A New Look at Rivera’s “Gloriosa Victoria.”

I published an article on Oct. 5, 2007 titled Diego Rivera: Glorious Victory! It was about the Diego Rivera retrospective then on view at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, Mexico. The real treasure in that show was the artist’s 1954 mural, Gloriosa Victoria (Glorious Victory).

"Gloriosa Victoria" (Glorious Victory) - Diego Rivera. Oil on linen. 1954. Collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, Russia.

"Gloriosa Victoria" (Glorious Victory) - Diego Rivera. Oil on linen. 1954. Collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, Russia.

Gloriosa Victoria is a large oil on linen “mobile mural” that had been touring Eastern Europe in 1956 when it somehow became lost. It was discovered rolled up and sitting in a store room at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, Russia in 2006; Rivera had apparently gifted the mural to the Soviet Union. By special arrangement it was loaned to Mexico by the Russian government for the 2007 Palace of Fine Arts exhibition (click here for a larger view of the mural). A number of developments regarding the mural have since led me to write a fresh perspective on its history.

Gloriosa Victoria depicts the 1954 U.S. government engineered coup d’état against the elected government of Guatemala. The mural’s narrative quality is as powerful as a renaissance altarpiece; its recounting of historic events augmented by a superlative handling of composition, color, and form. There are no subtleties or abstractions in Rivera’s telling of this bleak chapter in human events; he offers no tales of universal suffering or “the human condition.” He strips away the mythic to reveal the common truths found in the chronicles of Latin America.

Detail from Rivera's "Gloriosa Victoria." U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles clutches a bomb that bears the face of U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Detail from Rivera's "Gloriosa Victoria." U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles clutches a bomb that bears the face of U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In the above detail from the mural, the man at left dressed in khaki fatigues is the U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. He clutches a bomb that bears the face of U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The man in the dark suit seen whispering into the ear of John Foster Dulles is his brother Allen Dulles, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA chief wears a messenger bag stuffed with Yankee dollars, and he is passing that money to John Peurifoy, the man behind and to the right of the Secretary of State. Peurifoy is handing out the cash to the traitorous military officers and their goons who overthrew the elected government of Jacobo Árbenz by force of arms.

Standing front and center before this group of coup plotters is Air Force Colonel, Carlos Castillo Armas. The breast pocket of his “Eisenhower jacket” is full of American dollars; he carries a Colt Model 1911 .45ACP pistol in his waist band. Armas, the leader of the CIA backed “rebels,” successfully ousted the government of Árbenz and was named head of the military junta. Weeks later a faux election was held in which Armas won 99.9% of the vote. Along the bottom half of the painting are the bloody, mutilated, bullet-riddled bodies of Guatemalans killed in the coup.

The tall man in black blessing the scene deserves special mention, in Rivera’s overall composition the viewer’s eye naturally travels to him. He is Rivera’s depiction of Guatemala’s arch-conservative Catholic Archbishop, Mariano Rossell Arellano (1909-1983). In the opening days of the coup the CIA distributed leaflets across Guatemala that exhorted the population to support the putsch. One such flyer was a pastoral letter issued under the Archbishop’s name, it read in part:

“The people of Guatemala must rise as one man against this enemy. Our struggle against Communism must be… a crusade of prayer and sacrifice, as well as intensive spreading of the social doctrine of the church and a total rejection of Communist propaganda - for the love of God and Guatemala.”

The pastoral letter was not written by Archbishop Arellano. Though its content was approved by the Archbishop, the letter was actually composed by CIA officials in coordination with conservative Catholic clergy in the United States [1]. Rivera named his painting after a remark made by Secretary of State Dulles, who immediately after the U.S. successfully overthrew the government of Guatemala, proclaimed the act to be a “glorious victory for democracy.”

Detail from Rivera's "Gloriosa Victoria." A heavily armed soldier from the U.S. backed coup, watches indigenous Maya working for the neocolonial American corporation, the United Fruit Company.

Detail from Rivera's "Gloriosa Victoria." A heavily armed soldier from the U.S. backed coup, watches indigenous Maya working for the neocolonial American corporation, the United Fruit Company.

One final note about Rivera’s painting; when it was rediscovered at the Pushkin and examined, a second painting was discovered on the backside of Glorious Victory. It was an unfinished portrait that Rivera started but never finished; it was titled “Portrait of a leader of the Mexican Communist Party, Dionisio Encinas.”

Nearly two months after I published my Glorious Victory! article, the New York Times published a rather disparaging review of the Rivera retrospective that was written by Elisabeth Malkin. Titled Rivera, Fridamania’s Other Half, Gets His Due, it offered the following appraisal:

“The centerpiece of the show was ‘Glorious Victory,’ a mural Rivera painted at the end of his life, after the American-backed coup that brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954. It is pure propaganda, almost caricature…”

As George Orwell once wrote, “all art is propaganda.” I could argue that the contemporary art the NYT tirelessly writes about also falls under that description, but that’s another essay. Malkin’s assertion that Rivera’s Glorious Victory is nothing but “pure propaganda,” precludes a discussion regarding the aesthetics of social realism, preferring instead mockery and contempt in lieu of serious criticism. She recounts the historic fact that an “American-backed coup” destroyed “the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954,” but then condemns Rivera’s artistic depiction of that same reality as “pure propaganda.” How would Malkin like an artist to depict the nettlesome subject in a work of art? My guess would be… not at all.

Detail: "The bloody, mutilated, bullet-riddled bodies of Guatemalans killed in the coup."

Detail: "The bloody, mutilated, bullet-riddled bodies of Guatemalans killed in the coup."

After Glorious Victory was seen by thousands at the Palacio de Bellas Artes retrospective, the mural was moved to the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City. It was displayed there from January through June 2008 before being returned to the Pushkin collection. The Russian government loaned Glorious Victory to Guatemala in 2010, where it was shown at the National Palace of Culture as part of that museum’s ambitious art exhibition, ¡Oh Revolución! 1944-2010: Múltiples visiones (Oh Revolution! 1944-2010: Multiple Visions). That exhibit was proclaimed by Guatemalan officials as the most important art show mounted in the country in six decades.

Museum staff from Guatemala's National Palace of Culture, and experts from Russia's Puskin Museum, uncrate Rivera's painting in preparation for the exhibit "Oh Revolution! 1944-2010 Multiple Visions," held in Guatemala's capital in 2010. Photo by Paulo Raquec for the Government of Guatemala.

Staff from Guatemala's National Palace of Culture, and experts from Russia's Puskin Museum, uncrate Rivera's painting in preparation for the exhibit "Oh Revolution! 1944-2010 Multiple Visions," held in Guatemala's capital in 2010. Photo by Paulo Raquec for the Government of Guatemala.

President Álvaro Colom provided remarks for the Oct 1, 2010 opening ceremonies of ¡Oh Revolución!, but before I comment further, allow me to guide you through some of Guatemala’s recent political history, which makes the showing of Rivera’s mural in Guatemala that much more profound.

In 2003 Colom ran for president as the candidate of the social-democratic National Unity of Hope party. He lost to the oligarch Óscar Berger, who ran as the candidate of the rightist Grand National Alliance party. In 2007 Colom again ran for president on the National Unity of Hope ticket, this time against Otto Pérez Molina and the rightist party he founded, the Patriotic Party. Molina was a retired Army General, trained at the U.S. School of the Americas, who had close ties to the military regimes that ran Guatemala in the early 1980s. He lost the election to Colom, who became the only “left” leaning politician to be elected president in 53 years; the first of course was the ill-fated Árbenz, who was overthrown in the U.S. organized coup d’état.

As previously noted, President Colom led the opening ceremonies of the ¡Oh Revolución! exhibit, which presented Guatemalan history through paintings, drawings, and prints, from the overthrow of Árbenz to the current period. The pièce de résistance in the show was of course Rivera’s Gloriosa Victoria, and President Colom thanked the Russian government for loaning it to his nation. At the time of the exhibit Guatemala was celebrating the anniversary of its Diez años de Primavera (Ten Years of Spring), the period between the people’s 1944 overthrow of dictator Jorge Ubico, and the end of the democracy movement brought about by the 1954 U.S. coup against Árbenz.

While President Colom implemented modest reforms during his term in office (2008- 2012), his most significant act was the Oct. 20, 2011 official apology he made for the government’s role in helping to organize the 1954 coup that crushed democracy. Directing his apology to the family of Jacobo Árbenz and to the people of Guatemala, Colom made the apology at the National Palace, saying of the coup; “That day changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it yet. It was a crime to Guatemalan society and it was an act of aggression to a government starting its democratic spring.”

In this 1965 photograph, Rina Lazo paints a replica of the famous Maya murals of Bonampak. Her replica is now housed in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Photographer unknown.

In this 1965 photograph, Rina Lazo paints a replica of the famous Maya murals of Bonampak. Her replica is now housed in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Photographer unknown.

President Colom introduced another special guest at the ¡Oh Revolución! opening, Rina Lazo, the Guatemalan-Mexican painter and muralist.

Lazo assisted Diego Rivera from 1947 to 1957, directly helping him paint a number of his most well known mural works. As a young student she won a scholarship to study art in Mexico, and three months after arriving in Mexico City she met Rivera and became his pupil.

Rivera made her a leading assistant, referring to her as his “right hand,” and asked her in 1947 to help him paint the mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, then being created in the Hotel del Prado (now the Museo Mural Diego Rivera).

In 1954 Lazo assisted Rivera in painting Glorious Victory. One late afternoon while working on the mural, Rivera asked Lazo if she would like to be included in the painting as a background figure. She agreed to pose, and Rivera told her to bring a red blouse to the studio the next day.

Detail from Rivera's "Gloriosa Victoria." At left, Rina Lazo in her red blouse.

Detail from Rivera's "Gloriosa Victoria." At left, Rina Lazo in her red blouse.

The following morning Rivera provided Lazo with a 9mm carbine, set her in an appropriate pose, and began painting.

In the upper right corner of Glorious Victory a group of armed workers and compesinos take action to defend their elected government from the coup-makers; two agricultural workers brandish machetes while Rina Lazo in her red blouse wields a carbine.

While Rivera was painting Glorious Victory, Lazo was creating her own large canvas titled Venceremos (We Will Win). It linked the U.S. coup in Guatemala with the U.S. war in Korea, which had just concluded with an armistice in 1953. The canvas presented an apocalyptic landscape of Guatemalan jungle and Korean rice paddies, where marauding soldiers massacred Korean and Guatemalan peasants alike.

Venceremos (We Will Win) - Rina Lazo. Oil on canvas 1954.

'Venceremos" (We Will Win) - Rina Lazo. Oil on canvas 1954.

In the tableau one unfortunate man shot full of bullet holes is tied upside down to a tree, recalling the Apostle Peter crucified upside down by soldiers of the Roman Empire. Venceremos was also included in ¡Oh Revolución!, and today it is in the collection of the Museo de Bellas Artes de Toluca, México.

"Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera" - Photo by Hungarian photographer Martin Munkácsi.

"Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera" - Photo by Hungarian photographer Martin Munkácsi. 1933.

Through Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Lazo met Arturo García Bustos, her husband to be. Bustos was one of “Los Fridos,” a small circle of young artists who were not only fiercely loyal students of Kahlo, but lived and worked with Rivera and Kahlo for close to ten years.

Bustos was also a founding member of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP - Popular Graphic Arts Workshop). Lazo and Bustos married in 1949. At the time of this writing Lazo is 93-years old and Bustos is 90; they continue to live together in Mexico City.

By reason of the malaise and torpor of today’s postmodern art, Lazo and Bustos insist that social realism - as exemplified by Rivera’s Glorious Victory - will one day make a comeback; as an artist infinitely inspired by Mexican Muralism, I share the assessment of Lazo and Bustos.

– // –

REFERENCES:

[1] Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion. T. Jeremy Gunn. Publisher: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

View the flickr page created by the Government of Guatemala, celebrating the 2010 exhibition of Gloriosa Victoria at Guatemala’s National Palace of Culture. The photos at the end of the page feature images of President Álvaro Colom, as well as Rina Lazo and her husband Arturo García Bustos.

