Friday, November 24, 2017

Mexican Muralists | Diego Rivera´s Murals in the National Palace, Part II: Some of Mexico's Original Civilizations

When we recently entered the National Palace to view Diego Rivera's mural of The History of Mexico, we didn't know that we would encounter another whole series of Rivera murals portraying what might be called the pre-history of Mexico, that is, of some of the indigenous civilizations that existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1519.

On the right side of the stairwell housing "The History of Mexico"
is a mural portraying some of the elements of indigenous civilization.

At the top, the Sun god, Tonatiuh, watches everthing.
To the left, a volcano, perhaps Popocatépetl, the Smoking Mountain, erupts.

Floating in the sky to the right is Quetzalcóatl, the Plumed Serpent,
god of knowledge and culture.

Below him, to the right, a corn festival is celebrated.

In the center, wearing a green tocado (headdress) made of quetzal bird feathers,
is the tlatoani (speaker, i.e. chief), surrounded by his council of elders.

Below the council, a group grinds corn on a metate and makes tortillas,
the Mexican staple food for 10,000 years.

To their left, porters or tradesmen (pochtecas) carry large packs.

Lower left, a battle is fought between rival groups.
Those in elaborate costumes are likely Aztecs/Mexicas of Tenochtitlan.

Walking up the staircase below the mural, to the second floor and turning left, we encounter a series of murals portraying various regional civilizations.

City of the Aztec/Mexica

A lord watches, possibly supervising
the tianguis, the open-air market below him where trade flourishes.

Above, men form large rolls of unknown material and purpose.

Behind is the Templo Mayor, the Great Temple
dualy dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, God of War and patron of Tenochtitlan,
and Tlaloc, agricultural god of all waters.

Beyond stretches the city, with its canals and many other temples.
To the right, above, in the far distance, is the Templo Mayor
and the sacred district around it.
The causeway leads to Tlacopan (now Tacuba),
along which Cortés and his men were to flee
on la Noche Triste, the Night of Sorrows.

At the upper right corner, are the snow-covered volcanoes that form Iztaccíhuatl,
the Sleeping Princess.

(The mural actually stretches farther to the left and right, beyond our photo:
the narrow balcony prevented standing far enough away to take in the whole.

Detail of the tianguis
(left side)

Detail of the tianguis

Detail of the tianguis
(right side)
The woman in white, selling calla lillies, is an image much used by Rivera.

However, calla lillies are native to South Africa; hence, their presence is anachronistic.

Zapotecs of  Oaxaca
Portraying various crafts,
including feather art for headdresses
and the refining and working of gold.

Totonaca of El Tajín, Veracruz

Tradesmen (left) arrive from the central highlands, possibly Toltecs from Tula,
which was contemporary with El Tajín (600 to 1200 CE), likely a Totonaca city.
They seek to trade for tropical products such as vanilla and rubber

that grow along what is now the west coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

In the background is the city of El Tajín, with its
Pyramd of the Niches,
voladores, flying dancers in bird costumes, and
ball court (far left; El Tajín has 20 courts, by far the most found
at any Mesoamerican site).

Maíz, corn cultivation,
Chinampas, artificial islands in the lakes,
such as Xochimilco and Chalco,
 of the Valley of Anahuac
(now Valley of Mexico).

goddess of springs, lakes and rivers,
stands mid-left.

Purépecha culture of Michoacán

Rivera portrays them cultivating cotton (rear left),
and weaving and dying fabrics.
A Purépecha lord oversees.

Lake Pátzcuaro is in the background.

The Purépecha were contemporaneous with the Axteca/Mexica,
but were never conquered by them.

Mexican Muralists | Diego Rivera´s Murals in the National Palace, Part I: "History of Mexico"

Confronting the Daunting National Palace

We admit it. Although we initiated our Ambles around the City in the Zócalo, the huge plaza in Centro Histórico that is the heart of Mexico City, we have stayed away from the National Palace dominating its east side. Similarly, we had stayed away from the Metropolitan Cathedral, on its north side, until we were able to come to terms with, and write about Mexican Baroque architecture, of which the inside of the Cathedral is the quintessential example.

Like the Cathedral, the National Palace is intimidating in its grandeza, grandeur, and off-putting because of its associations with the history of Mexican authoritarian governments. The fact that this symbolic center of Mexican democracy is called a palace is indicative of the paradox of Mexican government: is it, or is it not, a democracy?

The Palace—first of Cortés, then the Spanish Viceroy,
then of the Mexican government—has been
rebuilt and expanded many times over nearly 500 years.
The third story was added in the 1920s, after the Mexican Revolution. 

