Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mexican Muralists in the Metro: Portraying Mexico City's Azteca-Mexica Origins

We have been following the trail of the Mexican Muralists from their gestation in the Academy of San Carlos, their first realizations in the College of San Ildefonso, at the Secretariat of Public Education and Bellas Artes and other spaces in Centro Histórico then on to other locations in the city. We came face to face with David Alfaro Siqueiros's last, grand work at the Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum in the delegación, borough, Benito Juárez and his work, as well as that of Juan O'Gorman and others at the National University's University City in Coyoacán.

On the way, we ran across murals in an unexpected place, Metro train stations. Our first encounter was a chance meeting with Ariosto Otero Reyes' revolutionarily themed mural in the Xola (pronounced, Shola) station on Line 2. This led us to research the existence of other Metro murals. We found a goodly number. We presented some that convey specifically revolutionary themes. Our post "Reverberations of the Mexican Revolution" explored how representations of themes of the Revolution spread out across the cityscape over the years.

But there are other Metro murals, some with themes we have seen before:

Encounter of the Cultures
 A primal theme for Mexico

Mayan Mother Goddess Ixchel
extends her hand
ala God to Adam in the Sistine Chapel
to European woman, also ala Leonardo DaVinci.
Similar to the "New Adam" of Diego Rivera in San Ildefonso
and the New Woman of Arturo García Bustos
in the University Station mural,

her force is atomic, a symbol we saw at the National University
Map of Latin America from crest of National University.

Graziella Scotese,
Italian artist who came to Mexico in 1970s
to study mural art.
Station División del Norte, Line 3

Civilización y cultura
by José de Guimaraes
Gift of the City of Lisbon
An homage to such Mexican artists as
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo;
and writers, including 
Sor Juana de la Cruz (17th century nun and poet),
Octavio Paz and Juan Rulfo, among others.

Upper right: Ancient symbol of world creation and destruction  two serpents eating each other's tails.
Upper left: Aztec/Mexica jaguar warrior

Chabacano Station, Line 9, where it intersects with Line 2

Crossroads in Space and Time

However, it is in Tacubaya Station—southwest of Centro on what used to be the western shore of Lake Texcoco, where East-West Line 1 intersects with North-South Line 7 and East-West Line 9—that we come across another of the tours de force that characterize Mexican muralism in its grandeza, its grandest expression.

Because three lines meet at Tacubaya, it is a major Metro system crossroad. Multiple passageways had to be constructed to make possible the correspondencias, connections, between the three lines. This construction resulted in large spaces through which thousands of people pass daily. David Siqueiros, we think, would have been drawn to such a public space, where el pueblo, the people, go about their cotidianidad, daily life.

Passageways in Tacubaya Station
Guillermo Ceniceros, Muralist Apprentice of David Siqueiros

Guillermo Ceniceros, an apprentice of Siqueiros, was attracted to this space. He was born in 1939 in a small pueblo in the state of Durango in northwest Mexico. but in 1951, when he was twelve, his family moved to the eastern city of Monterrey, in Nuevo León. When he was fourteen, he entered the Fabricación de Máquinas, S.A. (Manufacture of Machines, FAMA), a commercial school and business, where he studied industrial drawing.

In 1955, Ceniceros enrolled in the Taller de Arts Plásticas (Plastic Arts Workshop) at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, graduating in 1958. He continued with FAMA and married fellow artist Esther González. In 1962, they moved to Mexico City where he obtained work with Luis Covarrubias painting ethnographic murals at the National Museum of Anthropology and History. During this project he also met artist Rufino Tamayo.

In 1965, David Alfaro Siqueiros hired Ceniceros to work on his murals of the Mexican Revolution at the National Museum of History in Chapultepec Castle. Subsequently, he worked on The March of Humanity on Earth and Toward the Cosmos at the Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum. In 1986, the Metro system hired Ceniceros to paint murals in the Tacubaya Station.

Returning to Mexico City's Founding Legend

Rather than present images of the Revolution or visions of a future Mexico in the utilitarian, literally pedestrian space of Tacubaya Station, Ceniceros chose to go back to the indigenous origins of what is now Mexico City; that is, the legend of how some seven hundred years ago the Mexícas (Me-SHE-kahs) came to arrive in what was then the Valley of Anáhuac and found México-Tenochtitlán.