ADDENDUM:

There is more to this Guatemalan tale. When President Colom’s term in office ended in 2012, his old rival, the former Army General Otto Pérez Molina became the next elected president; despite accusations of corruption and human rights abuses. Three years into his reign the rightist strongman was exposed for involvement in a major corruption scheme. The scam involved the country’s custom service taking bribes from importers in exchange for illegally reducing custom tarifs; the profits of course going to Molina and members of his administration.

Known as La Linea (The Line), the scam was named after the telephone line importers used to arrange bribes with corrupt officials. Hearing of this outrage the people held mass protests for months, filling the streets with demonstrations, conducting strikes, as well as seizing workplaces and schools. Of the 15 million people who live in Guatemala, over 50% of them live in dire poverty. The protests brought the country to a standstill. President Molina, his Vice President Roxana Baldetti, and dozens of officials from their administration, resigned in disgrace and were arrested. Molina and Baldetti are currently in prison and on trial for corruption.

As if things could not get any worse… or more surreal, in October 2015 a former TV comedian named Jimmy Morales was elected president of Guatemala; Morales was inaugurated on January 14, 2016. With no political experience whatsoever, Morales was elected in the wake of the anti-corruption protests that swept General Molina and his cronies from power. Morales ran as the candidate of the right-wing National Convergence Front, founded in 2008 by retired army officers who played a bloody role in the country’s 1960-1996 genocidal civil war. Already, fifteen colleagues of Morales, mostly members of the National Convergence Front, have been arrested for human rights violations related to the war. By the way, attending the inauguration of Jimmy was none other than U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. Guatemala’s anguish and despair continues… Glorious Victory indeed.

Lives in Limbo

Book cover for "Lives in Limbo" by Roberto G. Gonzales (University of California Press, 2015). Cover design based on a drawing by Mark Vallen.

Book cover for "Lives in Limbo" by Roberto G. Gonzales (University of California Press, 2015). Cover design based on a drawing by Mark Vallen.

“My world seems upside down. I have grown up but I feel like I’m moving backward. And I can’t do anything about it.” – Esperanza

The above quote is but one voice from Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America. Written by Roberto G. Gonzales, an Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, the book specifically focuses on the stories of immigrant Latino children and young adults who are caught in the Kafkaesque U.S. immigration system.

Dr. Gonzales first contacted me on January 6, 2015 with a query regarding the use of my Ningun ser Humano es Ilegal - No Human Being is Illegal drawing as the cover art for his forthcoming book. I thanked him for his kind letter, but politely rebuffed him with the following: “I have to admit to hesitancy about using the image for a book cover. The image has become iconic of the immigrant rights movement, as I intended, and I am frankly reluctant to alter the legacy of the image.”

However, Gonzales did not relent, and in retrospect I am happy for that. The Assistant Professor continued to e-mail this artist with an epistle of dispatches that ultimately convinced me of his profound seriousness. But it was Gonzales sending me copies of several chapters of his unpublished manuscript that ultimately persuaded me; a boundless humanism leapt off those pages. It was the same spirit of commitment to the downtrodden that compelled me to create the Ningun ser Humano es Ilegal - No Human Being is Illegal drawing in 1988.

"Ningun ser Humano es Ilegal - No Human Being is Illegal." Mark Vallen © Offset lithograph, 1988. Bilingual poster based on the artist's pencil drawing.

"Ningun ser Humano es Ilegal - No Human Being is Illegal." Mark Vallen © Offset lithograph, 1988. Bilingual poster based on the artist's black & white pencil drawing.

Dr. Gonzales told me that he thought my drawing was a persuasive criticism against racism and America’s unfair immigration system, referring to the artwork as emblematic of a social movement in opposition to bigotry and injustice.

He expressed a fervent desire that Lives in Limbo would have a similarly powerful impact. Because I had no doubt that it would, I enthusiastically gave Gonzales full permission to use my artwork - an approval I extended to no other in all these years.

You may of course take this as a wholehearted endorsement of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America, a book that I am absolutely thrilled to be associated with.

I believe that every person living in the U.S. would benefit from reading this tome, not just academics, but working people and students, because it is imperative that we humanize the plight of the immigrant.

In some ways the narratives found in Lives in Limbo relate to my own history. Along with his family my father came to the U.S. from Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico when he was around 2-years-old, settling in San Diego, California. At sixteen years of age he came to Los Angeles to work in the city’s restaurant business. There he met and married Patricia Schneider, a young woman of mixed Mexican/German heritage. Ten days before I was born on September 7, 1953, my father officially became a U.S. citizen, changing his name from José Jesus Valenzuela to Joe Vallen. I never knew the disquietude he must have suffered as an undocumented worker, nor do I know anything about his path to citizenship. I can only imagine because he never discussed it with me.

Regarding the opening quote of this brief scoop; in case you are unfamiliar with Spanish, Esperanza is “Hope” in English. It is an enchanting name that has been given to many a girl child. Here in Los Angeles where I was born and raised, for the brown-eyed people of the sun it has always been a common name - stretching back to the 1781 founding of El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles, or for the monolingual reader, “The Town of the Queen of the Angels.”

But hope is dying… we are living in terrible times where there is frightful talk about mass deportations and building a colossal wall to separate humanity. Whatever your position regarding immigration, bear this in mind, when people are stripped of their humanity and thought of as illegitimate, appalling things will follow. That is the REAL meaning behind No Human Being is Illegal.

– // –

You can purchase Lives in Limbo at amazon.com

Visit Roberto G. Gonzales on Twitter

Purchase my No Human Being is Illegal poster

Read about Lives in Limbo on NBC news

A New Year message: Hope & Beauty on leave of absence

Mark Vallen, Sept., 2015. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

Mark Vallen, Sept., 2015. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

In 1627 the French Baroque artist Simon Vouet created the remarkable oil painting, Time defeated by Hope and Beauty. The masterpiece depicts Father Time dragged to the ground along with his scythe and hourglass; he has been vanquished by the paragons of Hope and Beauty.

Father Time is menaced by a grappling iron brandished by Hope, while the fierce grip of Beauty seizes the long grey tresses atop Father Time’s head as she prepares to drive a spear into him. The joyous faces of Hope and Beauty belie the implied violence of the canvas.

This year poor Father Time looks bedraggled like never before. The elderly bearded man is bruised and gaunt; his robe is in tatters and his sash bearing the old year’s date is ripped and splashed with human gore. But where are the paragons of Hope and Beauty? Unhappily, the political flapdoodle of “Hope” as advanced by a certain Folitician, sullied the good name of Hope the celestial being; she is taking a long hiatus from our fool’s paradise until humanity comes to its senses. And as for that immortal that goes by the name of Beauty, well… the art world betrayed and abandoned her long ago.

As tradition has it, Father Time appears every New Year’s Eve with an angelic infant, an allegorical newborn that represents what is to come. But this year everyone is suspicious of the angel-faced bambino, and it is assumed that the toddler will grow up to sow endless war, terrorism, pestilence, and economic collapse. We are frightened and skittish for good reason; a sense of foreboding envelopes us. But while Hope and Beauty are on leave of absence, they slyly left their metaphorical tools behind. I have added Hope’s grappling iron and Beauty’s spear to my stockpile of paints, brushes, pens, pencils, and canvases. With such an armory, this artist is ready to join the great battles of 2016.

A Happy New Year to almost everyone! And to help you locate the sanctuary of Hope and Beauty, here are a dozen of my web log posts from 2015 to guide your way:

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Twit

Twittering Like A Bird (2015/01/31)

I took the plunge into social media and opened a Twitter account at the beginning of 2015.

“I have an aversion to the Orwellian truncation and mangling of English words and their meanings. Last year Lake Superior State University came up their 40th annual list of words that should be banished for their mis-use or uselessness; words like swag, foodie, curate, and enhanced interrogation. I would like to add to that list the words twitter and tweet. As a lover of the avian world and a keen bird watcher, I know that tweeting is something birds do. Nope, you can’t fool me.”

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"Arts Champion"?

Obama’s 2016 Arts Budget (2015/02/03)

“Let me put it this way. Our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president has put forward a ‘defense’ budget for FY 2016 that will total $620.9 billion. His proposed budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), you know, the U.S. government agency that is ‘dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts’ from sea to shining sea… is a mere $148 million. Here I must add that Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has grossed, in just a three week period, $31.9 million dollars; the film is expected to generate $249 million in domestic sales.

When announcing his FY 2016 budget, Obama said: ‘Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?’ The answer to that should be obvious; the financial aristocracy is grinning from ear to ear.”

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Linda Christian

El Retrato de Linda Christian (2015/02/09)

El Retrato de Linda Christian (Portrait of Linda Christian) has until recently been an oil painting by Diego Rivera that was virtually unknown to the general public, especially outside of Mexico.

As it stands, the painting has once again disappeared from public view, slipping back into obscurity as an expensive trophy in a private collection. Oh pobrecito Diego. ¡Oh pobres de nosotros!”

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Art not Oil

LACMA, BP & the Oil Workers Strike (2015/02/11)

“I always viewed LACMA’s relationship with BP as an ethical dilemma for the arts community, from BP shaping an arts institution to LACMA being a partner in the oil giant’s “greenwashing” propaganda. However, the nationwide workers’ strike against BP adds a new wrinkle to the entanglement - revealing once more the difficult interface between art and capitalism.

If thousands of workers are on strike against BP because of deplorable working conditions that are literally taking workers’ lives, and BP is a major contributor to LACMA… what then does that make the museum? Is it really an impartial institution? Does it actually need to be said which side LACMA is on - with the workers, their families and friends - or with BP?

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Art that resists

“It feels as if art is failing us” (2015/02/21)

“On Nov. 27, 2014, the chief film critic for the New York Times, A.O. Scott, wrote an essay that broached the question, Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?

He stated emphatically that ‘we are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us.’ Scott pointed out that in decades past, ‘all the news you need about class divisions’ could be found in painting, theater, movies, and literature. Here he explicitly wrote that he was ‘waiting for The Grapes of Wrath. Or maybe A Raisin in the Sun, or Death of a Salesman, a Zola novel or a Woody Guthrie ballad - something that would sum up the injustices and worries of the times.’ Mr. Scott will be waiting for a long time… all we get is 50 Shades of Grey, Justin Bieber, and some ludicrous balloon dogs from the vacuous Jeff Koons.”

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Wave-making art

The Left Front: Defying Established Order (2015/04/01)

“In the ten year period covered by The Left Front exhibit, artists created works against racism, poverty, and the drive towards war, that is… the very same problems we have today. But what of the present?

Who wins favor with the art establishment? Why are artists failing so miserably in addressing the world’s problems? Those in The Left Front show entrusted to us a people’s history and a record of resistance. They bequeathed to us images of transcendent beauty, unbreakable spirit, and deep humanism in the face of bottomless cruelty and inhumanity. Now it is our turn.”

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Diego, Frida, & the Motor City

May Day with Diego & Frida (2015/05/19)

I flew to Michigan in May to see and review the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit organized by the Detroit Institute of the Arts. This unique photo-illustrated essay was the result.”

Art critics and reviewers have written positive appraisals of the DIA exhibit, but they have done so with little understanding of Mexican history, and absolutely no sympathy for the politics embraced by Rivera and Kahlo. As an artist that has been involved with Chicano art and politics in Los Angeles since the late 1960s, I have a different take on Rivera and Kahlo.”

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The painter's craft

Robert Henri’s California (2015/05/22)

“Robert Henri’s California dazzles on several fronts. It awes the viewer with Henri’s skill as a painter and brings to life craft as an essential part of painting. It produces a sense of admiration regarding Henri’s ability to capture the essence of people in formal portraiture, revealing the deep humanism Henri possessed. The exhibit also affirms something little known about the man usually thought of as a ‘New York’ realist painter - his deep and abiding love for the lands and people of southern California.”

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No postmodern swamp

In the Land of the Tlingit (2015/07/31)

“Fortune smiled upon me and I found myself in the land of the Tlingit from June 7th to June 14th, 2015; I made an all too brief journey to Southeast Alaska and witnessed many wonderful sights during my brief sojourn.

The indigenous Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people all live in the region, but this article will place emphasis on the enduring Tlingit people as I encountered them during my visits to the Alaskan communities of Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, Juneau, and Ketchikan.