Nevertheless, as we were recently publishing some posts on Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo borrowed from our spouse, Jane's "Jenny's Journal of Mexican Culture", we decided it was time to cross the threshold into the Palace to see Rivera's mural of the History of Mexico. We had also read that one could see through a window on the floor a part of what was once the private prayer room of Moctezuma the Younger in what had been his "New Houses". After destroying the house of Moctezuma, Cortés built the Palace on that site.

At the Center of Mexico's Heart, Tranquility

Visitors to the Palace enter via a side door on the north side, on Moneda (Coin) Street (the former mint was just behind the Palace). We had often glimpsed the inner courtyard as we passed by on our way to other destinations in East Centro. It looked inviting. When we finally enter, we find a beautifully landscaped, tranquil garden, an oasis in the very center of the City's bullicio, hubbub.

Inner courtyard,
in the rear of the Palace.

Formal, front courtyard,
used for Presidential speeches and other formal events.
Rivera murals are in the stairwell from this courtyard and on the second floor.

Diego Rivera's Vision of Mexico's Complex and Complicated History

The History of Mexico
by Diego Rivera
1929 to 1935

Our initial reaction is one of being visually and mentally overwhelmed.
There are a huge number of figures, all apparently jumbled together,
with no obvious organization.

Then we notice five arches overhead. Looking more closely,
we see that within each are group portraits of various people,

apparently in 19th century dress, recent Mexian history at Rivera´s time.

Below these five groups, across the middle of the mural,
we realize there are a series of scenes of Spanish colonial life.

At the bottom, within a triangle, is a portrayal of the Spanish Conquest.

So, to "read" the mural and grasp Rivera's vision
of Mexico's compleja y complicada, complex and complicated, history,
we must start at the bottom, and move upward. 

Part I: The Violent Spanish Conquest (1519-21)

The Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs/Mexicas

The History begins in the bottom, triangular space.
It portrays the Spanish attacks on indigenous warriors.
This section of the mural also requires visually separating it into parts in order to truly "see" it, 
i.e., take in and experience it in a comprehensible manner.

Starting from the left, we see Spanish soldiers and some of their indigenous allies
attacking Jaguar Warriors, an elite Aztec/Mexica corps. 

Middle portion of the Conquest section of the mural.

We are viscerally struck by the military and cultural differences
between the Spanish cavalry and indigenous warriors in symbolic garb. 

Right-hand portion of the Conquest section.
Rivera pulls no punches in portraying the violence of the Conquest.

Part II: Life in Spanish Colonial New Spain (1521-1823)

"Reading" from the left, across the middle band
we see portrayals of Colonial Nueva España, New Spain.

At left, an indigenous man is branded as a slave.
At right, the Franciscan Diego de Landa Calderón burns Mayan books in the Yucatán.
Above them, indigenous workers build Nueva España, New Spain, for the Spanish.

Next, under a canopy, the Viceroy and the Archbishop
oversee autos de fe, trials and executions of supposed heretics,
i.e., persons not maintaining the Catholic Faith.

In the fourth scene (we'll return to the third shortly),
Spanish friars carry out the conversion and baptism of the indigenous peoples,
the so-called Spiritual Conquest whose vestiges we have been exploring in many posts
on the Original Indigenous Villages of Mexico City.

In the fifth scene, indigenous men labor as virtual slaves in the mines.
Mexican silver financed the expansion of Spanish power in Europe.

In the third, middle, scene, at the center of the grand mural,
Father Miguel Hidalgo, proclaims the War for Independence from Spain.

Immediately to the left of Hidalgo is Ignacio Allende (in Spanish Army uniform);
to the right is Jose María Morelos, who took leadership of the rebellion
after Hidalgo and Allende were captured and executed.

Far left, with red crown, is Agustín Iturbide,
Spanish Army general who joined the almost elimnated rebels in 1821,
defeated the Spanish, and had himself declared Emperor of Mexico.

To the right of Iturbide is Guadelupe Victoria
 (in red vest, holding the Mexican flag),
a rebel who, after Iturbide was deposed, became the first President of Mexico.

The other figures are other persons who played roles in the War,
but their identification is beyond us.

Part III: Mexico of the 19th and early 20th Centuries

The top row of the mural, under the arches, portrays scenes from 19th and 20th century Mexican history, primarily one of foreign army interventions (the U.S. and France), and civil wars between wealthy conservatives—supporting the privileges and powers of the Army and the Catholic Church—and liberals seeking a democratic, egalitarian government (the mid-19th century War of Reform and the early 20th century Mexican Revolution). For some reason, Rivera did not not present them in chronological order. He placed the Mexican Revolution at the center, above the War for Independence.  We present them in historical order, to make the story more comprehensible to extranjeros, foreigners. 