Legendary Beginnings: Emerging from Caves, Many Tribes Settle Around Lake with Island in the Middle

Nahuatl legends relate that, at the beginning of their history, seven tribes lived in Chicomoztoc, or "the place of the seven caves". Each cave contained a different Nahua-speaking group: the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalteca, Tepaneca, Chalca, and Mexica. These groups are collectively called Nahuatlaca" (Nahua people) because of their common linguistic origin. In Mesoamerican legends of human origins, people are often created by emerging from caves—wombs of Mother Earth.

Here (for some unknown reason), eight tribes  are presented, around the lake of Aztlán

These tribes subsequently left the caves and settled around Aztlán, an island in a lake. In his book "Fragmentos de la Obra General Sobre Historia de los Mexicanos" ("Fragments of the General Work About the History of the Mexicans"), Cristobal del Castillo (c.1458–1539) mentions that the lake around Aztlán was called Metztliapan or "Lake of the Moon."

While some legends describe Aztlán as a paradise, the Codex Aubin says that the Aztecs were subject to a tyrannical elite called the Azteca Chicomoztoca. Guided by their priest, the Aztecs fled, where, on the road, their god Huitzilopochtli forbade them to call themselves Azteca, telling them that they should be known as Mexica.
Ironically, scholars of the 19th century—in particular Alexander von Humboldt and William H. Prescott—would name them Aztec. Humboldt's suggestion was widely adopted in the 19th century as a way of differentiating "modern" Mexicans from pre-conquest Mexícas.

Mexica on their migration
the backpack, the apparent child with beaked cap
is a totem of their god, Huitzilopochtli.

Some codici indicate that the southward migration began on May 24, 1064 CE. The "Anales de Tlatelolco" says the exit from Aztlán took place on "4 Cuauhtli" (Four Eagle) of the year "1 Tecpatl" (Knife), which correlates to January 4, 1065.

Mexicas en route honor Huitzilopochtli

Entering the Valley of Anáhuac and Mesoamerican History

The Mexicas were the last to arrive in the Valley of Anáhuac, sometime around the year 1248, nearly 200 years after their legendary departure from Atzlán. The shore around Lake Texcoco was fully settled. Each of the other six groups from Aztlán had arrived before them and founded an altepetl, a city-state, governed by a council of  pipiltin, nobles, headed by an elected tlatoani"speaker", chief) Thus, at this point, they also moved from legend into the recorded history of Mesoamerican civilization. Wikipedia

Anáhuac Valley lakes, and altepetls, city-states, (left is north, right is south)
Left-North: Lake Xaltocan
Center: Lake Texcoco
Right-South: Lakes Xochimilco and Chalco

The most powerful of the altepetls were Culhuacan (on peninsula jutting from southeast (upper right) shore dividing Lake Texcoco from Lake Xochimilco), and Azcapotzalco on the west shore of Lake Texcoco (bottom, center of mural). 

The Mexica first tried to settle in Chapultepec (just to south, i.e., right of Azcapotzalco). The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco soon expelled the Mexicas. In 1299, the tlatoani of Culhuacan, Cocoxtli, gave them permission to settle in the empty lava beds of Tizapan (southwest of Coyoacán, lower right, now the area of the National University). In turn, they served as mercenary soldiers in his army, learning military skills they put to successful use some years later.

Island in Middle of a Lake Becomes Center of the World

According to Mexica legend, in 1323, they were shown a vision of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, eating a snake, indicating the place where they were to build their home. It may have been that they had been expelled from Culhuacan territory. They found the combination of snake-eating eagle on a cactus on a small swampy island in Lake Texcoco.  In 1325, they founded the settlement of Tenochtitlán, "Prickly Pear among the Rocks"—reminiscent of the archetypical island of Aztlán in the middle of Lake of the Moon.

The Mexicas arrive on Tenochtitlán,
"Prickly Pear among the Rocks"

Fifty years later, their settlement was big enough to become an altepetl. In 1376, they elected their first tlatoani, Acamapichtli, son of a marriage between one of their leaders and a daughter of a tlatoani of Culhuacan. Despite its ties to Culhuacan, for the next 50 years, until 1426, Tenochtitlán remained a tributary of its closer neighbor, Azcapotzalco. 

Upon the death of the Azcapotzalco tlatoani, Tezozomoc, in 1427, a series of power struggles broke out among the leaders of the altepetls subordinated to Azcapotzalco. In these struggles, Maxtla, son of Tezozomoc, killed Chimalpopoca, tlatoani of Tenochtitilan. In retaliation, his successor, Itzcoatl, allied with Nezahualcoyotl. the tlatoani of Texcoco (northeast side of Lake) and Totoquiatzin, tlatoani of Tlalcopan (aka Tacuba, west side of lake, between Chapultepec and Azacapotzalco).