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Be more than a witness

I Did Not (2015/09/07)

A rather flowery autobiography of sorts, posted when I turned 62:

“I did not start my American life at Disneyland, but it was a close starting point. I was born September 7, 1953. Disneyland opened in California in 1955, my parents took me there in 1959. I was six-years-old.

“That same year Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was denied permission to visit Disneyland. I liked Tomorrowland where I rode the look-alike U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. I liked the Rocket to the Moon ride with its space age astronauts. I did not like Mickey Mouse.

007 Ayuda Ayotzi

007 Ayuda Ayotzi

007: The Spectre of Ayotzinapa (2015/09/15)

“Cinema has always been an art form that easily conveys ideology on the sly, but Spectre seems to have broken new ground when it comes to state generated propaganda.

It is unprecedented for an American motion picture studio to have taken large amounts of foreign money in exchange for rewriting a film. The Webster dictionary defines propaganda as ‘ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.’ If one thinks about it for a moment, that entails quite a bit of what we experience in today’s modern society, including our cultural preoccupations. Spectre certainly fits the bill.”

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Diego Rivera censored again

Diego Rivera mural blocked from public view! (2015/09/29)

“As a working painter and printmaker in Los Angeles, I write this open letter on the subject of Change the World or Go Home, an installation of scaffolding and fluorescent lighting by Mexico City-based artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda, now on exhibit in the SFAI’s Diego Rivera Gallery.

I write to express my dismay that Mr. Pereda’s installation unnecessarily blocks public viewing of Diego Rivera’s 1931 mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City. I also have misgivings about Pereda’s installation being placed so close to Rivera’s delicate fresco mural; I believe it poses a threat to the mural’s preservation. More to the point, I hope to explain why I believe that Pereda and the SFAI have denigrated the legacy of Rivera and his fresco mural.”

Wishes and Dreams! Beauty is in the Street!

 "¡La belleza esta en la calle!" (Beauty is in the Street!) Mark Vallen 2015. Oil on linen, mounted on masonite. 14" x 16" inches.

"¡La belleza esta en la calle!" (Beauty is in the Street!) Mark Vallen 2015. Oil on linen, mounted on masonite. 14" x 16" inches.

My most recent oil painting, ¡La belleza esta en la calle! (Beauty is in the Street!), will be premiered at the Wishes and Dreams exhibition at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park, Los Angeles California. Curated by esteemed L.A. painter Raoul De la Sota, the group show features the works of sixteen artists who present in their artworks “the hopes, aspirations, dreams, memories, and wishes the participants have for themselves or for the world.”

And what is my wish, my dream? It is that we all end our conformist, hyper-consumerist, pessimistic, work-a-day-world apocalyptic thinking, to become idealists, artists, and utopians. In short, the same dream I have always embraced. As an oil painting ¡La belleza esta en la calle! (Beauty is in the Street!) echoes my philosophy that a better world is possible only when the multitudes begin to imagine it, and then fill the avenues to create it.

The title of my oil painting came from a street poster produced in 1968 Paris by an anonymous member of the worker and student run art cooperative known as the Atelier Populare (Popular Workshop). But I do not live in Paris, France and it is not 1968; I am a painter living in the megalopolis of Los Angeles, California during the dawn of the 3rd Millennium.

Because L.A. County today has the largest Latino population of any county in the United States (some 49%), I chose a young iconoclastic Latina as a symbol for the free spirits that will take to the streets to change the world. The painting has its title in Spanish for the same reason.

Wishes and Dreams opens on Saturday, December 12, 2015, with an artist’s reception from 7 pm to 10 pm. The exhibit will run through February 7, 2016. Avenue 50 Studio is located at 131 North Avenue 50, in Highland Park, CA 90042 (map).

Tlaloque: A Day of the Dead Monoprint

"Tlaloque" - Mark Vallen. Monoprint 8.5 x 11 inches. 2015 ©.

"Tlaloque" - Mark Vallen. Monoprint 8.5 x 11 inches. 2015 ©.

To mark the devasting drought of California (my home state), and to observe Día de los Muertos 2015, I have created an extremely limited edition suite of six monoprints. The prints recall the Tlaloque, underlings of Tlaloc, the ancient Aztec god of rain and celestial waters. You may consider my print a supplication for divine rain and an end to crippling drought; Tlaloque is a chromatic painted prayer put to paper in the Aztec tradition.

And what is the meaning behind my print?

Tlaloc had four water spirit assistants known as Tlaloque who lived in the high mountains where rain clouds gathered. It was the duty of these magical water sprites - who represented the four cardinal points - to gather up water in their ceramic vessels. Their jugs of water represented rain, frost, drought, and water-born calamity and disease. If pleased, Tlaloc would order his Tlaloque to break open their ceramic urns with their staffs to produce not just thunder and lightning, but life-giving rain. Just as easily, torrents could be unleashed to flood the land, or freezing sleet and snow sent to destroy crops. If angered, the rain god and his Tlaloque would punish with drought.

"Tlaloque" - (Detail) Vallen. Monoprint 2015 ©.

"Tlaloque" - (Detail) Vallen. Monoprint 2015 ©.

Essentially Tlaloque is a printed painting that depicts a watery realm. The artworks were created in oil paint directly applied onto a pane of glass, covered with a sheet of paper, and then burnished with a wooden spoon; each color was “pulled” separately. Working with a limited palette of cool colors (ultramarine, viridian, cerulean), I applied the paints using brushes, crumpled paper, cotton swabs and my fingers, to produce an ethereal female visage seemingly made from aquatic plants, water currents, and bubbles.

When buying these monoprints, remember that each stand-alone print is unique. While quite similar, no two prints are exactly alike. I cannot guarantee that your purchase will look precisely like the one displayed on this page. However, I personally pulled and curated the prints and found each one suitable for inclusion in the suite. Each print is dated, numbered, and hand-signed with the artist’s signature and title of the print - Tlaloque.

$400. Tlaloque - Mark Vallen. Monoprint  8.5 x 11 inches. 2015 ©.
Purchase your print here
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Some of my 2014 monoprints, “Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43,” are still available for purchase.

Diego Rivera mural blocked from public view!

"The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City" - Diego Rivera. Fresco mural. 1931. Photo/Mark Vallen © 2011.

"The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City" - Diego Rivera. Fresco mural. 1931. Photo/Mark Vallen © 2011. The mural as it was meant to be seen.

This is an Open Letter to the Students and Faculty of the San Francisco Art Institute.

In September 2011, it was a real pleasure to travel to San Francisco for the express purpose of photographing the Great Depression era murals that exist in the city. I visited the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), where I made photographic studies of Diego Rivera’s The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, located in the campus gallery named after him.

This mural detail shows a monumental worker representing the working class - Diego Rivera. Fresco mural. 1931. Photo/Mark Vallen © 2011.

This mural detail shows a monumental worker representing the working class - Diego Rivera. Fresco mural. 1931. Photo/Mark Vallen © 2011.

Rivera’s mural is a brilliant tromp-l’oeil, showing us a mural within a mural, with Rivera and assistants on a scaffold as they paint a monumental worker representing the working class; in the artist’s words, a “Gigantic worker, his gaze fixed firmly forward.”

A number of foreign visitors were among the U.S. tourists in the gallery that day; I was impressed by their silent contemplation of the mural. Indeed, the painting is a major destination for cultural tourism, and many travel guides for San Francisco suggest a visit to the SFAI for a look at Rivera’s mural.

Wanting to share my passion for Rivera’s work, I uploaded a few of my photos of his SFAI mural to my web log in 2011, along with some of the history behind the making of the fresco. I might add that I traveled to the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) in May of 2015, not just to see that museum’s Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit, but to study and photograph Rivera’s magnificent Detroit Industry mural cycle painted in an internal courtyard of the DIA. Throngs of people jammed the museum for the Rivera and Kahlo exhibit, which by the end of its run was seen by well over 153,000 people, making it one of the biggest shows in the DIA’s history.

As a working painter and printmaker in Los Angeles, I write this open letter on the subject of Change the World or Go Home, an installation of scaffolding and fluorescent lighting by Mexico City-based artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda, now on exhibit in the SFAI’s Diego Rivera Gallery. I write to express my dismay that Mr. Pereda’s installation unnecessarily blocks public viewing of Diego Rivera’s 1931 mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City. I also have misgivings about Pereda’s installation being placed so close to Rivera’s delicate fresco mural; I believe it poses a threat to the mural’s preservation. More to the point, I hope to explain why I believe that Pereda and the SFAI have denigrated the legacy of Rivera and his fresco mural.

Alejandro Almanza Pereda's scaffold shown during its construction. Screen grab from the SFIA short film, "Change the World or Go Home."

Alejandro Almanza Pereda's scaffold shown during its construction. Screen grab from the SFAI short film, "Change the World or Go Home."

Mr. Pereda is an artist in residence at the SFAI, and so was given a solo exhibit in the Diego Rivera Gallery. Pereda has constructed 24-foot-high scaffold, with a jumble of functioning fluorescent light tubes replacing the scaffold’s wood or steel planks. In the SFAI’s promotional material for Pereda’s scaffold, the school writes some typical postmodern gobbledygook that the fluorescent light tubes are meant to “contend with and complicate the legacy and monumentality of Diego Rivera’s fresco.” But what art institution does not know that light, even in limited amounts, can cause cumulative and irreversible damage to works of art?

Art conservators should be apprehensive that Rivera’s fresco is now exposed to light thrown from Pereda’s giant fluorescent light fixture. Fluorescent light contains high levels of UV radiation, and museums use strict guidelines to prevent artworks in their collections from being unnecessarily exposed to the dangers of UV light.

A short film made under the auspices of the SFAI, shows Pereda’s scaffold and fluorescent light fixture being built with the help of young assistants. Black construction netting was initially erected, supposedly to protect the mural while the scaffold was built. A heavy mechanical lift was used in the construction process, and upon completion the scaffold was improbably secured in place with wires anchored to the walls of the gallery. There appear to be no professional technicians involved in the work, nor art conservators to condition-check the mural. The finished scaffold looks flimsy. With San Francisco sitting on the San Andreas Fault and six other significant earthquake fault zones, there is good reason to be anxious.

I am appalled that the SFAI allowed Pereda’s scaffold to be placed so close to a priceless art treasure, not to mention exposing it to UV light. I can think of no other legitimate art institution that would so recklessly endanger an important internationally recognized work in their collection. I cannot imagine the Detroit Institute of the Arts allowing such a cheap stunt to be pulled off anywhere near their Detroit Industry murals.

Pereda apparently believes that the art and legacy of Diego Rivera is a “limiting screen,” a curtain that restrains Mexican art and confines Mexican artists. Pereda envisions his scaffold as a different sort of screen with which to see the world through. The luminous glow from the fluorescent bulbs makes it impossible to view or photograph Rivera’s fresco! The scaffold itself, even with its lights turned off, impairs a clear view of Rivera’s mural. Evidently the SFAI is titillated by Pereda’s art prank masquerading as profound artistic exploration. In the aforementioned film, Pereda attempted to explain the meaning of his scaffold installation:

“I always had kind of trouble with Mexican Muralism. The Mexican government supported Mexican Muralism, and so that more or less it became a type of propaganda. So when I see the murals, sometimes, you know, like the one here… it’s about progress, the scaffolding symbolizes progress. But a different progress, like destruction, you create something new, like a new condo over a really nice house. And that’s changing the face of the cities, so sometimes it’s terrifying to see scaffolding.”

In the quote above Mr. Pereda spouts utter nonsense. He implies that Diego Rivera and his fellow muralists, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, et al., were propagandists for the Mexican government, which could not be further from the truth. The majority of the muralistas were political radicals, and they often publicly clashed with the government over a variety of issues. In 1922 Rivera and other important artists founded the Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, a group dedicated to creating revolutionary art. David Alfaro Siqueiros wrote the group’s manifesto.

That same year, Rivera, Siqueiros, and many other artists joined the Mexican Communist Party (Frida Kahlo would join in 1928). Rivera’s membership in the party put him in direct odds with the government, which banned the party and its activities in 1925; the outright ban continued until the left-leaning Lázaro Cárdenas was elected president of Mexico in 1934. Anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the history of the Mexican Muralist Movement should know these facts. Perhaps Mr Pereda should go back to art school, oh wait… he is an artist in residence at the SFAI.

