Art Through Time: A Global View
Conflict and Resistance Art: La quema de los Judas (The Burning of the Judases)
Often called los tres grandes, or “the big three,” Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros were the most prominent and influential among the Mexican muralists active in the early twentieth century.
All three contributed murals to the Ministry of Education in Mexico City. Rivera’s work at the Ministry began in 1923 and consisted of vast cycles for the building’s Court of Labor and Court of Fiestas. A politically active Marxist and committed atheist, Rivera brought his social and political views to his work in both courtyards.
Trained in Europe, Rivera was familiar with Cubism and other avant-garde movements, but it is clarity of form, influenced by native Mexican art, that best characterizes his Ministry of Education murals. The common people, workers, and the ethnically indigenous population of Mexico were not only his subjects, but also his intended audience. His scenes of both work and celebration make use of readily accessible imagery and easily identifiable social types.
The Burning of the Judases mural in the Court of Fiestas stands among scenes of other local grassroots festivals, including the Day of the Dead. The Burning of the Judases takes place annually on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, and is generally celebrated with the explosion of papier-mâché Judas effigies. In the context of the festival, Judas not only refers to the apostle who betrayed Christ in the Bible, but also to evil and corruption in general. There is a tradition in Mexico of using the Judases as a vehicle for social satire and political protest. For this reason, they were banned by those in power at various points in the country’s history.
Rivera’s scene is simultaneously dark and playful, condemnatory and celebratory. The “Judases” in his mural are a suit-wearing politician, a heavily armed general astride a horse, and a priest in black robes, representing government, army, and church, respectively. The mural, created just a few years after the end of the Mexican Revolution, speaks to the betrayal of the people by these institutions in the period preceding the war. It is, thus, an endorsement of the leftist, socialist ideals embraced by Rivera and others in the revolutionary and post-revolutionary era.
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