In 1428, they defeated Maxtla. This coalition became what is known as the Triple Alliance, and Tenochtitlán became the dominant partner.  Over the next 100 years, Tenochtitlán was to expand its domination over most of Central Mexico. Its tlatoani became huey tlatoani, "senior speaker," ranking him above the lords of subordinate altepetls.

Tenochtitlán at its height, just before the Spanish arrived
(viewed from the south; the lake is not to scale or actual form)
Other Nahua altepetls around the lake are named.
Tacubaya is lower left.

Left: First three tlatoani of Tenochtitlán,
subordinate to Azcapotzalco:
From left: Acamapichtli, Huitzilihui and Chimalpopoca

Right: Six huey tlatoani, senior speakers of the Triple Alliance period
Itzcoatl, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina (the Elder), Axayacatl,
Tizoc, Ahuizotl, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (the Younger)

Left: Cuauhtémoc, last huey tlatoani, executed by Hernán Cortés.
Right: Leaders of the initial Triple Alliance
Itzcoatl of Tenochtitlan
Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco
Totoquiatzin of Tlalcopan/Tacuba

Union of Political and Sacred Powers

Tlacaelel I (1397 – 1487)
portrayed as Eagle Warrior
Principal architect of the Aztec Triple Alliance 

and hence of Mexica hegemony over Central Mexico.

Tlacaelel: Mind Behind the Throne

During the war against the Tepanecs, Tlacaelel, nephew of tlatoani Itzcoatl, son of tlatoani Huitzilihuitl and brother of Chimalpopoca and Moctezuma I, was given the office of tlacochcalcatl (top general of the army), but after his great victory, he was named first adviser to the ruler, a new position called cihuacoatl. He held the office during the reigns of four consecutive tlatoani, until his death in 1487. His was the mind behind the throne.

It was Tlacaelel who rewrote the story of the Mexicas as a chosen people, elevated the tribal god Huitzilopochtli to the top of the pantheon of gods and promoted the State's militaristic identity. He is said to have increased the quantity and frequency of human sacrifice, particularly during a period of natural disasters that started in 1446 (Diego Durán, History of the Indians of New Spain, 1581). Durán also states that, during the reign of Moctezuma I, Tlacaelel invented the "Flower Wars", in which the Aztecs fought Tlaxcala and other city-states not to subdue them, but to collect captives for sacrifice. Wikipedia

Chac-mool Figure for receiving sacrificial offerings, human hearts.
(Name is modern, created by archeologists)

Blood Sacrifice: Fuel that Keeps Sun Turning and World Going On

The Aztec cosmos, like that of their Central Mexico predecessors, was believed to be kept going by the sacrifice of human blood to feed the Sun, so it would rise again each day, driving away the forces of darkness, the underworld and chaos through which it traveled in peril each night. 

In Aztec mythology, there had been four previous "Suns", creations of the world, but they were unsuccessful and destroyed by various natural forces. The Fifth Sun, the Aztec world, was created in darkness at the site of Teotihuacan, the first major Mesoamerican city thirty miles north of Mexico City (See: Teotihuacan-Where the Gods Are Made). In order to get the Sun to rise and move across the sky once again, and hence for life and time to go on, a god had to sacrifice himself by jumping into a fire. 

This cosmic event was ritualistically repeated in the New Fire ceremony held once every fifty-two years, when the beginnings of the 365-day solar calendar coincided with the 260-day divination calendar. The divination calendar was based on the length of human gestation and used to predict personal fate. The coincidence of the two calendars—of the cosmic cycle and human fate—made for a highly dangerous juncture; that is, at this juncture it was very possible that the Sun might not rise again and the era of the Fifth Sun would come to an end. The Stone of the Five Suns, in the National Museum of Anthropology and History, portrays this cosmology.

Sacrifice, of course, also kept in place the power of the State as the unique employer of "legitimate violence" (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan).

Gods Who Rule

As we have seen, the Mexica, according to their legend, evidently as retold by Tlacaelel, came into existence as a people through the intentional act of a god, Huitzilopochtli, who separated them out from their cousin Aztec tribes, gave them their unique identiy and led them to a promised land. 

