921 manifesto where he specifically drew
attention to the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas, okay. Now I can’t go into the detail here
but what Siqueiros is basically riffing on is the Mayan theater in downtown
Los Angeles from 1927 by a team of American architects working with a
Mexican designer and I just want to point out that you get this, see this band
up there at the top this is sort of this brightly colored poly-chromed
tiles up here that are taking, taking images from all sorts of
pre-Columbian cultures, it’s true pastiche, but also you get that here and then you have
this az, I mean Inca-es stonework between them and I think that’s what he is riffing on in
this, in this mural and he is probably trying to make a critique here perhaps in terms
of what the Mayan revival style meant in the United States as an, as an architecture
of escapism, an exoticism, which is common in, in movie palaces in particular and, and he
might want to even be critiquing the sort of whole imperialist capital system
that’s implicated in a theater like that, but also perhaps in the actual reconstruction
of Chichen itself by American archeologists who, who are getting their glory by redoing these
buildings and so this column on the far side of the mural surrounded by vegetation seems to
be drawn specifically from these illustrations in the Carnegie reports and in the popular
press of these similar kind of serpent columns with this you know L sticking out of
it also surrounded by vegetation and, and here surrounded by ropes as
if it’s, as it’s being restored and again I think there is
there is a critique here of the lamentable archeological
reconstructions in the movie theater, but also that are happening
at a site like Chichen Itza. In both cases whether it’s the Mayan movie
theater or the reconstruction of Chichen Itza, Siqueiros might be asking how these sites
actually would have benefitted real indigenous subjects except perhaps for a few field worker. So the pyramid is not just a, an
exotic backdrop, but a fundamental part of the anti-imperialist critique in the mural. And perhaps he’s even critiquing the way
these half naked guys with their cloth around their waist often appear in front of the
pyramids in the Carnegie photographs as well, sort of victims of this American idea of cultural continuity rather
than, rather than subjects. Now, get here, so if we turn to Darmouth
which was started, the murals here at the, at the Baker Library which was started
when Siqueiros was working in Los Angles, I want to look closely at the two panels
that show Mesoamerican architecture. On the left side of the north wall in the
reading room which we all go over and look at and prove even more fun if I just did the
rest of the lecture over there, but I’m, I’m going to talk about the, the, these
two panels, the coming of Quetzalcoatl and the departure of Quetzalcoatl and they
sandwiched this, this panel in the center on the pre-Columbian golden age that
I’m not going to actually discuss. Now as discussed by Jacqueline Bos in the one of
the articles, foundation articles really an epic of the American civilization, notes taken by the
art, art department chairman here at Darmouth in May 1932 based on discussions with
Orozco emphasized the connections in this, in this wall to central Mexican civilization,
particularly to the idea of Quetzalcoatl who according to this, these
notes probably riffing on Orozco, Quetzalcoatl would come along the Toltecs
and taught them the arts which brought about a long period of prosperity,
peace, fraternity, and great accomplishments may have echoes there
of Carrillo Puerto’s regime and the other panel so that was the coming panel, and then the
other panel was to show the destruction of the Toltec Empire and
the coming of the Aztecs and I don’t think Orozco really
mentioned the Maya specifically when discussing this section of the mural. In fact here again we find Orozco I
think directly revisiting Rivera’s work but streamlining and refining the discourse. The Darmouth murals and Mexico of
yesterday in the National Palace and the bottom both show Quetzalcoatl twice,
first as the king of, of Tollan, the leader and then as the guy fleeting across the water
here as you all see in this tiny detail, but there is Quetzalcoatl in the water with
the serpents and here is actually riding a sort of serpent boat through the sky which you know
I think it’s really honestly Rivera just had to kind of squeeze it into the panel somehow
and there is big empty space up there and that’s what he decided to do. But anyway in both cases we have the, the
sort of the king and the exile in both and also both murals refer to corn cultivation,
they refer to carve, stone carving in the arts and these other gifts that
the Quetzalcoatl the sort of promethean figure had given to the people. Now as Bas notes the coming of
Quetzalcoatl represents Orozco’s absorption of the early colonial idea that
Quetzalcoatl was a Christ like figure given to self sacrifice on behalf of his people. Now we know that Orozco believed
Quetzalcoatl had discouraged human sacrifice and although sacrifice appears in a previous
panel in the epic, it’s now absent here. In both murals, the reigning
