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When Street Art Becomes Mainstream: Mexican Muralism

When Street Art Becomes Mainstream: Mexican Muralism

One of the most famous artists in the twentieth century was, in many ways, a street artist…

Diego Rivera is famous for his large murals (or frescoes) which were paramount in the development of the Mexican Mural Movement which began in the 1920s. Alongside David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, he began a tradition born out of Mexico for painting large murals with social, political, and nationalistic themes, created on public buildings. The movement was prominent between the 1920s and the 1970s, and was an important part of the effort to reunify Mexico after the Mexican Revolution.


The Arrival of Cortés, Palacio Nacional de Mexico. Diego Rivera

Mexican culture has a long tradition of mural painting, dating back hundreds of years. The first philosophical themes in mural painting in Mexico came from Juan Cordero in the mid-1800s, which were mostly religious in nature.

After the Mexican Revolution, most of the nation’s population was illiterate and the government needed another way to deliver its messages about post-Revolution ideals. The government hired the best artists in the country, from 1921, to paint murals depicting their messages to the people. Diego Rivera was actually called home to Mexico from his European residence for this purpose.

The Mexican Mural Movement was at its strongest between 1929 and 1950, as the nation transformed from a rural and illiterate society into one that was industrialized. The murals were controversial at the time, though today they depict the Mexican national identity.


“Del porfirismo a la Revolución” de David Alfaro Siqueiros

The Mexican Mural Movement brought art to the masses; no longer was the best art in the world limited to the rich and powerful collectors. Most themes related to politics, nationalism, Mesoamerican culture, and history. Most were painted on walls of government buildings dating from the colonial era.

Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros believed that art was the highest of human expression. Their works promoted Marxist ideals as well as giving a powerful identity to the Mexican people. They also reflected the experiences of each during the Revolution. Orozco’s works were pessimistic and critical in nature; Siqueiros’ works were more radical with an eye to a scientific future; Rivera’s art was idealist and looking to a utopian future – he being the only one of the three who was out of Mexico at the time and did not fight.


Painted by Jose Clemente Orozco

Many street artists of today take their inspiration from, and have Diego Rivera and his cohorts to thank for, at least some part of their craft…

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