A Lesson In Latin History: The Artists That Painted A Social Revolution

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1. Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949)

“The People And Its Leaders”-Image Source: AdventuresbyAaron

The Mexican Revolution apparently riled up a lot of creatives. Orozco, a painter who grew up in poverty and pushed through it to pursue an art career, was greatly inspired by the communist struggle and victory in his homeland.

As a young artist, Orozco unknowingly mixed chemicals to make fireworks in celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day in 1904. The chemicals exploded on his left arm and wrist, forcing him to get them amputated a few days later. From childhood poverty to now physical obstruction, Orozco largely reflected personal suffering surrounded by political strife in his paintings

Orozco’s most acclaimed piece is “The People and Its Leaders,” thought of as the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas.” This panoramic painting covers the government palace with a vibrant and haunting exhibition of Mexico’s history with a society engulfed in flames. 

2. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

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“The Two Fridas”-Image Source: Flickr

Frida Kahlo remains one of the most revered Mexican artists today for her emotional depictions of her troubled life.

In 1925, at the ripe age of 18, Kahlo was in a horrible accident in Mexico City involving a bus and a trolley car. She was left permanently damaged, suffering through several spinal operations, trapped in full body casts, and often immobile. 

Young Kahlo also married fellow contemporary Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, in 1929, who was known for his womanizing escapades. Their tumultuous relationship and Kahlo’s physical traumas stirred up a great deal of anger and depression in the artist.

You can easily detect this negativity in Kahlo’s work, with her expressionless representation of herself surrounded by chaos and pain. In “The Two Fridas,” an ominous background cowers over her double self-portrait. One Frida is her Mexican version, the one that her husband loved, and the other is her European side, the one that her husband abandoned. Both hearts are exposed, and the European’s is broken. The vein connecting both hearts has been cut by scissors and is dripping incessantly. 

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3. Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

“History of Mexico”-Image Source: Jpfiester

Diego Rivera’s claim to fame lies in his propagandist murals after the Mexican Revolution. He and his wife Frida were both avid communists and supported the proletariat cause through thick and thin.

Just like the Mexican Revolution that sprung from workers’ movements, Rivera wanted to portray the lives of the real Mexican people—none of that bourgeoisie art. He had a gift in reflecting the indigenous, vendors, and laborers with great dignity and respect. 

Rivera’s most renowned pieces are his murals From the Pre-Hispanic Civilization to the Conquestand “Popular History of Mexico.” In each, he depicts the working class and native people of Mexico shaping their nation’s history, refusing to let the story be dominated by corrupt and power-hungry elites. 

 4. Fernando Botero (1932 – )

Mona Lisa-Image Source: Galleryintel

Colombian artist Fernando Botero usually portrays figures in large and exaggerated volume.

Having grown up in Medellin, Colombia, amid political turmoil and social unrest, Botero claims he paints his subjects in bloated volumes either for humoristic reasons or as political criticisms, depending on the work. 

Some of Botero’s most recognizable pieces are his take on the Mona Lisa and his depiction of Pablo Escobar’s murder. By painting the drug lord as massive atop the roof where he was gunned down, Botero not only pokes fun at Escobar’s overweight body, but he also portrays the all-encompassing power that Escobar controlled Colombia with.

 5. Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982)

Image Source: Wikiart

This Cuban painter brings an essence of cultural and ethnic diversity that no other Latin American artist has achieved.

Lam grew up in Cuba to a Chinese immigrant father and a mulatto mother. He incorporated Asian- and Afro-Cuban culture into his work from a strong, protagonist, perspective, instead of as the object demeaned and lessened by others.

A close friend of his, Pablo Picasso, encouraged Lam to pursue modernism and play around with cubism. One of his most iconic works, “The Jungle,” embraces the rich color, texture, and diversity of the Afro-Cuban world within a modernist approach. And even better, MoMA has it! 

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