It seems that Mr. Pereda’s logorrheic style of babbling was a bit thin as an artist’s statement, so the SFAI graciously assisted with some of its own postmodern prose. The school’s promotional material for Pereda describes Rivera’s mural in the following words:

“Meanwhile, in SFAI’s Diego Rivera Gallery, we have been looking at Diego Rivera’s ass for 84 years. Of course, this was the artist’s intention. Rivera’s iconic work The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City (1931) offers an epic image of the reconstruction of San Francisco, depicting laborers and fresco painters alongside the patron, on the scaffold, and closest to our eye: the artist’s high-waisted rear.”

Looking at Rivera’s ass for 84 years? It was Rivera’s intention to show his “high-waisted rear” to the public? Excuse the Pop culture reference, but the SFAI’s brassy remarks remind me of an aside from British comedian John Cleese; “It’s all about backsides with you Americans, isn’t it.”

It is interesting that the SFAI’s mocking reference to “Rivera’s ass,” is the same type of derisive scorn heaped upon Rivera and his mural by critics in 1931. In his book, Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics, and San Francisco’s Public Murals, author Anthony W. Lee mentioned how reactionaries bashed the mural by accusing Rivera of having painted a portrait of himself defecating on his patrons! A less vulgar “critique,” but one no less spiteful, was made at the time by Kenneth Callahan, the painter from the state of Washington. Castigating the mural, he mentioned Rivera’s “flat rear, hanging over the scaffolding in the center. Many San Franciscans chose to see in this gesture a direct insult, premeditated, as indeed it appears to be. If it is a joke, it is a rather amusing one, but in bad taste.”

The only “ass” to be found in this story is the one who seeks to poke Rivera’s legacy full of holes.

Rivera intended his murals to be accessible to the public; that was the central tenet of the Mexican Muralist Movement to which he belonged. Many San Francisco Bay Area artists met and worked with him when he visited San Francisco, and it is because of his influence that San Francisco became a city full of murals. The evidence is everywhere, from the 1934 Chapel Mural painted at the Presidio by Victor Arnautoff, to the magnificent 1934 Coit Tower frescos at Telegraph Hill. From the 1936 San Francisco Life frescos by Lucien Ladaudt at the Beach Chalet restaurant, to the 1941-1948 History of California murals by Anton Refregier at the Rincon Center. Rivera made enormous contributions to art, and his legacy is not a “screen” that oppresses anyone.

Pereda's installation of scaffolding and fluorescent lighting is inches away from Diego Rivera's mural, hidden on the left by black construction netting. In this Screen grab from the SFIA short film, Change the World or Go Home, an assistant of Pereda's adjusts the fluorescent lights.

Pereda's installation of scaffolding and fluorescent lighting is inches away from Diego Rivera's mural, hidden on the left by black construction netting. In this Screen grab from the SFAI short film, "Change the World or Go Home," an assistant of Pereda's adjusts the fluorescent lights.

While the San Francisco Art Institute does not publish Diego Rivera’s own words regarding the true intentions of his mural, I will happily do so. In his autobiography My Art, My Life, Rivera described the intent behind his 23-by-30-foot mural. Rivera wrote that he wanted:

“to present a dynamic concerto of construction - technicians, planners, and artists working together to create a modern building (….). I showed how a mural is actually painted: the tiered scaffold, the assistants plastering, sketching, and painting; myself resting at midpoint; and the actual mural subject, a worker whose hand is turning a valve so placed as to seem part of a mechanism of the building.

Since I was facing and leaning toward my work, the portrait of myself was a rear view with my buttocks protruding over the edge of the scaffold. Some persons took this as a deliberate expression of contempt for my American hosts and raised a clamor. However, I insisted that my painting meant nothing else than what it pictured. I would never think of insulting the people of a city I had come to love and in which I had been continuously happy.”

If you type in the title of Rivera’s mural on Google - The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City - you will find that the SFAI web page on the painting is the first item to come up, but my 2011 web log article on the mural is the second. Over the years thousands of people from around the world have read my article on Rivera’s mural. It would be an understatement to say that I would have been upset if I had journeyed to the SFAI to study and photograph Rivera’s fresco, only to find the school had blocked the mural from public view by installing a scaffold made of fluorescent light bulbs in front of it. The annoyance would have been made all the worse with the SFAI promoting the installation on an equal footing with Rivera’s mural.

One arts professional that balked at the way the SFAI has treated the Rivera mural was Sarah Lowndes, a writer, curator, and lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland. Having traveled all the way from Scotland to view Rivera’s The Making of a Fresco, Ms. Lowndes was aghast at finding Pereda’s scaffolding blocking the mural. She also wrote an open letter to the SFAI to express her disappointment. Since Pereda’s scaffold will block the view of Rivera’s mural until December 3, 2015, there will be many people who are going to be angry over being denied the pleasure of contemplating one of San Francisco’s greatest mural works.

You may choose to call the deliberate blocking of someone’s view of an artwork a clever act of “art intervention” or a means to “contend with and complicate the legacy and monumentality” of the artwork… but an honest person would call it censorship.

There is a larger cautionary tale to be told here regarding Rivera’s mural, one that has it roots in the history of the SFAI, but also in the chronicles of U.S. art and politics.

In 1931 Diego Rivera painted his mural at the SFAI, then known as the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). Douglas McAgy was the school’s director from 1945 to 1950, and he transformed the institution into a center for the non-objective school of abstract art. McAgy hired abstract artists like Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and Richard Diebenkorn as instructors, and tirelessly promoted abstract art through exhibitions and forums. To McAgy, figurative realism in art was passé and on its way out.

The “enlightened” McAgy was so offended by Rivera’s social realist mural that in 1945 he had a wall constructed over the fresco to prevent the public from ever seeing it [1]. While history has noted the total destruction of Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads mural at New York’s Rockefeller Center by the order of Nelson Rockefeller in 1934, the censorship of Rivera’s mural at the CSFA is barely known or acknowledged. In retrospect the suppression of the mural by McAgy has been forgiven by those who simply think the school director acted as an overzealous apostle of abstract art. As if that is an excuse for his blatant act of censorship.

But here is the delightful irony in this whole messy affair. Just as the director of the CSFA revamped the school into a citadel of abstract art on the West coast, putting the kibosh on figurative realism in the process, so too has the current leadership of the SFAI turned the school into a bulwark for today’s oh so fashionable postmodern art. As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” Douglas McAgy covered Rivera’s mural in an open act of censorship; the SFAI covers Rivera’s mural and justifies it in the name of “ambitious new works.”

"Pereda thinks his scaffold provides a different screen with which to see the world through. The luminous glow from the fluorescent bulbs makes it impossible to view or photograph Rivera's fresco!" Screen grab from the SFIA short film, "Change the World or Go Home."

"Pereda thinks his scaffold provides a different screen with which to see the world through. The luminous glow from the fluorescent bulbs makes it impossible to view or photograph Rivera's fresco!" Screen grab from the SFAI short film, "Change the World or Go Home."

But I do not believe for a moment that McAgy’s censorship of Rivera’s mural was an act solely based on an extreme bias against realism in art. McAgy acted in full accord with the “Red Scare” that had seized control of U.S. national politics.

In 1938 the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) attacked Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration (WPA). Specifically, HUAC went after the WPA’s Federal Theater Project, a government effort to provide work for unemployed theater professionals in the midst of the Great Depression. HUAC concluded the project was dominated by communists and demanded Roosevelt fire the project’s leadership because they had “associates who were Socialists, Communists, and crackpots.” Roosevelt refused to fire the leaders but HUAC convinced the U.S. Congress to cancel funding to the project on June 30, 1939.

In 1945 HUAC became a permanent Congressional committee that launched investigations into “subversive” activities in the U.S. It undertook an anti-Communist witch hunt in Hollywood in 1947 that placed over 320 actors, directors, and writers on a blacklist forbidding them work. In the same timeframe Joe McCarthy, Senator from the state of Wisconsin, led his own crusade against the hundreds of communists he alleged had infiltrated the U.S. government. The manic anti-Communism that gripped America in that period became known as “McCarthyism” due to the pathological anti-communism of Senator McCarthy and his political allies in official circles.

HUAC repression in Hollywood destroyed careers and purged the entertainment industry of those perceived to be “un-American.” Ten prominent screenwriters and directors who refused to cooperate with HUAC were found in contempt of Congress and each was sentenced to a year in prison; after their release they were blacklisted like all the rest. Government bullying not only purged Hollywood of the left, it ushered in an era of political submissiveness and conformity in U.S. cinema; The Red Menace from Republic Pictures is a perfect example [2].

McCarthyism impacted all facets of cultural life in the U.S., it was not just the entertainment professionals in Hollywood who suffered; visual artists were also targeted. It is beyond the scope of this article to list all of the painters and printmakers who were persecuted by McCarthyism, but Irving Norman, the painter of social surrealist images comes to mind. U.S. artists would do well to remember the reactionary assault on art during the McCarthy years led by Michigan Republican Congressman, George A. Dondero. On August 16, 1949, Rep. Dondero gave a speech before the U.S. Congress titled, Modern Art Shackled to Communism [3]. He spoke of the “isms” that he said were promoted by communists:

“Cubism aims to destroy by designed disorder. Futurism aims to destroy by the machine myth. Dadaism aims to destroy by ridicule. Expressionism aims to destroy by aping the primitive and insane. Abstractionism aims to destroy by the creation of brainstorms. Surrealism aims to destroy by the denial of reason. All these isms are of foreign origin, and truly should have no place in American art. While not all are media of social or political protest, all are instruments and weapons of destruction.

We are now face to face with the intolerable situation, where public schools, colleges and universities, art and technical schools, invaded by a horde of foreign art manglers, are selling to our young men and women a subversive doctrine of “isms,” Communist-inspired and Communist-connected, which have one common, boasted goal - the destruction that awaits if this Marxist trail is not abandoned.”

Today Congressman Dondero’s words may sound utterly ridiculous, but between the years 1946 and 1956 this was a deadly serious matter. Congress never rebuffed Dondero’s claims; he had very powerful friends and allies. Together they condemned and suppressed modern art exhibits while leading campaigns to censor and destroy “communist” WPA murals located in government buildings. In 1953, acting as the chairman of the House Committee on Public Works during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dondero was involved in a congressional push to destroy the murals of Anton Refregier that were painted in San Francisco’s Rincon Annex Post Office.

While Congressman Dondero and his supporters were attacking abstract art for being “communist because it is distorted and ugly, because it does not glorify our beautiful country, our cheerful and smiling people, and our material progress,” a few powerful opponents of Dondero both in and out of government were defending abstract art as anti-communist.

The advisory director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Alfred Barr, wrote an essay titled Is Modern Art Communist? for the New York Times in 1952. Barr proclaimed abstract art to be anti-communist and an expression of American freedom and individualism! [4] Here I must remind the reader that Nelson Rockefeller, a major proponent of abstract art, was the president of MoMA in the 1940s and 1950s, and that he initially approved of, but then ordered the destruction of, Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads mural in 1934.

For twelve years Rivera’s mural would remain hidden behind McAgy’s wall until after Rivera’s untimely death in 1957. That same year McCarthyism and Abstract art began to ebb; the CSFA decided it was safe to take down the wall that hid the fresco mural and rededicate The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City.

As conservative anti-communists and liberal anti-communists fought over how to defeat communism in the arts, as well as how to combat it with the arts, there stood Diego Rivera in the midst of the clamor, painting his mural at the California School of Fine Arts. It is little wonder why Rivera’s fresco was targeted for censorship in 1945. Douglas McAgy’s decision to wall off Rivera’s mural was undoubtedly motivated by the “liberal” anti-communist view, coupled with his being an exponent of abstract art.

In this mural detail Diego Rivera depicted steel workers constructing a modern skyscraper. Photo/Mark Vallen © 2011.

In this mural detail Diego Rivera depicted steel workers constructing a modern skyscraper. Photo/Mark Vallen ©

What may astonish the reader is that the CSFA, renamed the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) in 1961, makes absolutely no acknowledgment online of CSFA director Douglas McAgy being responsible for building a wall over Rivera’s mural and keeping it covered for a dozen years. Mention of McAgy’s censorship is not even broached on the SFAI website page that supposedly presents the institution’s history.

I have a few rhetorical questions for the students and faculty of the San Francisco Art Institute, as well as for the larger arts community in the U.S. and beyond.