The Mexica were initially nomadic hunter-gatherers. Upon their arrival in the Valley of Anáhuac, they first became part of a settled agrarian culture, then further developed into an urban civilization. Their many gods—originating in their hunting days or adopted by them from surrounding tribes when they settled down—likely reflect the various stages of their history.

The Wikipedia article on their mythology names two dozen or so godsHowever, as in the religions of many other cultures, gods and goddesses, primal forces of existence, can appear in various guises and bearing different names. Taken for granted in primal cultures, the "same" god or force can even appear in both male and female forms, confusing the "modern" mind that prefers neat categories.  

Ceniceros portrays some of the Mexica gods on the walls of Tacubaya Station. There, they watch over modern Mexicans as they pass by, not unlike the saints on the walls of the city's many Catholic Churches. 

Gods of Primal Forces and the Four Cardinal Directions (Hunter-Gatherer Origins)

The four cardinal directions are probably the earliest way available to human hunter-gatherers for creating their "world"; that is, as a means for organizing the terrestial space within which they roamed about. The four directions are marked by the Sun's East-West daily journey and, perpendicular to it, a North-South axis marked in the Northern Hemisphere by the North Star and the Big Dipper or Big Bear. 

Nowadays, in Tacubaya Station, commuters—today's "hunter-gatherers"—follow yellow signs reading "Correspondencia a Linea 1, 7 or 9", Connection to Line 1, 7 or 9.

Left: Tezcatlipoca, god of twilight, ruler of the night, hence of the invisible,
associated with the Great Bear constellation;
hence, lord of the cardinal direction North.

Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent (a creature combining forces of earth and sky),
god of light, life and wisdom. Associated with the morning star (Venus), lord of the East.

Mictlantecuhtli, god of the underworld, 
where death and chaos threaten human existence.
Lord of the West

The Mexica's Huitzilopochtli was originally a god of the Sun and, hence, Lord of the South, where the Sun rules.

Gods of Agrarian Life

Left: Tlaloc, god of water

Chalchiutlicue, goddess of rivers and springs.
(Ceniceros gives her a human visage. She would have had a symbolic one.)

Ehécatl, god of the wind, who comes before the rains, announcing them.
(critical for an agrarian culture with half-year-long dry and rainy seasons.) 

Centeotl, goddess of corn
(she would also have had a symbolic representation)

Mayauel, goddess of maguey and pulque beer
(likewise, she would have had a symbolic representation.
We think Ceniceros has "westernized" these goddesses,
ala classic Greek style)

Gods of Familial and Tribal Conflict; hence, of History and War

Coatlicue, goddess of human life.
Serpent-headed, she gives life and takes it in death.

The original statue is in the National Museum
of Anthropology and History

Coyolxauhqui, daughter of Coatlicue
She and her brothers kill their mother when they find her pregnant once again. 

Huitzilopochtli, the immaculately conceived child, son of the Sun, is born full-grown. 
He slays and dismembers his half-sister.
She becomes the Moon, with its phases.
Her brothers are chased into the heavens as stars.

The original statue is in Museum of the Templo Mayor.

Huitzilopochtli, sun god and god of war. Lord of the south, 
Ceniceros' painting, portraying the god as a sun,
is, paradoxically, in a dark corner, 
which we couldn't photograph.

This 16th century representation is from
Codex Telleriano-Remensis


Curiously, Ceniceros' largest mural in Tacubaya does not portray either a Mexica or Aztec personage or god. Set apart from the Mexica story, on a two-story high wall between two passageways, it is the jade death mask of a Mayan ahaw or lord, K'inich Janaab' Pakal I, Great Sun Lord Shield, of Palenque, who reigned from 615 to 683 CE. The Maya were, of course, the other major indigenous civilization in what is now Mexico.

The Maya city-states, south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec—far from Central Mexico but in trade relations with it—had their heyday during the so-called Mesoamerican Classic Period, from about 300 to 800 CE. They emerged during a political hiatus and resulting power vacuum that took place in Central Mexico between the decline of Teotihuacan (ending around 500 CE) and the rise of a successor power, the Toltecs in Tula, Hidalgo, north of Teotihuacan (800 to 1200 CE).

The rise of the city-states in the Valley of Anáhuac came with the decline of Toltec power. The Mexicas were the last of a long series of dominant powers.