Defense of Chapultepec Castle
from U.S. forces in 1847
during the War of the U.S. Intervention (aka 
Mexican-American War in the U.S.).
It is the American eagle arriving, holding arrows in its claws.

The fall of the castle, which served as the military academy,
was the last battle in the U.S. capture of Mexico City.

President James Polk intitiated the war to gain California from Mexico,
which had refused to sell it. 
So, losing the war, Mexico's was forced to surrender half of its territory,
virtually all of the currnent U.S. Southwest and west. 

Benito Juárez and the Laws of Reform

Conservative President Santa Ana
a Spanish Army general who had joined Iturbide to win the War of Independence,
but then joined the rebellion to overthrowm him as Emperor,
had been president several times since 1833. 
He had lost Texas in 1836 and the War of the U.S. Intervention in 1847,
and had gone into exile abroad each time.
Nevertheless, he was called back from exile by conservatives 
to be president once again in 1853 to oppose a liberal uprising.

In 1855, liberal forces succeeded in deposing him. 
They established a new government and issued a series of Laws of Reform, 
mostly written by Benito Juárez, a lawyer and President of the Supreme Court
 ( the moreno, dark-skinned Zapotec indigenous man, holding laws in his hand). 
These laws took autonomous power from the Army and property from the Catholic Church.
(Note fat friar, Army general and Bishop, and others with their hands in the kitty.)

In 1857, conservative generals, in turn, overthrew the liberal govenment. 
Upon the surrender of liberal president, Ignacio Comonfort, Juárez became president.
He took the government to various cities in Mexico 
and engaged in the War of Reform (1857-61).
Defeating the conservatives at the end of 1860, Juárez and his government
returned to Mexico City on Jan. 1, 1861.

Figures on each side of Juárez are other persons in the Reform Period (1855-1876).

The French Intervention

In reaction to the liberal victory in the War of Reform, 
conservatives went to Emperor Napoleon III of France 
and asked that he select some European royal to become Emperor of Mexico.
Prince Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria, younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I,
accepted Napoleon's offer and came to Mexico to become Emperor Maximillian I.

The liberals, led by Juárez, waged war against him. 
In 1866, Napoleon, under pressure from the U.S. and others factors in Europe,
 withdrew French troops, leaving Maximillian with only the support of 
conservative Mexican generals and their troops.
The next year, in mid-May 1867, Maximilian
(red-haired, bearded figure, far right) was captured and executed a month later.
Mexican conservative Generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía were executed with him.
The fleeing eagle is evidently that of the Austrian Empire.

Mexican Revolution (1910-1917)

President and dictator Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911), 
(at left, in military uniform, many medals and presidential sash)
was overthrown by forces led by Francisco Madero 
(light-skinned, bearded man, wearing presidential sash, right of center).
Madero was overthrown and assassinated in Feb. 1913, by Victoriano Huerta
(military figure, at right of Díaz, wearing presidential sash).
Then, Venustiano Carranza (white-bearded figure, wearing presidential sash, lower right), 
Pancho Villa (dark-skinned figure in sombrero behind Carranza), and
Emiliano Zapata (mustached figure in sombrero, upper right)
waged war to overthrow Huerta in 1914.
Carranza subsequently fought and defeated Villa and Zapata, 
becoming President in 1917, and ending the formal series of wars. 

Mexican Revolution and Beyond

In 1920, Carranza was overthrown and assassinated by his former general, Álvaro Obregón, 
because Carranza overlooked him in choosing a successor.
In 1924, Plutarco Calles (far left figure holding eagle standard) became president. 
After the assassination of Obregón, who had been reelected president in 1928, 
Calles maintained power as "chief boss."
In 1934, Lázaro Cárdenas (at right of Calles, wearing presidential sash) 
became president and sent Calles into exile. 

The mural was finished in 1935, just after Cárdenas took power.
He was seen as a liberal, even socialist, 
who implemented many of the labor and land reforms sought by the Revolution
and written into the new Constitution of 1917, but not carried out.
In back,
Emiliano Zapata (killed by agents of Carranza in 1919) and an
industrial worker in blue overalls, hold the banner "Land and Liberty".

This represents Rivera's hope for a true, communist revolution,
such as he portrayed in his mural, "Ballad of the Revolution"
in the Secretariat of Education.