Mexico is in deep crisis, it is in a political, economic, and moral tailspin; since 2007 over 164,000 Mexicans have been killed in the so-called drug war; 10,000 Mexicans have been kidnapped and “disappeared” by death squads since 2012; over 41 Mexican journalists have been assassinated since 2010 for seeking the truth.

I write this on the one year anniversary of the kidnapping and forced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Guerrero, Mexico, who were seized by corrupt police officers and their drug gang accomplices. Ayotzinapa has become a dagger in the heart of the Mexican people, and millions of them know who is responsible for conspiring against them.

My questions are - do you really prefer Alejandro Almanza Pereda and his fluorescent light scaffolding over Diego Rivera and his socially conscious mural? Do you actually think Pereda’s is the appropriate artistic response to a Mexico awash in blood and corruption? Do you genuinely believe that art and artists are above the fray, and need not dirty their hands with real world issues? And, faced with all of the inequality and barbarity of this world, do you regard it as apropos to “contend with and complicate the legacy” of these conditions by attacking Rivera?

If you answered “yes” to any of my questions, then I think it safe to say that the arts community is in its own moral tailspin.

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ADDENDUM:

[1] Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University. Howard Singerman. University of California Press. 1999.

[2] The Red Menace - Director, R.G. Springsteen. Republic Pictures 1949. The film offered an over the top fictional account of how the Communist Party USA supposedly operated in the city of Los Angeles, using deceit and thuggery to recruit the weak minded. The film is narrated by Lloyd G. Davies, a member of the Los Angeles City Council. One of the film’s villainous communists was played by actress Betty Lou Gerson, who would be the voice actress for Cruella De Vil in Disney’s 1961 animated feature, 101 Dalmatians.

[3] Law, Ethics, and the Visual Arts - John Henry Merryman, Albert Edward, Elsen, Stephen K. Urice. Published by Kluwer Law International, 2007.

[4] The Rise and Fall of American Art, 1940s-1980s: A Geopolitics of Western Art Worlds - Assoc Prof Catherine Dossin. Ashgate Publishing. 2015.

007: The Spectre of Ayotzinapa

Daniel Craig and Stephanie Sigman wear skull masks in the opening Day of the Dead sequence of "Spectre." Screenshot from the movie's official trailer.

Daniel Craig and Stephanie Sigman wear skull masks in the opening Day of the Dead sequence of "Spectre." Screenshot from the movie's official trailer.

Four minutes of dazzling footage comprises the eye-popping, jaw dropping opening sequence of Spectre, the latest James Bond film. In the first scene, James Bond (played by actor Daniel Craig), is seen walking through a Día de los Muertos procession in Mexico City wearing a skull mask. He sports a Top Hat as befitting a bourgeois Mexican gentleman of the early 1900s. Strolling with 007 is “Bond Girl” Estrella (played by Mexican actress Stephanie Sigman), who wears a painted mask of La Calavera Catrina, an iconic female figure from historic Day of the Dead celebrations.

Stephanie Sigman playing the character of Estrella in "Spectre." MGM promotional photo.

Stephanie Sigman playing the character of Estrella in "Spectre." MGM promotional photo.

The dapper two weave their way through a huge crowd of people dressed as skeletons and carrying giant skeleton puppets; they all make their way to the capital’s main square, the Zócalo. Bond spots the villain Marco Sciarra and a fight ensues. To rescue their boss from Bond, Sciarra’s henchmen land a helicopter in the Zócalo, but when Sciarra hops on, so does 007. A desperate onboard fight takes place as the chopper soars over the modern skyline of Mexico City in a death defying display of flying.

Spectre is a perfect example of film being used to influence public opinion for political reasons. How so? Apparently the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) paid MGM studios millions of dollars for the scene described above; the studio accepted the money in order to bring production costs down. A collaborative effort, the Mexican government wanted positive “spin” to improve its deplorable human rights record, and MGM wanted tax breaks. I will address this government-studio deal in the second half of this essay, but first, some background.

"Spectre" movie poster from MGM. Daniel Craig strikes a classic pose as Agent 007, dressed in a white tuxedo jacket and holding a Walther PPK .380 pistol with a silencer. Can you spot the poster's colossal blunder?

"Spectre" movie poster from MGM. Daniel Craig strikes a classic pose as Agent 007, dressed in a white tuxedo jacket and holding a Walther PPK .380 pistol with a silencer. Can you spot the poster's colossal blunder?

Let us not forget that in the Mexican state of Guerrero, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ Collage were assaulted and kidnapped by the police on the night of September 26, 2014. While in the act of kidnapping the 43, the police shot and killed three bystanders and three other Ayotzinapa students. One of them, the 22-year old Julio César Mondragón, was found dead on the street the next day; his eyes had been gouged out and the skin peeled from his face. Recall that in the official government version of the story, the police turned their 43 captives over to the criminal drug gang Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) to be tortured, killed, and incinerated in a huge bonfire at a garbage dump; their ashes allegedly put in plastic bags and dumped in the San Juan River. Remember that millions of Mexicans marched in the streets to protest these outrages with a slogan that identified the guilty - Fue el estado (”It was the state”).

The production designer for Spectre, Dennis Gassner, told the press that producing and filming the Dia de los Muertos opening sequence was “a magical experience.” He went on to say: “This culture is saying something here. This is a statement about their world and how they want the rest of the world to see it. This is a format that the world can see it in, that’s what all these people are doing. They’re passionate about what they want to do and they want to share it with the world. They want to show people that they should come to Mexico.” [1]

The creative individuals involved in the making of Spectre may talk about the movie’s opening sequence as a “magical experience,” but their eyes are tightly closed to the truth.

Filming the opening sequence of Spectre at the Zócalo in Mexico City, March 2015. Photo: Arturo Ascención/CNNMéxico

Filming the opening sequence of "Spectre" at the Zócalo in Mexico City, March 2015. Photo: Arturo Ascención/CNNMéxico

Yes, there certainly are those who work to present “how they want the rest of the world to see” Mexico, but in the case of Spectre, it is not the Mexican people but the crooked regime of Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI that plotted and colluded with Hollywood. Mr. Nieto was “elected” president on July 1, 2012 through massive fraud. The PRI bought votes as well as positive press from the country’s dominant TV networks. Even before Mexico’s official election results were in, President Obama called Nieto to congratulate him on his electoral “victory,” and to applaud Mexico’s “free, fair, and transparent election process.” [2]

At the time Mr. Peña Nieto’s most shameful scam was the distribution of pre-paid gift cards for the Soriana supermarket chain; each card was worth 500 pesos ($37.50) and was to be used in purchasing food. Some $8.2 million dollars worth of the cards were distributed. In Mexico City the average worker’s daily wage is just 67 pesos ($5.12). No friend to working people, the World Bank reported that 52.3% of the Mexican people lived in poverty in 2012 when Peña Nieto’s election took place. [3] Right after the fraudulent election, tens of thousands of people swarmed Soriana markets to find their gift cards were not valid, or worth only a few dollars!

Approximately four months after the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43, the Mexican government announced it had “officially” concluded that the students were dead. The phony investigation had been conducted by Jesús Murillo Karam, a functionary of the PRI and President Peña Nieto’s attorney general. At a Jan. 27, 2015 press conference given by Karam, he stated that government “interrogation” of detained suspects provided “legal certainty that the student teachers were killed.” Karam offered no conclusive evidence to back up his claim, but stood firm in avowing that the government findings were the “historic truth.” He repeated that federal forces were in no way involved with the kidnapping. On the heels of Karam’s press conference, President Peña Nieto urged Mexicans to accept the government’s conclusion, saying: “We have to move forward with greater optimism.” The words of Mr. Nieto and his attorney general were utterly worthless.

The day after the government press conference, José Miguel Vivanco, the director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, denounced Karam’s findings, calling the government’s investigations “negligent” and “difficult to trust,” given that confessions are “based on coercion, torture, and irregularities.” Vivanco said the government claim “is not a historical truth, it is an official version.” [4]

Needless to say, the parents, families, and relatives of the missing 43 were infuriated with the administration of Mr. Nieto for closing the case. Taking to the streets to denounce the government’s sham investigations, thousands marched in Mexico City chanting, “¡Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos!” (They took them alive, we want them alive!)

"Ayotzinapa Catrina, It was the State" - Rexistemx. Papel picado stencil. 2014. The anonymous Mexican art collective Rexistemx (rexiste.org), reworked Posada's Calavera as a stencil to be used in the creation of the traditional folk art of papel picado (cut paper). Aside from adding the text, Posada's work was altered by having the Calavera shedding tears, a reference to a slogan from the Ayotzinapa justice movement, Esta Dolor Llueve Rabia (This Sorrow Rains Rage). The Rexistemx papel picado was seen all over Mexican during Day of the Dead, 2014.

"Ayotzinapa Catrina, It was the State" - Rexistemx. Papel picado stencil. 2014. The anonymous Mexican art collective Rexistemx (rexiste.org), reworked Posada's Calavera as a stencil to be used in the creation of the traditional folk art of papel picado (cut paper). Aside from adding the text, Posada's work was altered by having the Calavera shedding tears, a reference to a slogan from the Ayotzinapa justice movement, "Esta Dolor Llueve Rabia" (This Sorrow Rains Rage). The Rexistemx papel picado was seen all over Mexico during Day of the Dead, 2014.

It is ironic that Spectre opens with a Day of the Dead procession, and that “Bond Girl” Estrella has her face painted as La Calavera Catrina, but the irony is no doubt lost on the film’s producers. José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) was one of Mexico’s greatest artists and acknowledged as the founder of Mexican printmaking. He was inspired by the aesthetics of the Aztecs, who created skeletonized depictions of supernatural beings in their art. Posada made prints of skeletons dressed as ordinary people, as well as priests, politicians, generals, and oligarchs, offering a mocking social criticism that continues to influence Mexican art and culture.

Around 1910 Posada created the etching Calavera Garbancera (Garbancera Skull). Living under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, Mexico was on the verge of revolution.

Posada published his print as a critique of the “Garbanceras,” those people with indigenous blood who renounced their race and culture to pass themselves off as Spanish or French. The etching depicted an indigenous woman as a skeleton, poor and naked, whose fancy European-style hat was her only claim to being European. In 1946 Diego Rivera began painting his mural, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central. An admirer of Posada, Rivera’s mural included a portrait of Posada arm in arm with his Calavera Garbancera dressed in Victorian clothes. Rivera christened his version of the female skeleton, La Calavera Catrina, and the Catrina has today become an iconic image for the Day of the Dead. However, the original critique behind Posada’s print is still pertinent today.

The filming for the opening sequence of Spectre began in Mexico on March 19, 2015. The ten-day film shoot received considerable attention in the mainstream media, but outside of Mexico the press left out the following important fact. On March 21 a group of pro-democracy activists gathered near the film shoot and held up a satiric banner emblazoned with the 007 logo, it read: “Help! 007, we request your help finding the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. Imprison the corrupt EPN gang that governs us.” The EPN abbreviation of course stands for Enrique Peña Nieto. The sign was the creation of the National Human Rights Commission (C.N.D.H.), the non-governmental human rights organization of Mexico that is accredited by the United Nations.

Pro-democracy activists near the filming location of Spectre, hold a banner that reads: "Help! 007, we request your help finding the 43 students of Ayotzinapa." Photo/Arcelia Maya

Pro-democracy activists near the filming location of "Spectre," hold a banner that reads: "Help! 007, we request your help finding the 43 students of Ayotzinapa." Photo/Arcelia Maya

One protester told the press: “It is a total irony and mockery of the system of government that the Mexican people would have to ask for help from our misfortunes from the largest representative of world imperialism, James Bond. Since you are here, save us from all the misfortunes of our people because of the corruption and impunity of the government.”

Regarding the comments made by Spectre production designer Mr. Gassner, that the Mexican people were “saying something” about their culture in the film’s Day of the Dead sequence. If you want to know how Mexicanos actually marked Dia de los Muertos in Nov. 2014, consider the following. Thousands of University students in Yucatan, Mexico held a candlelight march that evening to protest the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students. Signs were held that read: “In Mexico, everyday is Day of the Dead.” Similar marches and rituals were held all across Mexico that day involving hundreds of thousands of people.