Jade death mask of Mayan lord Pakal I

Ceniceros's Other Murals

Guillermo Ceniceros has created over fifteen other large-scale murals in public places in Mexico City, Monterrey (his "home town") and his home state of Durango, as well as in the Mexican Mission to the United Nations in New York City. A few years after recreating the history of the Mexicas and Teotihuacan in the Tacubaya Station, Ceniceros undertook portraying an even grander concept in an even larger space, in Copilco Station on Line 3. That, if you'll forgive the pun, is our next stop.

Now 77, Ceniceros continues to live in Mexico City at his studio/home in Colonia Roma

Monday, February 15, 2016

Small Gems in the Archbishop's Palace: Antonio Ruiz's Paintings of Post-Revolutionary Everyday Life

We have been following the trail of the grand art of the Mexican Muralists around Mexico City. Our hunt began at San Carlos Academy, where almost every Mexican artist received his training. It stands at the corner of Academy Street and Moneda, Coin Street, so named because the mint of New Spain was located there, just behind the National Palace, off the Zócalo in Centro Histórico.

Aztec Temple to Bishop's Palace to Treasury to Art Museum
On Moneda Street, halfway between the Zócalo and San Carlos. across from the Mint (now the National Museum of Cultures), stands another of those grand Spanish colonial palaces, the former Palace of the Archbishop. Its construction was begun in the 16th century, on top of the ruins of the Aztec temple to the god, Tezcatlipoca, a god of night, the underworld and warriors. The Palace reached its present form in the Baroque period of the 18th century.

In the 1860s it was expropriated by the Reform government of Benito Juárez and made into offices for the Secretariat of Hacienda, the Treasury. In the 1950s it was converted into the Museum of the Secretariat of Hacienda. The Treasury obtained its collection via in-kind payments for taxes owed. Over the latter half of the last century, it became a Mexican tradition for artists to donate works instead of paying cash.

Former Palace of the Archbishop,
now Museum of the Secretariat of Hacienda, the Treasury.
Towers of the Cathedral in the background

We originally visited the Musuem to see the mural, Song to the Heroes, by José Gordillo, one of what we call the Reverberations of the Mexican Revolution, art inspired by the Revolution that is scattered around the city.

The Un-Muralist
While there, we explored the exhibits and were surprised and delighted to come across another of the city's hidden gems. They aren't murals, but small paintings by an artist we had never heard of, Antonio Ruiz. No more than 18" by 24", in their own manner and voice, they tell us of the post-Revolutionary era of the second quarter of the 20th century in Mexico City. While the Big Three, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, tended to disdain easel painting as art for the rich, Ruiz explicitly chose to work in small, very focused oil paintings.

Born in 1892 in Texcoco, State of México, adjacent to Mexico City, in 1914 Ruiz entered the Academy of San Carlos in the midst of the Revolution (1910-1920). But unlike his fellow student, Siqueiros, he did not become a revolutionary. After his art training, he worked in the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation and as a primary school art teacher. He spent two years, 1925 to 27, in Hollywood, working as a set designer, which was a skill he continued to use throughout his life in Mexico, designing stage sets for Mexican plays and ballets. Early on, he adopted the very Mexican apodo, nickname, “Cocito”, "Little Corzo", because he looked like a Spanish toreador, “El Corzo”.

Ruiz taught at the Institute of Bellas Artes and the Academy of San Carlos. In 1942 he became director of the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado aka "La Esmeralda", the National School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving, known as "La Esmeralda" from the street on which it was located. He died in 1964 of a cerebral hemorrhage. 

Ordinary People in a Time of Change

Through a focus on ordinary people and their daily lives in Mexico City, Ruiz communicates the post-Revolutionary transition from, and conflicts between, a more internally focused, traditional Mexican culture to one seeking to join the modernity of the larger world. Working slowly, seeking to communicate through details, he did not produce many works. The Flemish masters were his models.

About a dozen of his works are in the Museum of the Hacienda, in their own small gallery on the second floor. They are portraits, not just of individuals, but of an epoch. To us, they say as much about that time as the murals of the Big Three, but in a softer voice.

The Miners
(Compare with Rivera's Entrance to the Mine)

School Independence Day Parade
Father Miguel Hidalgo is portrayed on the banner.
Parades like this are still held every September 16,
all across Mexico

The Milkman's Girl Friend
Milkmen no longer go door to door in the city,
but plenty of other vendors still do,
often with bicycles and baskets.

Romance, of course, is eternal.

The Serenade
Nowadays, one would hire a Mariachi Band.

