Movie Review: Siqueiros; Walls of Passion (LALIFF)

This documentary is co-directed by Lorena Manriquez and Miguel Picker.

This film is about one of the most famous Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, who may have single-handedly influenced in the Chicano/Mexican American mural paintings in Los Angeles.

This is my second film from the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF), and so far, I’ve enjoyed the screenings I’ve seen. This documentary is essential and a must-watch film. It’s about one of the most critical yet lesser-known Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974). This film consists of archival footage and informative interviews (with art critics, historians, family members). We get a brief biography of this artist which leads to a vital mural he did back in the 1930s in Los Angeles (next to Olvera Street) and how this mural will become the symbol of Chicano movement and influence the paintings of the walls all over Los Angeles. Siqueiros was widely known for his political ideologies and for always speaking up against the government. He lived through the Mexican Revolution and participated in it. Along with Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, Siqueiros would define Mexican art by painting murals around Mexico. Siqueiros paintings demonstrate his perspective of the revolution as well as the impact it had on the poor population of Mexico. His paintings do more than tell stories they emote many emotions. Siqueiros firmly believed that any open public space (walls in a grocery store, walls in a park, etc.) should be used for art and not commercialism, which may explain why he was arrested continuously. David never backed down from his ideologies, and his constant criticism against the government would result in being arrested more than twenty times during his lifetime. Sadly his story and influence aren’t known because they have been removed from History/Art History books.

The mural’s name is America Tropical and was done as a project he was asked to do. He had finished painting the wall until the night before the unveiling, he decided to add an essential element into the mural, so after asking everyone to leave, he worked on it. He finished the mural during the night and had it ready in time for the unveiling. When the unveiling occurred, the majority of the people liked it, except the elite people who would eventually demand the mural to get whitewashed. This painting was the visual representation of the oppression of the Chicanos/Mexican Americans. The last-minute addition to this painting was the crucified person. So days later, this mural was covered with white paint.

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Decades will pass by, and eventually, the white paint will begin to peel off. The Chicano movement was at its peak when America Tropical resurfaced, and the Chicanos would embrace this mural as it symbolized the oppression of their people. This mural would be the inspiration of many future murals all around Los Angeles.

When the film ended, I sat in the theater trying to process everything I had seen, and luckily, the directors were present and had a brief Q and A session. I was fascinated to learn that the husband of Lorena Manriquez (co-director) was directly involved in conserving this painting and it was at that moment where she became interested in the history of this painting and of the man behind it. It’s an independent film that took nearly ten years to make. I am glad this documentary exists because I know it’s a story that everyone should be aware of. There is a line that I’ll never forget from this film which states that Siqueiros is the second most influential and important artist in the history of humanity only after Pablo Picasso. If it does have a theatrical released, I’d recommend seeing it.

 

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