University students in Yucatan, Mexico hold a candlelight march on Day of the Dead 2014, to protest the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. In the photograph a student holds a sign that reads: "In Mexico, everyday is Day of the Dead. Enough!" The slogan appeared in various artworks, banners, and graffiti all across Mexico, including on traditional alters and processions associated with Dia de los Muertos. Photo/anonymous.

University students in Yucatan, Mexico hold a candlelight march on Day of the Dead 2014, to protest the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. In the photograph a student holds a sign that reads: "In Mexico, everyday is Day of the Dead. Enough!" The slogan appeared in various artworks, banners, and graffiti all across Mexico, including on traditional altars and processions associated with Dia de los Muertos. Photo/anonymous.

The details of the hush-hush agreement between the Mexican government and MGM regarding Spectre, and how those secrets became public, reads like a script from a James Bond thriller.

As many readers are probably aware, on November 24, 2014, a hacker or hackers broke into the computer system of Sony Pictures Entertainment, leaving a flashing message on every computer controlled by Sony Pictures. It read: “We’ve obtained all your internal data, including your secrets and top secrets.” The cyber-criminals warned that if their demands were not met, the stolen data would be released to the public. What they supposedly wanted was for Sony to block release of The Interview, a Hollywood comedy directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg about two celebrity American journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

At first Sony put The Interview on hold, but then reversed its decision and screened the film nationwide. The hackers made good on their threat and began to dump some 100 terabytes of sensitive information into the hands of the media, an estimated 38 million files. That info included the scandalous private e-mails and internal communications of top Sony and MGM executives. Sony and the FBI accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the hacking, but that is another story.

What is relevant to this article is that the script for Spectre was stolen in the cyber-attack and released to the media. E-mail exchanges between Sony and MGM officials were also leaked, and they revealed what the executives referred to as the “Mexican Deal.” One of the leaked communications included remarks from the president of MGM’s motion picture group Jonathan Glickman, who wrote the following regarding the deal:

“We are currently facing a budget that is far beyond what we anticipated and are under immense pressure to reduce the number to $250M net of rebates and incentives. This is not about ‘nickel and diming’ the production. As of now, our shooting period is $50M higher than Skyfall and the current gross budget sits in the mid $300Ms, making this one of the most expensive films ever made.”

According to a March 3, 2015 story published by Tax Analysts, the Mexican government proposed a lucrative deal with MGM; they offered to give the studio $20 million dollars worth of tax breaks and other incentives, if the studio allowed the Mexican government to change the cast and make significant alterations to the film’s story. A reading of Sony’s leaked e-mails indicates that the deal went through. In a memo titled, “Elements needed to preserve Mexican deal,” [5] Mr. Glickman listed the specific changes the Mexican government wanted from MGM:

Cast “a known Mexican actress” as Estrella, the Bond girl that appears in the opening sequence whose hotel room is the starting point for Bond’s search for villain Marco Sciarra. MGM gave the part to Mexican-born Stephanie Sigman.

Sciarra, the villainous character and adversary of James Bond at the beginning of the film, could not be a Mexican, or be played by a Mexican. MGM cast the Italian actor Alessandro Cremona to play the assassin, and rewrote the Sciarra character to be Italian.

A cage match duel between Marco Sciarra and Bond needed to be replaced by Bond chasing after Sciarra through a Day of the Dead procession.

Lucia Sciarra, widow of slain gangster Marco Sciarra and the chief villain of the film, also could not be a Mexican, or be played by a Mexican. MGM cast the Italian actress Monica Bellucci to play the Italian nemesis.

“Modern Mexico City buildings” had to appear in the movie’s aerial shots instead of Mexico’s notorious slums. MGM met that demand with the helicopter soaring over the skyline of Mexico City in the movie’s opening scene.

Rather than have Lucia Sciarra order the assassination of a Mexican governor, the victim had to be an international ambassador.

The November 24, 2014, cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment occurred approximately two months after the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43. The leaked documents reveal that MGM was already in the midst of altering Spectre to meet the demands of the Mexican government, that is, before the kidnappings. Be that as it may, the film’s opening scenes in essence serve as a cover for the shameless corruption and contemptible human rights record of Mexico’s government.

Mexico’s drug war has taken the lives of over 100,000 people since 2006, and since President Peña Nieto took office in 2012, an additional 10,000 people have been “disappeared” by drug gangs or state forces. Are they not sometimes one and the same? Most of those cases remain unsolved. There have been 81 cases of human rights activists being disappeared and presumably murdered during Peña Nieto’s administration. Some 41 journalists have been assassinated since 2010, most of them on Mr. Nieto’s watch, bringing even the New York Times to write an Aug. 15, 2015 editorial statement titled, The Murder of Mexico’s Free Press. On the same day, PEN America published a letter signed by over 500 international artists, journalists, writers, and free expression advocates. Addressed to President Peña Nieto, the letter said in part:

“PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), would like to express our indignation regarding the deadly attacks against reporters in your country. An attempt on the life of a journalist is an attack on society’s very right to be informed.”

Suffice it to say, the PEN letter was not signed by anyone associated with the creation of Spectre.

In the present context, with September 26, 2015 marking the one year anniversary of the Ayotzinapa 43 being kidnapped, the premiere of Spectre in theaters November 6th, 2015 serves to whitewash the evil done to the Mexican people. There are plenty of corrupt characters portrayed in Spectre, but none so corrupt as those described in this essay.

Like the MGM poster that leads this article, this early "Spectre" movie poster from MGM shows 007 flaunting a major gun safety rule, keep your finger off the trigger until you have your target in your sights. One would think that Her Majesty's Armed Forces would have taught Bond a thing or two about the safe handling of guns, but it appears the only training he received was from Hollywood.

Like the MGM "Spectre" poster that leads this article, this early version from MGM shows 007 flaunting a major gun safety rule, keep your finger off the trigger until you have your target in your sights. One would think that Her Majesty's Armed Forces would have taught Bond a thing or two about the safe handling of weaponry, but it appears that the only military training he actually received was from Hollywood.

As I was finishing up this article, the results of a six-month long investigation into the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43 were published on Sept. 6, 2015.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), appointed an independent investigatory body called the Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes (GIEI), composed of five human rights experts.

The 560-page report from the GIEI could hardly be more condemnatory of the Peña Nieto administration. Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch called it “an utterly damning indictment of Mexico’s handling of the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory.”

The GIEI report forcefully rejects the Mexican government’s version of events. The report acknowledges that the students had commandeered four buses to take them to a commemorative event in Mexico City marking the 46th anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre. It also found that the police and military had tracked the students from the moment they left their school in Ayotzinapa at six pm, to when they were attacked by police after midnight in the city of Iguala, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. Police and military units sent communications to their forces on the student’s movements, and those reports were routed to C4, Mexico City’s Control, Command, Communication and Computer intelligence network, the most sophisticated security system in all of Latin America. In other words, federal authorities in Mexico City were monitoring the events from beginning to end in real time.

The GIEI said that when municipal, state, and federal police stopped the buses after midnight, soldiers from the Mexican Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion observed the police assaulting and detaining the students; contradicting the government’s assertion that no federal forces were involved in the kidnapping. The role of the federal police and the army remains unclear, but what is absolutely clear is that neither intervened to stop the shooting and kidnapping of the students. During the GIEI’s investigation, the Peña Nieto administration refused to allow the group to interview Mexican soldiers.

The official government report on the kidnapping mentioned only four buses used by the students, but the GIEI report confirmed through video evidence that the students had commandeered a fifth bus. The GIEI uncovered a still from a security camera at the bus terminal in Iguala where the students seized the bus; the photo not only showed the fifth bus, it showed the student passengers onboard. This photo was never included in the government investigation, though surviving students always maintained that five buses were involved. The government then changed its story, saying the students seized the bus, but due to mechanical failure, returned it to the terminal. When the GIEI asked the government to show them bus number five, they were shown a bus that bore a number of dissimilarities to the one from the security camera photo; leading to the conclusion that the fifth bus is now missing.

The Aztecs believed their war god Huitzilopochtli instructed them to build a city on the spot where they found an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake. In 1325 the nomadic Aztecs saw such a sight on a rocky outcrop in Lake Texcoco; it was there that they founded their city, Tenochtitlan. The iconic graphic version of an eagle perched on a cactus while eating a snake, first appeared as the coat of arms of the Mexican flag in 1823. An updated version was adopted in 1968. In his poster, artist José Luis Coyotl cleverly transformed the eagle and snake coat of arms into a bloody skull representing forced disappearances in Mexico. In English the words read: "Ayotzinapa, neither forgiven nor forgotten."

The Aztecs believed their war god Huitzilopochtli instructed them to build a city on the spot where they found an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake. In 1325 the nomadic Aztecs saw such a sight on a rocky outcrop in Lake Texcoco; it was there that they founded their city, Tenochtitlan. The iconic graphic version of an eagle perched on a cactus while eating a snake, first appeared as the coat of arms of the Mexican flag in 1823. An updated version was adopted in 1968. In his poster, artist José Luis Coyotl transformed the eagle and snake coat of arms into a bloody skull representing forced disappearances in Mexico. In English the words read: "Ayotzinapa, neither forgiven nor forgotten."

Most importantly, the GIEI believes that the police attacks on the buses were not meant to stop the students, they were meant to seize the fifth bus, because the students had unknowingly seized a bus that the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel was using to transport heroin to the United States.

What is being described here is an illegal conspiracy between corrupt government authorities and drug cartels in sharing control of Mexico’s profitable heroin trade - with annual profits registering in the billions. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, nearly half of the heroin found in the U.S. in 2014 came from poppies grown in Mexico.

It is a fact that Guerreros Unidos have been shipping heroin to the United States. In Dec. 2014 U.S. federal authorities in Chicago arrested members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel for shipping heroin concealed “in commercial passenger buses that traveled from Mexico to Chicago.” [6]

One must ask why the Peña Nieto regime never investigated the possibility that the Ayotzinapa students paid with their lives for inadvertently interrupting a cartel heroin smuggling operation.

The GIEI report stated there was no evidence to support the government’s story that Guerreros Unidos had incinerated the dead students. The GIEI report noted that at least 500 cords of wood, or 100 tons of tires would have been necessary to create a fire large enough to turn the victims to ashes, but these materials were not available at the garbage dump where the cremation allegedly occurred. Moreover, to incinerate the bodies the fire would have needed to burn for 60 hours, yet the government contends it burned for only 16 hours. The government also claimed that Guerreros Unidos members stayed near the fire to keep it stoked, but the GIEI report stated that a fire large enough to incinerate 43 bodies would have burned to death anyone standing within 900 feet of it. Additionally, the land and vegetation at the dump was not scorched, and there was no evidence of a massive fire.

The GIEI report stated that during its investigation, the Mexican government committed grievous errors, made omissions and false conclusions, obstructed justice, used torture, cover-ups, and threats against surviving students, and ignored and destroyed evidence. For instance, CCTV camera footage made on the evening of the kidnapping had been deleted from government databases. As for the complete C4 records of police and army communications made on Sept. 26th, 2014… not surprisingly, they are “missing.”

It should be remembered that in 2014 President Obama boosted U.S. military aid to Mexico to $15 million a year, and that Mr. Obama continues to approve the bilateral Mérida Initiative with Mexico that funds the Mexican security apparatus to the tune of $2.5 billion Yankee dollars. [7] But the tyranny in Mexico is making an unlikely party nervous. In the aftermath of the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43, while searching for the graves of the presumed dead students, numerous clandestine graves were found in and around Iguala, Mexico. Dozens of civilians were found in those mass graves, but none came from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ Collage. A recently declassified document obtained and published by the National Security Archive, came from U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the Pentagon’s regional military command for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The document read in part: “None of the 28 bodies identified thus far are the remains of the students, raising alarming questions about the widespread nature of cartel violence in the region and the level of government complicity.”

