Illini Union Art Gallery exhibition to feature photographs of Mexican Muralism

The exhibition “Movement Routes, Mexican Muralism” was created by the Manuel Toussaint Photographic Archive of the Institute of Aesthetic Research of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the artistic movement.

By Jodi Heckel, Illinois News Bureau

CHAMPAIGN — Public murals in Mexico, painted by some of the country’s most recognized artists of the 20th century, illustrate important aspects of Mexican history and culture. A Mexican Muralism exhibition at the Illini Union Art Gallery at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign during the month of September will feature photographs of some murals made in the 20th century.

Image of a detail of the Diego Rivera painting
“Epic of the Mexican People,” painted in 1935 on the central staircase of the National Palace, illustrates pre-Hispanic times, the struggle for independence, the Mexican Revolution and class struggle.
“Epopeya del pueblo mexicano, detalle (Epopey of the Mexican People, Detail).” Diego Rivera, 1935; National Palace. Photograph: Ricardo Alvarado, 2019. AFMT, IIA, UNAM.
Courtesy Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

The exhibition “Movement Routes, Mexican Muralism” was created by the Manuel Toussaint Photographic Archive of the Institute of Aesthetic Research of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the artistic movement. The exhibition includes historic images from the institute and images made by its photographers for the exhibition and a book, “UNAM: 100 years of Muralism.”

Mexican Muralism was an artistic, cultural and political movement of the early 20th century, following the Mexican Revolution, in which monumental public art interpreted history, injustices, inequalities and social conflicts. The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City became known as the “cradle of muralism” after artists such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco were invited to paint murals to transmit educational images, displaying the history of Mexico and its Indigenous past. More than 40 artworks were created between 1922 and 1926.

Image of a detail of the Diego Rivera painting
“The History of Theater in Mexico” shows four heroes from Mexican history, including comedian Mario Moreno “Cantinflas” receiving money from the rich people and giving it to the poor.
“Mario Moreno ‘Cantinflas’ como personaje central en el mural: Historia del teatro en México / Historia popular de México (Mario Moreno ‘Cantinflas’ as the central character in the mural: History of Theater in Mexico / Popular History of Mexico).” Diego Rivera, 1953; Teatro de los Insurgentes. Photograph: Ricardo Alvarado Tapia, 2022. AFMT, IIA, UNAM.
Courtesy Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

When a new campus was being built in the 1950s, some buildings were designed to integrate architecture and a new set of murals. They include the university’s iconic Central Library, which is covered with the mural “Historical Representation of Culture” by Mexican artist Juan O’Gorman. The area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

A Sept. 7 opening celebration of “Movement routes, Mexican muralism” begins with a symposium from 10:30 a.m. to noon in the Pine Lounge of the Illini Union. The symposium will feature Ricardo Alvarado Tapia, the coordinator of the Manuel Toussaint Photographic Archive who took many of the photographs in the exhibition; muralism expert Sandra Zetina, a conservator, art historian and researcher of material studies and modern art at UNAM’s Institute of Aesthetic Research; and Luis Adrián Vargas, the curator of the muralism exhibition, art historian and researcher at the Institute of Aesthetic Research. They will discuss the murals and their meaning and impact. Gisela Sin, an Illinois political science professor and the director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, will moderate the symposium.

Other opening celebration events include a viewing and discussion from 2:30-3:30 p.m. at Spurlock Museum of World Cultures of a mural by artist Oscar Martínez. The mural was preserved from the original location of La Casa Cultural Latina and the department of Latina/Latino Studies at Illinois.

An opening reception for the Mexican Muralism exhibition will be held from 4-5:30 p.m. at the Illini Union Art Gallery. All events are free and open to the public.

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