Two Murals Contrasted, Essay Example

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Essay

In this paper I will compare José Orozco’s The Working Class and Diego Rivera’s The Agitator. In addition to both describing generally the same topic (the state of laborers in Mexico) they were painted in the same year, 1926, the start of the counterrevolutionary Cristero War.

I agree with Professor Viano’s interpretation of The Agitator, that the pointing man is saying Let’s attack them. I also think the mural is loosely based on an actual incident. The first thing I thought of in seeing the picture was that the miners have lighter skin. I thought they might be Americans. I then learned that in 1916 Poncho Villa attacked and killed 17 American mining engineers being brought in by the Mexican government to reopen the Cusihuiriachic mines below Chihuahua City. According to a New York Times article, Villa got his recruits from the Cusihuiriachic area, and then promised the engineers safe passage. But once they were onboard a train to the mines, Villa captured it, forced the engineers off, and shot them in cold blood.

The Working Class seems disconnected from any specific time and place. The colors, in contrast to The Agitator, are darker — even the pink wall. The men and their wives are returning to what are apparently their homes in the background. (Their hoes indicate that they are agricultural laborers, not factory workers.) The men have no shoes, but especially the shirtless ones have no hats, a significant omission and surely a deliberate one. (Rivera’s miners’ hats have bands.) Hats were virtually required clothing for all men at that time, rich or poor, so these are truly degraded men. But there is no obvious political message here like the hammer and cycle in the Rivera mural. The man bending over to pick up a hammer looks like it should mean something. But it may only mean that he was so tired he dropped it, which is what I first thought when I saw it. Altogether they simply look resigned with their lives. Rivera’s men do not. Rivera’s title is unambiguous, but Orozco’s is not. I think the men are a degree lower.

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