On March 22, 2015, thousands of Angelenos joined relatives of the Ayotzinapa 43 in a protest march on the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles. In this photo one of the marchers holds the poster, "We Are All Ayotzinapa." Photo/Mark Vallen ©

On March 22, 2015, thousands of Angelenos joined relatives of the Ayotzinapa 43 in a protest march on the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles. In this photo one of the marchers holds the poster, "Ayotzinapa Somos Todos" (We Are All Ayotzinapa). Photo & Artwork by Mark Vallen ©

In true reflection of the spirit of José Guadalupe Posada, working class artists in Mexico have been creating astounding posters, beautiful songs, poetry, dance, and theatrical street performances in reaction to the Mexican state’s involvement in the forced disappearance of the Ayotzinapa 43. Without the 300 million dollar budget of Spectre, these artists have created a true people’s art: one that is entirely cognizant of Mexico’s rich cultural and political history; prescient of current events, and used to mobilize the people to make history. None of these things can be said of the Hollywood fantasy-fest that is Spectre.

Standing in solidarity with the Mexican people, I have created my own artworks to draw attention to the Ayotzinapa 43 and the depraved goblins that did them harm. I am most proud of my poster, Ayotzinapa Somos Todos (We Are All Ayotzinapa), a print I am distributing for free in comradeship with the Mexican people’s movement for democracy. It is a humble effort, it is not enough, there is so much to be done. Ominous voices are rising in my homeland, ugly shouts of xenophobia that clamor for mass deportations and an impenetrable wall of steel to divide humanity. Artists must close ranks against such dangerous jargon.

Cinema has always been an art form that easily conveys ideology on the sly, but Spectre seems to have broken new ground when it comes to state generated propaganda. It is unprecedented for an American motion picture studio to have taken large amounts of foreign money in exchange for rewriting a film. The Webster dictionary defines propaganda as “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.” If one thinks about it for a moment, that entails quite a bit of what we experience in today’s modern society, including our cultural preoccupations. Spectre certainly fits the bill.

The Spectre of Ayotzinapa massacre opened on September 26, 2014 in the verdant hills of Guerrero, Mexico. Despite being panned by the general public, it will likely have a permanent run in Mexico due to its powerful backers. The Spectre film on the other hand is scheduled to open to rave reviews in U.S. theaters on November 6th, 2015.

– // –

SOURCES:

Read the complete, unedited GIEI report in English (.pdf)

Press summations on the GIEI report: Vice News, The Guardian, Reuters, CBCNews, New York Times.

ADDENDUM:

[1] “CS Visits James Bond in Mexico City and Learns How Spectre Begins!” ComingSoon.net/March 27, 2015.

[2] The White House Office of the Press Secretary. “Readout of President Obama’s call to President-elect Peña Nieto of Mexico.” July, 2, 2012.

[3] “Mexico” World Bank website

[4] “HRW: Ayotzinapa is not historical truth.” El Univeral/Jan. 28, 2015. Spanish language edition.

[5] “James Bond’s $20 million reason to love Mexico.” The Telegraph/March 13, 2015.

[6] “Eight Defendants Charged With Distributing Heroin In Chicago Area On Behalf Of Guerrero Unidos Mexican Drug Cartel.” Press Release: Department of Justice. U.S. Attorney’s Office. Northern District of Illinois. December 10, 2014.

[7] “U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond.” Congressional Research Service website, (.pdf) May 7, 2015.

I Did Not

The artist with his parents at Disneyland's Tomorrowland, 1959. "We're a happy family, me mom and daddy." Photographer unknown.

The artist with his parents at Disneyland's Tomorrowland, 1959. "We're a happy family, me mom and daddy." Photographer unknown.

I did not start my American life at Disneyland
but it was a close starting point
I was born September 7, 1953
Disneyland opened in California in 1955
my parents took me there in 1959
I was six-years-old.

That same year Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
was denied permission to visit Disneyland
I liked Tomorrowland
where I rode the look-alike U.S. Navy nuclear submarines
I liked the Rocket to the Moon ride with its space age astronauts
I did not like Mickey Mouse.

The comedy album The First Family, was one of the most popular records in the United States in 1962. A lighthearted parody of President Kennedy and his family, the album was recorded on the very evening that J.F.K. made his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The album sold nearly eight million copies, more than the debut album of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I bought the album as soon as it was released, and in the above photo I am pictured listening to it on my portable record player. Photo by the artist's father, Joe Vallen.

The comedy album "The First Family," was one of the most popular records in the United States in 1962. A lighthearted parody of President Kennedy and his family, the album was recorded on the very evening that J.F.K. made his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The album sold nearly eight million copies, more than the debut album of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I bought the album as soon as it was released, and in the above photo I am pictured listening to it on my portable record player. Photo by the artist's father, Joe Vallen.

In 1963 at the age of ten
my parents gave me a wooden palette box
with oil paints and brushes
I painted a portrait of President Kennedy
right after he was cut down by an assassin
My painting is lost, but I did not misplace
the wooden palette box
I use it to store my paints today.

In 1967 I was fourteen when
President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke
at L.A.’s ritzy Century Plaza Hotel
outside 10,000 people protesting the Vietnam war
chanted “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
they were attacked by a phalanx of 1,300 club swinging LAPD officers
I did not attend that protest, but it moved me just the same.

It would be a short time later that same year
that I would attend my first political demonstration
a massive protest against the Vietnam war
where thousands of people snaked their way down Wilshire Boulevard.

My father took this black & white Polaroid camera snapshot of my mother and I as we marched in the huge anti-Vietnam war demonstration that took place on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard in 1967.

My father took this black & white Polaroid camera snapshot of my mother and I as we marched in the huge anti-Vietnam war demonstration that took place on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard in 1967. The placard carried behind us that reads "Bring the Troops Home," was the theme of the march.

In 1968 I was fifteen-years-old
The Vietnam war was escalating
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated
So was Bobby Kennedy, at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard
At the Democratic Party National convention in Chicago
police beat and tear gassed thousands of antiwar protestors
I did not go “Clean for Gene.”

When I was sixteen in 1969
I convinced my parents to donate food
to the Free Breakfast for Children program
run by the LA chapter of the Black Panther Party
We drove the family car full of food stuff
to the L.A. Panther headquarters at 41st and Central
A week later on December 8, 1969 the Panther H.Q.
was raided by officers of the LAPD SWAT team
They dropped a bomb on the rooftop of the Panther H.Q.
It was the first military operation by a SWAT team in the U.S.

On August 29, 1970 I watched live TV coverage
of the Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles
30,000 Mexican-Americans marched against the Vietnam war
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department attacked the people who
gathered in Laguna Park to listen to speeches
Police gunfire killed four that day:
Brown Berets José Diaz and Lyn Ward
a Jewish supporter of the movement named Gustav Montag
and L.A. Times reporter Rubén Salazar
Salazar was shot in the head with a wall-piercing teargas canister
as he calmly sat in the Silver Dollar Bar and Café on Whittier Blvd.
I was seventeen-years-old and my blood boiled.

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Yours truly at eighteen years of age, standing on my home turf of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California, 1971. Photographer unknown.

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My first public art exhibit, an open-air display of pen drawings, watercolors, and collage. The art was displayed at a 1971 counterculture festival sponsored by the L.A. Free Press that took place in the San Fernando Valley. The art included tributes to Hippie, Native Americans, psychedelic rock, and the Black Panthers. I was eighteen at the time, and yes, I made the tie dye backdrops myself. Photo/Mark Vallen ©

In 1971 I published my first street poster
a pre-Watergate print titled “Evict Nixon
I did not vote for George McGovern
In 1972 when traveling in Europe
To avoid the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I hid my ponytail under my collar
Appropriately, I was standing in the Roman Coliseum
when I got the news that Richard Nixon had been re-elected
The Italians were furious; I told them I was Canadian.

In 1973, a U.S. backed fascist coup destroyed Chile’s democracy
sending shock waves around the world
A Chilean family friend told me the coup made her feel “secure”
I did not concur. I preferred Victor Jara.

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"Self Portrait" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1973 ©

At twenty-years-old I ate tofu, wheat germ, sprouts, and yogurt
before they could be found in mainstream grocery stores
The fast food culture was driving me insane,
I had a growing interest in T.Rex and David Bowie.

In 1975 the war in Vietnam finally ended
The alternative culture flew apart
I was twenty-two-years-old
A new conformity began to rise
I did not think it would be long before another war started
In 1976 I did not vote for Jimmy Carter.

When I was twenty-four in 1977
I did not listen to the Bee Gees or the Eagles
To provoke the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I writhed and frothed in the birth of LA’s
nihilistic punk rock scene
my hair whacked off and my clothes torn to shreds.

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"Self Portrait" - Photo/Mark Vallen Feb. 1983 © Punk rock portrait on Sunset Blvd near L.A.'s infamous Whisky a Go Go.

By 1984 Orwell’s words had already come true
I made art against the policies of President Ronald Reagan
I feared the world would end in a nuclear holocaust
I did not vote for Walter Mondale.

In 1985 I created the silkscreen print, Free South Africa
a poster created to support the anti-apartheid movement
I worked with UCLA students that demanded the
university divest its funds from apartheid South Africa.
Despite the “Reagan Revolution”
I did not vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988.

I was thirty-eight in 1991
I made art against President George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War
I became a vegetarian
In 1992 I did not vote for Bill Clinton
And with the indigenous people of the Western hemisphere
I condemned 500 years of colonialism in the Americas.

In 1996 I was forty-three-years-old
I worked at a top advertising agency
I offered to build the company’s website,
saying the internet was the wave of the future
The CEOs told me the internet was a “passing fad”
There was no future for me in the 9 to 5 world
I did not vote for Clinton’s re-election.

I was forty-five-years-old in 1999
In the spring of that year, I made art against
the war President Clinton waged on Yugoslavia

I liked the film Wag the Dog
and was amused by “The Billionaires for Bush or Gore
I did not vote for Al Gore
In 2000 my chad was not hanging.

My grief was not a cry for war in 2001
I made art against the war in Iraq
In 2003 I joined 100,000 anti-war protesters
on the star studded Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame
distributing my artwork Not Our Children, Not Their Children
I did not vote for John Kerry in 2004, the former “anti-war” activist
known in the UK as “The Haunted Tree”.

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I am pictured standing before a John Heartfield reproduction at the 2006 J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit, "Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage." Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2006 ©

In 2008, friends and associates asked me
to create and exhibit artworks to support
the presidential campaign of Senator Obama
I declined, and I did not vote for Obama
but dared not publicly say so until now.

I was fifty-eight-years-old in 2011 when President Obama
without Congressional approval, began a war against Libya
Antiwar activists said the war would being democracy to Libya
I lost friends because I thought the war illegal & unwise
Today Libya is overrun by al Qaeda affiliates and ISIS

In 2012 I attended the first day of Occupy Los Angeles
then got back on the subway and went home
The movement coined the phrase “We Are the 99%”
but in L.A. it degenerated into a squabble about
camping on the lawn of City Hall. Another missed opportunity
I did not vote for Obama’s re-election.

I will be sixty-two on September 7, 2015
I make no apologies for my life thus far
I am the most un-Baby Boomer person in existence
born between the execution of the Rosenbergs
and the premiere of the radioactive monster-movie, Godzilla
Given my crown of thorns in the punk rock summer of hate in 1977
This is not a nostalgic poem
all of this and more made me what I am.

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Yours truly at sixty-two years of age, still standing on Ventura Boulevard, but it is now an "upscale" street awash with corporate logos. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2015 ©

I’m still clawing my way to the bottom,
as an artist and a counterculturalist
because “radical” means “the roots”
Sometimes saying “no” is not a negative but a positive.
Just think of what I will be writing about after
the lyrics to the Beatles’ song When I’m Sixty-Four
actually fully apply to me.

All this started for me years ago
when people were optimistic enough
to work at creating a new world
While that optimism has lapsed for many
the need continues to be great
This is what inspires me to create my art
to transform horrible circumstances into a world at last livable.
So dear reader, I am not a cynic after all
I did not think that at this late date
I would still be saying
“be more than a witness.”

– // –

All photos and text are the property of artist Mark Vallen ©

In Defense of Art & Artists

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Karlísima's defaced "Presidential Mural." Video screen capture from Channel 4 NBC Washington.

On August 6, 2015, a highly praised public mural funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities was defaced by a vandal or vandals. Unashamedly, a leading left-wing activist wrote a vile article celebrating the willful destruction of the artwork because it depicts eleven U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to Obama. Then, one of America’s leading “radical” websites published the filthy screed.

What the hell is going on here? Please allow this working artist to fill in the details.