benevolent Quetzalcoatl is associated with two pyramids though Orozco is more
specific architecturally as to what they are, so I won’t go over that, you
see that, sorry but I just want to make sure you all get out
of here before 10 o’clock. So and here is the Orozco panel and
very clearly he’s citing the pyramid of the sun very clearly at Tutucan. It’s actually specifically depicting
the pyramid of the sun and he referring to the nearby pyramid of the moon though there
is no way you could get a photograph showing the two pyramids in that, in that location,
in that relationship to each other and the main reason is it because when
Orozco was working here at Darmouth, the pyramid of the moon had not been excavated,
it was a pile of rubble, it was not excavated until and restored until the 1940s, the
pyramid of the sun had been restored in 1910. So he’s, he’s, but much more clearly
here, he’s locating Quetzalcoatl in, in Tutucan this place thought to be
the place of reeds, the city of Toltec and using the same dual pyramid
image that are, that Rivera had done. Now Bas speculates that the structure
in the departure panel is the Castillo, which he featured at the new school and she’s
suggested this how to do with Orozco’s links to Charlot who was working there in
Chichen and to Almer Reid who in fact in her biography laid her biography with a painter discusses
having given Orozco information on the ancient Maya while he
was working here in Hanover. Now assuming that the Castillo is
depicted here would function historically since Quetzalcoatl’s eastward flight might
have been to Chichen, but clearly the building and the departure panel is not the same
as the building in the new school panel, what do I have, yeah, even though
the relationship between hero and structure is compositionally the same. It’s notable how much more sophisticated in fact Orozco’s montage skills
have come, become by the way. I’d like to focus on some
differences, the profile of the pyramid in the departure panel is taller and
narrower than the squat Castillo, the proportional relationship between
chamber and base is less extreme and much more attention is
given to the portal at the top. The colors are notably different
unlike the bright white Castillo, white limestone surfaces that’d been
recut and cleaned by the archeologists, Orozco’s shown this building blood red. Finally we need to take into account
the pyramidal mass of people in front of the temple is struggling
anguished figures, alright. If we return to exemplary
images of sacrifice torn from mid 16th century [inaudible] we see the
same top profile large portal relationship between temple and suffering human figures and I think Orozco’s clearly
here showing a Toltec pyramid of central Mexico using iconographic
sources that deal, dealt specifically with Aztec’s culture as Rivera had done in his
own murals in Cuernavaca as I talked about. This is clearly not the pyramid of the sun and,
and I think significantly scholars believe that, now forget that, so it’s, it’s not pyramid
of the sun, it’s not the Maya Castillo, in fact this is Quetzalcoatl, this is not
Quetzalcoatl’s destination, but is origin Tollan and his position is crucial, he’s in the
water to the east of the city leaving it, pointing away from it to an
uncertain future in exile. 1933 article in the Dartmouth Alumni
magazine also you know reinforces this idea of the importance for Orozco of getting at
this theme of witchcraft and human sacrifice in Tollan this, the Toltec City that this was
what Quetzalcoatl was fighting against the, the appearance of human sacrifice
in what he’s, what, what kind of surges when he, when he leaves. So at Dartmouth, Orozco turned his back on the
Maya, locating his epic in the central valley of Mexico, just as Rivera had located his
own epic of the history of Mexico there and Maya had become marginal once again and this
in, in other talks I, I work through the way that this red pyramid of sacrifice is now
directly restated in, in Orozco’s murals in, in Guadalajara and in, in the Ospisios
Cabanias [phonetic] of the late 1930s and particularly you get the, the same kind
of construction now building off of this, these figures clearly here’s pulling the
heart out and this arm bloody arm rise, raised up in front of the pyramid is exactly
what Rivera had done in the National Palace, these are Aztec images and I think this is meant
to, to evoke the Aztec, Aztec barbarism as well. In fact, where I am, sorry, and I think there,
there’s no doubt that the, okay, so sorry, yeah, so this also allows a closer interrogation
back to Siqueiros’ tropical America because I think this specific placement of
the crucified indigenous figure can now seem in context as one of these sacrificial victims
who’s arriving in the front of the pyramid in the Dartmouth mural rises heart torn out
in the Rivera or in the later Orozco mural, but here is, is caught on this
bound to the cross by Siqueiros. Now there’s a very important issue here
that needs to be at least signaled is that the differences between Orozco and
Siqueiros are nowhere better shown here because whereas Quetzalcoatl, the
leader flees you know he’s cast out, but he also abandons his people as the hero. Siqueiros shows the armed proletariat so the