Opening of the Pulquería,
Pulque bar.
Beer has pretty much replaced pulque,
a beer made from juice of the agave,
now used to distill mezcal and tequila.

The Shoppers
Polanco, Fifth Avenue or your local mall.

This is our favorite. Make the bathing suits skimpier and it could be today.
Peasant couples still appear occasionally on the streets of Mexico City.
The number 8 is pure Art Deco.

The Paranoids
We would love to know what Ruiz had in mind.
These characters could be from New York

The "turkey" envisions himself as a peacock
or an even more fantastic bird.
Such a sense of self-deprecating humor!
We think Orozco would get it;
Rivera and Siqueiros, probably not.

To us, Ruiz's art has the same focus as that expressed by another observer of the details of la cotidianidad, everyday life, in Mexico City some 350 years earlier, Bernardo de Balbuena, who painted what he saw with words in his poem, La grandeza mexicana, that is, the grandeza of ordinary people:

Of various looks and various movements
various figures, faces and demeanors,
various men with various thoughts... 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Mexican Muralists at National Autonomous University: Grandeur of Mexico's Supreme House of Studies

Following the Trail of Mexican Muralists

In our most recent ambles around Mexico City, we've been seeking out how Mexican history is represented in its architecture and public art. More specifically, we've been tracking outgrowths of the Mexican Revolution. In our explorations, we learned how at the Academy of San Carlos during the Revolution, Gerardo Murillo, aka Dr. Atl, aroused his students—including José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros—with a vision of the synthesis of art and education of the people via the creation of grand murals in public spaces.

At the Secretariat of Public Education, we saw how José Vasconcelos, as its first Secretary in the early 1920s, took up this vision and—calling Diego Rivera and Siqueiros back from Europe and Orozco from the United States—put the three to work in the Secretariat and the National Preparatory School (former College of San Ildefonso).

From there, we followed Siqueiros' artistic and political odyssey in and out of Mexico City and the country. Eventually, this brought us back to Chapúltepec Castle, where Siqueiros painted his vision of the Revolution in the National Museum of History. Following the trail of the artist's work has now led us to another grand outcome of the Revolutionary vision: Ciudad Universitaria, University City, where education and public mural art were once again joined.

Vision of a University for a New Latin America

Although the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM)  was founded on September 22, 1910, by Justo Sierra, Secretary of Education under President and dictator Porfirio Díaz, to be a modern, liberal, scientifically based institution, it is really a creature of the Mexican Revolution and the political dynamics that emerged from that series of conflicts.

Vision of the National University on walls at
University Station of Metro Line 3
Artist: Arturo García Bustos, 1989 

The merged raptors, the Andean condor and the Mexican golden eagle,
represent the envisioned bond of Mexico and South America,
fostered by the National University. 
The map of Latin America conveys the same vision.
Together, they form the crest for the National University,
designed by Jóse Vasconcelos (at right, arms raised).

On the white ribbon the University motto: 
"The spirit will speak for my race."

The outstretched arms of the nude female are reminiscent 
of Diego Rivera's two "new" post-Revolutionary men
in murals in Bellas Artes and San Ildelfonso.

Right: Behind professors in traditional robes,
students protest for University autonomy,
freedom from government control, granted in 1929.
Hence, National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM.

Crest of the University

Supreme House of Studies

Mexicans frequently refer to the UNAM as la máxima casa de estudios, the supreme house of studies. the largest, most important and best public institution of higher education in Mexico and, possibly in Latin America, the realization of the vision of José Vasconcelos, briefly its Rector in the early 1920s.

Organized into faculties, rather than departments, offering both undergraduate and graduate studies, the UNAM also operates the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National Preparatory School, system of high schools), and the Colegio de Ciencias y Humanidades (CCH) (College of Science and Humanities), which consists of several other high schools around Mexico City. Counting all its high schools, undergraduate and graduate students, the UNAM enrolls more than 324,400 students, making it the largest university in Latin America and one of the largest in the world.

Faculty, students and all Mexicans are fiercely proud of the UNAM as the embodiment of their efforts to build a modern, educated, sovereign country with its own, unique place in the world.

¡La Revolución Sigue! The Revolution Continues!

True to its revolutionary roots, UNAM students have frequently protested and gone on strike to get the university to change various educational and administrative policies. An early strike in 1929 won the university freedom from direction by the Secretariat of Public Education and established its much valued autonomy, i.e., leadership by a Rector elected by a governing council.