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Video screen capture from Channel 4 NBC Washington.

In 2008 the owners of Mama Ayesha’s, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Washington D.C., commissioned award winning artist Karla Cecilia Rodas Cortez, popularly known as Karlísima, to paint a large mural on the outside wall of the restaurant.

The mural work was meant to honor the founder of the eatery, Ayesha Abraham, a Palestinian born in Jerusalem in the late 1800’s who came to the U.S. as an émigré in the late 1940s. Abraham opened her restaurant, originally named Calvert Café, and it was a success in the community and frequented by the politicos that worked in Washington. When Ayesha died in 1993, her family renamed the business Mama Ayesha’s in her honor.

Karlísima’s mural depicts Ayesha Abraham in traditional Palestinian dress, flanked on her right by presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Jimmy Carter, while on her left Abraham was flanked by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. In the background one can see blossoming Cherry trees and the White House. The mural is framed on both sides by a border set in mosaic tile that depicts the U.S. flag. No doubt the restaurant owners wanted to praise Ayesha, but they also wanted to laud their establishment as a favored bistro with government workers, ambassadors, and political dignitaries.

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Karlísima's defaced "Presidential Mural." Video screen capture from Channel 4 NBC Washington.

It took three years on a scaffold for Karlísima to paint her Presidential Mural. The cost of producing the artwork was $25,000, and the funding was provided by the Abraham family, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities. The artist hired some assistants, but most of the work she did by herself. $25,000 is a pittance for three years of labor, is it not? Allow this proletarian artist to explain the concept for you. I support the fifteen dollar an hour movement, so I know that a 40-hour-a-week job that pays the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 nets a worker a yearly salary of around $13,926, or $41,778 for a three year period. This is wholly inadequate as a living wage, but it also means that in three years of hard work Karlísima earned far less than a worker laboring in a fast food business.

On the night of August 6, a vandal, or possibly a group of hooligans, shot up Karlísima’s mural using a paint ball gun or guns loaded with bright red paint. It took time to methodically place over 50 shots in the groin area of the presidents. The central figure of Ayesha Abraham was not destroyed. One of the hoodlums supposedly signed the work with a scrawl reading, “The War Thugs.” Channel 4 NBC Washington reported that the manager of Mama Ayesha’s, Amir Abu-El-Hawa, responded to the destruction by saying: “It’s sad. My family has worked hard for this restaurant - blood, sweat and tears over the past 55 years.” The television station also spoke to the artist, who simply said: “I’m just so devastated.”

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Karlísima's defaced "Presidential Mural." Video screen capture from Channel 4 NBC Washington.

On August 7, 2015, the Common Dreams website published an article by Sam Husseini with the awkwardly sophomoric title of: On Shooting the ‘War Thug’ Presidents in the (Paint) Balls. A writer and left-wing political activist, Mr. Husseini is the communications director of the progressive Institute for Public Accuracy. His articles on pop culture, media, and political matters have been widely published, from the Nation to the Washington Post, but his Paint Balls essay is utterly reprehensible. From the opening paragraph to the last moral high-horse sentence, Husseini’s anti-art diatribe made my blood boil; this passionate article is the result.

I will be direct, Sam Husseini is a philistine, a classic example of an individual who knows absolutely nothing about art. The fact that he writes about pop culture and media, and his rubbish is published, points not only to the intellectual squalor of our times, but to the bankruptcy of America’s so-called “left.”

In the malicious opening sentence of his article, Husseini informs the reader that Karlísima’s mural had been “transformed” or “made more whole, reborn” by its defacement! He completely dismisses the artist, barely mentioning her, saying only that “the mural was originally labored over by Karlisima Rodas.”

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Karlísima's defaced "Presidential Mural." Video screen capture from Channel 4 NBC Washington.

Of Mayan ancestry, Karlísima was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and was considered a prodigy for her artistic abilities. As a child Karlísima was mentored by none other than José Mejía Vides, a printmaker, sculptor, and painter now considered to be an outstanding luminary in Salvadoran art. One does not need to dwell on the conditions suffered by El Salvador in the 1980s. As an artist I worked hard to oppose the “death squad” democracy the U.S. hoisted upon the unfortunate Salvadorans at the time, creating a multitude of prints and drawings that depicted that country’s bloody “civil war.” Karlísima left El Salvador in 1984 and emigrated to the United States where she settled in Washington D.C. In 1992 she graduated from Washington University with a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts, and went on to work at the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of African American Art as a silk screen specialist.

Husseini goes on to call the paint ball vandalism “a sort of art work that is literally paint as paint,” and that for the destroyed mural “there’s a case to be made that this more completes the piece than defaces it.” Husseini adds the wisecrack that “some people, including Karlisima, now seem upset by the addition of the paintballs, but murals are not typically done to glorify the high and mighty.” In what would not be his final spasm of mental incapacity, Husseini jeered that “the original mural is not destroyed, it’s not painted over, but used to make a perhaps unexpected point.” Ah, there it is, the postmodern gobbledegook. You see, an anonymous street artist has merely “appropriated” and “repurposed” Karlísima’s mural! It is with the most bitter sarcasm that I must point out that our paint ball vandal could enjoy a lucrative career in today’s trendy art world, if he or she would only step out of the shadows.

Instead of criticizing Karlísima’s artwork, perhaps Mr. Husseini should offer some critical analysis of America’s progressive movement. The U.S. antiwar movement totally collapsed with the ascendancy of Mr. Hope and Change, the “antiwar” president; the left simply folded itself into the Obama campaign and the democratic party, willingly and mostly uncritically. It has not since recovered, and I have serious doubts that it will. The left’s ineptitude and total incompetence has prevented it from impacting the American political scene, and now out of sheer frustration, lefties are attacking an artist for painting the portraits of eleven U.S. presidents.

What really stuck in Husseini’s craw was that Karlísima dared to paint 11 U.S. presidents without giving them devil horns and fangs. In Husseini’s words: “From using nuclear weapons to bombing Vietnam and invading Iraq to deploying killer drones in country after country, the thuggish-ness of these presidents is hard to compete with.” He went on to say that “an augmented mural could include mushroom clouds in the background, and perhaps jet fighters, bombers and killer drones flying overhead.” Yes, but… we are not talking about the augmentation of an artwork, we are talking about artless pillage. Husseini completely disregards Karlísima’s right to freedom of expression because he deems her artwork “politically incorrect.”

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"Nagasaki Nightmare" - Gee Vaucher. Pencil drawing, 1980.

I am in no way opposed to the creation of acerbic works of art that malign the war making ruling class, I have created such images myself. Here I must mention the brilliance of English artist Gee Vaucher. In 1977 she joined the anarchist punk rock band Crass, producing extraordinary hand drawn images that everyone thought were photomontages. In 1980 Vaucher drew the cover art for the band’s Nagasaki Nightmare single, an antiwar musical masterwork. The artwork depicted the leaders of nuclear armed powers and their allies standing on the pulverized remains of Nagasaki, the charred body of a child at their feet. Vaucher’s drawing and the band’s lyrics continue to haunt me: “They’ve done it once, and they’ll do it again, they’ll shower us all in their deadly rain.” If Husseini actually knew anything, he might have told his readers about Vaucher’s works, instead he went for the denigrating cheap shot by belittling an artist and praising a vandal. Crass did not destroy anyone else’s artwork in order to make their point.

Husseini attempts to justify the destruction of an artwork that he does not politically approve of, and he makes light of it. His tone is more appropriate for TMZ or Buzzfeed. He condones the ruining of an artist’s depiction of U.S. presidents, because “all these presidents have used violence.” I find the crudeness and philistinism of Sam Husseini to be frightening. By giving a green light to the defacement of Karlísima’s Presidential Mural, my fear is that he incites some screwball to visit the U.S. National Portrait Gallery and begin defacing the museum’s historic Portraits of the Presidents collection; justifying the vandalism of art is a slippery slope.

Furthermore, Husseini assumes the “transformation” of the mural was carried out as a left critique of power. How does he know the defacement was not carried out by your garden-variety lunatic, or simply as an act of teenage vandalism? The signature “The War Thugs” could have been left by anyone and should not be considered evidence for political motivation.

More to the point, it is so much easier to destroy a work that took an artist three years to create, than it is to produce your own artistic statement. Husseini did not call for artists to step forward to create skillful and persuasive works of art to open minds and touch the human soul, no, he made excuses for an act of sheer brutish intimidation, and no American should put up with it.

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Karlísima's defaced "Presidential Mural." Video screen capture from Channel 4 NBC Washington.

What would Husseini have written about the City of Los Angeles partially white washing the Siqueiros América Tropical mural on Olvera Street in 1932? Would he have written that it had simply been “transformed” or “made more whole, reborn?” I have to wonder how Husseini would respond to a pro-Palestinian public mural being defaced on U.S. streets with red paint ball splats. Would he say that “the paintball artist perhaps admirably exercised restraint from engaging in figurative head shots,” like he did when referring to the ruined Karlísima mural?

It seems so obvious that I hesitate to bring it up, but history has shown us many examples where art and artists were destroyed for political purposes. Starting in 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committed destroyed the lives and careers of hundreds of directors, screenwriters actors, and other professionals in the Hollywood motion picture industry, because they were accused of being communists. In the late 1930’s the Nazis began to ban artists that they perceived to be “un-German” and “degenerate,” in particular banning Jewish and communist artists. Husseini’s claptrap regarding Karlísima’s mural reminds me of the Nazi Degenerate Art exhibitions (German: Entartete Kunst), where the fascists exhibited modern art for ridicule and derision before destroying the canvases, sculptures, and prints, or selling them overseas for profit.

I am a dedicated realist painter and printmaker with a lifelong commitment to creating socially conscious works of art. If Sam Husseini, his minions and supporters, would care to go through my online portfolio of artworks and writings published on my Art For A Change website, they will find nothing that even remotely smacks of reactionary politics. That being said, I strongly denounce Husseini’s vile contention that Karlísima’s mural was “transformed” and “made more whole, reborn,” by a wretched act of vandalism.

In 1758 the French philosopher Claude-Adrien Helvétius published a controversial book titled On the Mind. The work was banned by the Parliament and the Sorbonne while Helvétius came under relentless attack. The Enlightenment philosopher and writer Voltaire was unimpressed by the book, but when he heard it had been publicly torched, he resolved to support Helvétius.

In 1919 the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall published a book that summarized Voltaire’s position regarding Helvétius in the following words: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Hall’s phrase is what Husseini should have proclaimed when announcing his displeasure with Karlísima’s mural. Hall’s words should be ringing in our ears. The act of vandalism approved of by Husseini clarifies her words and brings them new life and meaning.

Truth be told, I don’t really care for Karlísima’s Presidential Mural, as I do not believe an artist’s role is to give uncritical support to those at the top. Let us just say it is the Francisco Goya in me. But when goons attempt to physically obliterate her work, and slippery eels publish rationales and apologia for those attacks… I will stand with Karlísima as a fellow artist.  I would hope that I would have the same support, were my own works ever defaced.

The manager of Mama Ayesha’s, Amir Abu-El-Hawa, has set up a GoFundMe page to raise the money necessary to restore the damaged mural; the goal is to raise $4,000 dollars. At the time of this writing, $3,285 dollars have been raised. Please join me and contribute whatever you can to the restoration of Karlísima’s Presidential Mural.

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UPDATE - 8/12/2015: Craig Brown contacted me on August 11th. As the co-founder of Common Dreams, Mr. Brown directs the editorial content and daily operations of the online publication. He surprised me by writing: “I completely agree with your ‘In Defense of Art & Artists,’” and claimed that since he had not seen nor approved the Paint Balls article by Sam Husseini, its publication was an oversight. To his credit, Brown asked permission to reprint my essay as a rebuttal to Husseini’s piece. In Defense of Art & Artists was republished on Common Dreams on Aug. 12, 2015.

In his e-mail to me, Brown noted that his late wife and fellow Common Dreams founder Lina Newhouser, was also a founder of the Alliance for Cultural Democracy (ACD), and that she would have been infuriated by Husseini’s screed. The ACD was a national arts activism group that organized around issues of cultural democracy from 1982 to 1994. Readers should carefully review the ACD’s Declaration of Cultural Human Rights that was written in 1996.