leader abandons the people but Siqueiros shows that armed proletariat coming
to rescue the figure, here’s these armed guys coming
to rescue this figure. And this theme of the proletariat coming to the
rescue is going to be something he will repeat in his great murals in the electrician
union at the end of the decade. Now in these works of the early 30s,
Mexican muralism emphasized the Aztecs with but two exceptions kind of trying to
summarize here, I mean trying to conclude here. Orozco’s panel in the new school which was a
particular exception guided by the selection of a particular heroic leader and to a
lesser extent Siqueiros’ tropical America where the temple is pastiche is
as much Aztec as Maya or Inca, but these murals also feature images related to
sacrifice which is the theme that drives many of the depictions, the pyramids are
backdrops for the historical sacrifices that drove Mexican history and society that
animated it forward and that continued to inform in a symbolic way audiences in the present. In the longer version of this study, I
compare the Mexican murals I’ve discussed here with two new duo murals done in the 1930 where
pre-Hispanic society now exclusively Maya, I think I have, is idealized bloodless and
instructing but failing to direct the audience to any higher goals and the two
that I discuss in detail are one by an artist named Roger Wolcott, this is
a, a panel, these are both oil and canvas, this is in the museum of science in Springfield,
Massachusetts, it’s one of a group of panels and extended cycle, Asia and Africa and
the Iroquois, I think and Mesoamerica, Mexico is represented by the, the Maya. And what part of Maya world? Chichen Itza with the restored Castillo back
there other restored buildings, people at work, etcetera, very much in this, you know this is
no Quetzalcoatl but this kind of idealized view that we also get here at Dartmouth in
the, in the coming of Quetzalcoatl image and in the lower part is the post office
mural from Ames, Iowa which you know center for corn production and in fact it
shows ancient Maya corn cultivation and modern corn cultivation by an artist
names Lowell Howser who was a colleague of Jean Charlot’s on the Carnegie project
as an illustrator there back in the 1920s. Here by the way this is not the
Castillo from Chichen Itza, this is, this is actually a pyramid at a site in
Guatemala named Washactoon, was also excavated by the Carnegie Institution of Washington
which is why they gave the name, invented name Washactoon to the
site, Washington Washactoon. So if I had to say that these murals like
almost all Maya imagery of the 20s and 30s done in the United States including
National Geographic illustrations, the photographs of Laura Gilpin and an
unlimited number of Maya theaters, Maya apart, Maya revival pottery and neckties
and whole host of stuff as well as Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished film
Que viva Mexico all of these are parts of this wider research project, all of these
images idealize the Maya world primarily through the iconography of Chichen Itza,
which is the most well known city through, because of this archeological excavation
to create a sort of Greek origin, a sort of Greek perfect civilization that
could be part of our shared new world. All of that is superidealized
and then we get Mel Gibson. U.S. Americans would continue to idealize the
Maya for as long as they could, even if scholars and curators were busy transforming the field, although this year much it’s got a logical
rumination and internet chatter has revolved around whether the conclusion of the 13th
Bactoon, a period of about almost 400 years, this coming December 21st is going to
signal some sort of apocalyptic moment, although the Mayan never really
predicted the end of time and really for them it was just a big loud click in the
interlocking wheels of their dual calendar. Perhaps it was inevitable that the repressed
dark side of Maya culture was eventually going to percolate to the surface for the combination
of the violence and images of sacrifice and these murals appears not
in a film about the Aztecs, but in Mel Gibson’s overblown
Apocalypto 2006 set in the Yucatan peninsula just before the
conquest and particularly in the scene here in which our young hero, Jaguar Paw and his
fellow captives are terrifyingly escorted to the top of a pyramid to be sacrificed
although of course our hero escapes. This time, by this time by 2006, scholars had
well proven that the ancient Maya were just as violent as their Aztec cousins, but by
2006 there were no longer any ancient cultures to idealize in the Mesoamerican world. In this fascinating visually rich and
complex at times insufferable film, Gibson and his team recreated
digitally now as well as physically truly lamentable
archeological reconstructions now according to the directors own peculiar,
peculiar religious and political agenda in part is concerns about our contemporary
moral depravities and ecological depredations that he views undermine our own civilization. However, easy it might be to critique Gibson or
even attacked historical accuracy of Apocalypto which I’ll be working on with my