Other major protests and strikes took place in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, culminating in the multi-university protests of 1968, which were suppressed by the government in the Massacre of Tlatelolco, a plaza in northern Mexico City. Most recently, UNAM students were active in the #YoSoy132 protests against Enrique Peña Nieto's election to the Presidency in 2012.

Faculty, especially in the Faculty of Political Sciences and some in the Faculty of Law are Marxist oriented and—consonant with Diego Rivera's "Ballad of the Revolution" murals and David Alfaro Siqueiros' murals of the Mexican Revolution—are vociferously critical of capitalism and its latest embodiment, global, free-market neoliberalism.

Ciudad Universitaria, University City

Originally, the university occupied buildings in the Centro Histórico, northeast of the Zócalo, that had belonged to the former Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico founded in 1551 by the royal decree of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and closed in 1867 by the liberal Reform government of Benito Juárez. UNAM is viewed as its successor and still owns those buildings, including San Ildefonso (original National Preparatory School) and the Academy of San Carlos (art school).

In 1943 the decision was made to move the university from the city center to a new campus, the Ciudad Universitaria (University City) in the delegación, borough, of Coyoacán, in the southern part of Mexico City. University City was sited atop an ancient lava bed resulting from the eruption of Xitle volcano around 100 CE. The buildings were designed by architects Mario Pani, Enrique del Moral, Domingo García Ramos, Armando Franco Rovira, Ernesto Gómez Gallardo and others.

Completed in 1954, the campus includes buildings for some 40 faculties and institutes, the Rectory (Administrative Center), Central Library, Cultural Center [three performing arts theaters and contemporary art museum], other museums, the Olympic Stadium (used for 1955 Pan American Games and the 1968 Olympics), and an ecological reserve.

Mexican Muralists: Given Grandest Canvas

In constructing the campus, it was decided to have leading Mexican muralists create massive works for the facades of some buildings. Diego Rivera created a mosaic for the entrance to Olympic Stadium; it was his last public work before his death in 1957.

Mosaic by Diego Rivera

David Alfaro Siqueiros created three murals for the Rectory. Juan O´GormanJosé Chávez Morado and Francisco Eppens designed works for other buildings.

The Rectory,
from Main Entrance plaza

The People to the University, The University to the People
From the rear: el Pueblo, the People, offer the tools of learning to students 
who, in turn, offer the results of their education to the People.
David Alfaro Siqueiros

Siqueiros—whose vision was the true integration of murals with their surrounding structure—wasn't pleased at being unable to participate in the building's design, but the facade did give him the opportunity to fulfill another of his desires: create an outdoor mural.

The Revolutions
1520: Spanish Conquest of México
1810: Mexico's War of Independence from Spain
1857: War of Reform
1910: Mexican Revolution
19??: The Next Revolution?
David Alfaro Siquieros

Andean Condor and Mexican Golden Eagle
From University Crest:
Symbolizing Mexico's Cultural Union with Latin America.
David Alfaro Siqueiros

Central Library
Mural by Juan O´Gorman is a mosaic in natural stones.
Covering the Library's four sides, it is the world's largest outdoor mural.

Juan O'Gorman (July 6, 1905 – January 17, 1982), son of an Irish immigrant father and Mexican mother, studied art and architecture at that fountainhead of Mexican muralism and art: Academy of San Carlos. At age 24, he designed Diego Rivera's and Frida Kahlo's studios and houses in the Colonia San Ángel; they were the first functionalist structures in Latin America. He worked primarily as an architect and designed the Library building itself. The murals are mosaics composed of natural stone from all over Mexico. 

Mural is Loaded with Symbols.
Large left circle: Ptolemy's geocentric universe.

Large right circle: Copernicus's heliocentric universe.
Top left corner:  Sun, masuculine force; Top right corner: Moon, feminine force.
Top center: Crest of Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, UNAM's predecessor.
At each side of Crest:  Cross and Sword of the Spanish Conquest.
Lower center: Greek temple representing Classic learning.
Bleeding hands of Christ
Left side: various religious figures, including archangels, saints and priests.
Right side, top: Devils dispersed by Christianity.
Right side, bottom: Island City of Tenochtitlán (circle), Spanish conquistadores.

UNAM crest
Top to bottom:
Mexican Eagle, between Moon and Sun,
New power of atomic energy,
 between Aztec gods.
Aztec ruler
Lower left: "Long live the Revolution!"
Lower right: "Land and Liberty",
the Zapatista demand.