Rivera's Vision of a True, Marxist-Communist Revolution

The Mexican Revolution was a very ambiguous series of conflicts between los de abajo, those from below (represented by Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata) and los de arriba, those from above, represented by Carranza). The outcome was, likewise, ambiguous. Carranza became president, but was forced to accept a Constitution that included a list of "rights", such as to work and an education, sought by the popular forces. Much power, however, was given to the president, such that, despite a Congress and a Supreme Court, he could essentially ignore the liberal articles of the Constitution. 

Like many other Mexican artists and intellectuals, Rivera was a communist and was disappointed by the authoritarian path the post-revolution government was taking. (In 1936, he painted a mural entitled "The Dictator", in which he portrayed Calles as a Fascist; the mural is now in Bellas Artes.) He continued to hope for a real revolution of the agrarian and working class that would overthrow the capitalist powers. As he had done in his "Ballad of the Revolution", here in the National Palace, the very seat of government, in the stairway to the left of The History of Mexico, he also painted a vision of that hope.

A Strike,
like one that actually occurred in the Cananea copper mine,
in the northern state of Sonora, in 1906.
The mine was owned by a U.S. company,
and the strike was suppressed by Mexican soldiers
and volunteer "rangers" from Arizona.
The men who have been hung are labeled
"anarchist" and "communist".

Call for a Communist Revolution of Workers (hammer) and Farmers (sickle),
suppressed by soldiers wearing gas masks (like those used in World War I)

Corrupt, immoral Capitalist Class,
focused entirely on money (scrutinizing stock market ticker tape, upper left).
Note the priest, engaged with a prostitute, at left.

Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto
(at very top of mural).

"All of the history of human society, up to today,
is a history of the struggle of the classes.
For us, it doesn't have to do precisely
with transforming private property,
but to abolish it.
It doesn't have to do
with blurring the differences between the classes,
but of their destruction.
It doesn't have to do
with reforming the present society,
but of forming a new one."
Karl Marx

Needless to say, Rivera's vision was never realized in Mexico. Led by Calles and then Cárdenas, the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) (an oxymoron of a name) consolidated power into a one-party political system, not unlike what also actually happened in Russia. This system lasted until 2000, when Vicente Fox of the National Action Party won the presidency. However, the PRI returned to power in 2012, led by Enrique Peña Nieto. The mixture of democratic forms with authoritarian ways of operating, which goes all the way back to the beginning of an independent Mexico, is ongoing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Folk Dance in Mexico City

Mexican popular culture is distinguished by its exuberance. It is effusive, overflowing with enthusiasm, excitement (emoción), cheerfulness (alegría) and vigor (ánimo). It is full of energy, noise and bright colors. Nowhere is this more true than in Mexico's traditional folk dances.

Mexican folk dance.
Each state has its own distinctive, traditional style of dance and dress.
Here the style is that of the state of Tabasco,
on the southeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Dance of Los Viejitos, the Little Old Men

Zapoteca corn planting dance,
from the southern state of Oaxaca

the eastern peninsula, separating the Caribbean from the Gulf of Mexico.

Note the Cuban influence. 

on the Pacific coast:

Mexican Hat Dance

on the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico

Folk Dance in the Big City

When we lived in the rural, small city of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, there were two or three amateur folk dance companies, based in public schools, but with many adult members. They performed frequently and were excellent. As a balletomane—lover of the dance, in any form—their performances captivated us. When we moved to Mexico City, we knew the world-famous Ballet Folklórico de México was here, but we did not come across amateur groups like those in Pátzcuaro. That is, until recently.

At a couple of recent patron saint fiestas taking place in Mexico City's original villages—in San Pedro Tláhuac and Santa María Natividad—part of the festivities included performances by small, amateur folk dance companies. Being a balletomane, we took lots of photos, but apart from including a few in the Santa María post, we didn't know what to do with them.

Then, about two weeks ago, on our Facebook page, we saw an announcement of a series of performances by the Ballet Folklórico del Valle de México. the Folkloric Ballet of the Valley of Mexico. One performance was to be held on a Sunday afternoon in the central plaza of the southern Delegación Tlalpan—a picturesque, tranquil Spanish Colonial plaza with a small-town feeling. We visit it often to relax from the urban bullicio (hubbub) and enjoy a delicious, unhurried comida (afternoon meal) at one of the many restaurants lining the square.