students in a seminar next term. It might allow us to better approach
a series of murals, better think about or to textualizes a series of murals from
75 years before in which architecture in the end is background to
stories of sacrifice, noble or not, by political leaders and by anonymous victims. And of course there’s another
possible way of concluding or thinking about the end of this talk. Last year the Mexican tourism board announced a
plan to promote 2012 drained of all apocalyptic and sacrificial messages as a mystical and
marvelous time to revisit the restored pyramids in the Yucatan peninsula and help revive
the nation’s flagging tourism industry which has suffered because of the
drug wars where bloody sacrifices of a completely other type
are currently underway. These two sides of Mexico,
the idealized touristic side and the demonized drug war side say, once framed
as Maya versus Aztec now reappear as art world versus drug world, beaches versus the maculadora
[phonetic] industry, fiestas versus kidnapping and we see how these two sides, its
idealized side and the demonized side continue to structure how outsiders and insiders
understand such a complicated place. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>James Oles: Very sorry, I’m sorry
that I went, went over my time, but I guess I didn’t see too many
people fleeing, so it was okay. I’ll take questions or do you want to,
do you want to go right directly to, so I will field questions
or let some people escape. [ Pause ]>>James Oles: Yeah.>>So you were talking about how Maya [ Inaudible ]>>James Oles: So why are, why are the Maya
left out of, particularly in the Mexican murals and the main reason that they’re
left out is because they’re distant from Mexico City, they’re
just physically distant. They don’t fit into this nationalist discourse because they’re not connected
to Mexico City in the capital. They’re much more problematic in that they
not only resisted the Spanish for longer, but they actually resisted
conquest through the 19th century and there was a famous what they call the cast
war of Yucatan through much of the 19th century, the Maya resist and so they’re, they’re not
the, they’re not so easily heroized as great but dead conquered peoples, they’re farther
away, they have to shared with Guatemala, Honduras, etc, and, and I think also for
quite a few of these reasons too the Maya which was less visible in the Mexican popular
culture than they were in United States because since the Mexican archeologists were
so intent on excavating central Mexican sites and places in Vajaca or Veracruz, they basically
left the excavation and restoration of the sites in southern Mexico, Yucatan,
Chiapas and of course in Guatemala were basically the responsibility
of American and British archeologists. It was a little bit different at the site of
Palenque [phonetic] might be the only exception. But most of those sites were being done
were done by American archeologists so they were that’s partly the reason that
the Maya just don’t form very much part of a visual world in, in, in Mexico City’s
popular culture or in, or in the mural. So I mean these posters and calendars what you
do see the sexy babes with Maya pyramids that’s, that’s a sort of exception to a rule. Almost no images of the Maya in Mexican muralism
until the 50s and as Mary knows in the museum of anthropology, the Maya are finally
brought in and this is largely because of the discoveries I think at a
place like Palenque and Bonampak in, in, in the state of Chiapas where Mexican
archeologists made some spectacular finds and that now begins to help
pull the Maya back into, into the equation, I don’t know if that’s… [ Inaudible ]>>James Oles: Yeah, the, the, this tourist
industry thing is and how they muddy things too, with these pastiches is also, that’s you
know good point and, and a true thing too. Yeah, I, yeah, this is sort of
an observation or is there…>>I don’t know, I, I was, I mean do you
think that [inaudible] today too, I mean I?>>James Oles: It’s much more
complicated to talk about today because I think the Maya have
been more subsumed within a, sort of a broad Mexican identity particularly
after the construction of a new museum of anthropology in Mexico city which dedicated
a very large room to the Maya and the, and, and excavations in the Maya
world are now largely directed by Mexican archeologists whether
they’re Americans involved as well. So the Mexicans are much more attentive
to what’s going on in the Maya world, the Maya discoveries are on the
front page of, of Mexican newspapers. So it’s, I think it’s very different today
and it’s, it’s particularly been different since even before this Zapatista uprising
of 94 when that really brought the Maya to, to public attention much more in the
United States, much more in Mexico than they even been before where they were
kind of peripherally easy to forget about. Whereas in Chichen Itza the
whole thing behind the, the restoration of Chichen Itza is also a
patriotic thing, but it’s a state funded or a state promoted, not really funded
but promoted effort at the beginning. Yeah. Okay. Alright. [ Applause ]

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