Schematic depiction of the geographic and political divisions of 
Valley of Anáhuac before arrival of the Spanish.
Bottom center: symbolic Teotihuacán
with mythic eagle mounted on a cactus with a rattlesnake in its beak.
Seven areas, divided by water, are seven "altepetls",

city-states with their rulers, warriors and gods.

Beyond the Rectory and Library, a wide ramp gives passage to the main quadrangle.

Main Quadrangle,
known as "the Islands", for its tree-shaded areas.

At the far end of the quadrangle are located the Faculty of the Humanities, the Alfonso Caso Auditorium and the Faculty of Medicine, among other buildings.

Faculty of the Humanities 
Faculty of the Humanities
(viewed from lower quadrangle)

Alfonso Caso Auditorium

The Conquest of Energy
From Conquest of Fire to Nuclear Energy.

In the 1950s, nuclear energy was the new great hope.
Mosaic by José Chávez Morado

This theme of human progress reminds us of 
both Rivera's Man at the Crossroads in Bellas Artes
and Siqueiros' later March of Humanity
at the Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum

José Chávez Morado (January 4, 1909 – December 1, 2002) was born in the state of Guanajuato to a family that owned a small store. He worked at various jobs, including on the railroad. In 1925, at age 16, he went to California as a migrant worker. While there, he studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute and met José Clemente Orozco, who was painting murals at Pomona College. In 1930, he returned to Mexico and subsequently moved to Mexico City, where he entered the National School of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes). He became an active member of the Mexican Communist Party, whose members included Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

In addition to his murals at the UNAM, Chávez Morado also created murals on the exterior walls of the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in the delegación, borough, of Benito Juárez, which had been damaged in the 1985 earthquake, and in the National Museum of Anthropology and History. He also executed murals in Veracruz, Guadalajara and Guanajuato.

Science and Work
Portraying transition of the "Pedregal", stony volcanic area, 
from a region of farmers to construction site for University City.
José Chávez Morado

The New Man
rises from indigenous roots, represented by Quetzalcóatl, the Plumed Serpent.
In the background, wings of the Mexican golden eagle
and hooded figure of a Franciscan monk.
Francisco Eppens

We have seen this theme of the New Adam as part of the post-Revolution ideology
in Rivera's Creation at San Ildefonso and Man at the Cross Roads at Bellas Artes.

Francisco Eppens' (February 1, 1913 - September 6, 1990) paternal grandfather, Adolfo Dietrich Eppens, was born in Basel, Switzerland, and moved to Mexico in 1863, where he married Eloísa Campillo of Hermosillo, Sonora. They moved back to Switzerland, where Francisco Eppens Campillo, the artist's father, was born in 1888. Subsequently, the family returned to Mexico, to San Luis Potosí, where they operated a hardware business. The artist's father married Mercedes Helguera of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, where Eppens was born.

In 1920, the family moved to Mexico City, where Eppens received his primary education. In 1927, he enrolled in an engineering and architecture program at the National Preparatory School (San Ildefonso), but the following year he enrolled in School of Plastic Arts, the former and famous Academy of San Carlos.

The Gods of Mexico
Faculty of Medicine

Francisco Eppens
Photo: Wikipedia

(Mural was being restored when we visited)

On wall of the Faculty of Medicine, Francisco Eppens created what is, perhaps, the most dramatic of the renowned UNAM murals:
At center, focusing the mural: Three-sided, Janus-like face, symbolizes Humanity looking to the Past, the Present and the Future. 
At border, framing the mural: Quetzlcóatl, the plumed serpent, symbolizing creation from chaos, surrounds the earth. Note serpent's head at lower left corner.
At bottom: Tlaloc, goggle-eyed god of the waters, releases a flow of the essential liquid. Death (brown skull behind Tlaloc) is being eaten by a maize cob, from whose paste the gods fashioned human beings. 
At top: Coatlicue, Aztec mother goddess, is represented by her hands, which hold the twin symbols of the origins of life: left hand holds germinating corn seedling; right hand holds pollen.
La Grandeza

In 2007, University City was designated a World Heritage Site. The citation extolls it as an ingenious example of urban architectural design, with its integration of modern architecture and Mexican muralism portraying traditional Mexican symbols and history.

La máxima casa de estudios is yet another manifestation of la grandeza mexicana, Mexican grandeur.