Off to Delegación Tlalpan for Ballet Folklórico

So this past Sunday, we set off by taxi at about 11 AM in order to arrive at Tlalpan plaza before the 12 noon performance. When we arrive, we see the stage set on the stone esplanade in front of the ayuntamiento, headquarters of the delegación. A small audience is begining to occupy the plastic folding chairs set up for them.

The open-air stage is partially covered by a huge, bright yellow tarp, casting a yellow tint down the front of the stage; in contrast, the back of the stage is in the strong Mexican sun. Also in the background, reflecting and intensifying the sunlight, are white tents shading the puestos (stalls) where artesania, arts and crafts, are sold on the weekends.

Managing the strong lighting contrasts presents a genuine photographic challenge. Checking out several positions to find the best possible option, we settle on the corner at stage right, where the gray stone ayuntamiento partially provides a softer, more neutral background. We establish ourselves because we know that if we move away, some other photographer will take it. 

Soon, over a PA system (always loud in Mexico), an announcer calls primera llamada (yah-MAH-dah), first call. It is a tradition at Mexican performances to make a series of three llamadas, calls, to alert the audience to the approaching performance. The calls mirror the three llamadas sounded by the ringing of a church's bell before every Mass. In a few minutes, segunda llamada is made followed in short order by the tercera llamada. Lively music issues from the large speakers at each side of the stage (one right next to our ears!) and dancers enter the stage from steps at the rear. The show begins!

Danza Azteca

These two are real bailarín(a)s,
ballet-trained dancers!
Great balance, leg extension and pointed toes!
We also note a very young dancer (age 7? 8?)
fully into the dance.

These aren't the Aztec dancers we see at church fiestas or in the Zócalo. Obviously, their dance has been formally choreographed and costumed for a show. Folk dance performances often begin with this reference to the pre-Conquest Aztec culture.

Spanish Mexico 

The next dance transports us to post-Conquest Mexico and its transformation into an extension of Spain: full, colorful skirts over generous, white petticoats. 

La bailarina shines!

Indigenous, Purépecha Fisherman's Dance

Two young boys enact fish, to be caught by the local fishing community.

This transports us directly back to "our" Pátzcuaro and its Lake. The Lake is known for its special species of small white fish. The embroidery on one of the boys' pants is distinctively Purépecha. 

Going fishing.
The men's sombreros are also distinctively Purépecha,
as are the women's rebozos, shawls, 

The Catch!
The fish are then released, instead of being taken home to become a meal.

Dance of the Moors

The Dance of the Moors was the first folk dance we ever saw in Mexico, performed in a pueblo on the shore of Lake Pátzcuaro on the night of the Purépecha celebration of Nuevo Fuego, New Fire, the indigenous New Year, on February 1-2 (mid-winter). In that performance, the dancers wore long robes and capes; similar scarves covered their faces, and the tall hats they donned were somewhat different. 

The Dance of the Moors, like the Battle of the Moors and Christians that we have seen enacted at fiestas here in Mexico City, was introduced by the Franciscan friars to convey the message of the need for "pagans" to submit to Catholic Christian conversion, i.e., the Spiritual Conquest

Campesino Romance

Spanish influence is seen in a romantic pas de deux.
Indigenous dances are always religious rituals 

or celebrate humans' dependence on nature.
Here, the barefoot country maiden attracts the young farmer,
a universal story.

He shows off for the maiden with a balletic jeté.

The romance progresses.

Cowboys and Cowgirls: It's Hoedown Time!

Already, a dancer!
Geat arabesque!

Then the big boys and girls get into the act!
(Reminder: Cows and cowboys--and cowgirls--came to the United States
from Spain via Mexico (the original "Southwest")

"Spin your partner!"

Mexican Cossacks, or What?

Totally comsumed with finding and capturing "shots", we weren't able to attend to the announcements of each dance. Given the ankle rattles, this one is evidently indigenous, but we have no idea who these guys are portraying. Their moves remind us of Cossack dancers from a Russian ballet.

"White Ballet" of Veracruz


Two young dancers with potential 

On to the Mexican Revolution!

Women who fought with Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution.

People's army,
 with machetes and bandoliers;
an archetypical image in Mexican culture.

Beauty, Colorful Dresses and a Dance Where Girl Gets Boy, and Vice Versa

Little Señoritas

Las Señoras

Enter los chavos,
the guys,
in charro, fancy, Jalisco cowboy dress,
with machetes.

Showing off their stuff!

Classic ending:
boy gets girl, girl gets boy.

The Last Dance: Jarabe Tapatío | Mexican Hat Dance


Final bow and ... 

... a tradition and an art are passed on.