DAVID ALFARO SIQUEIROS (in Spanish): ANNOUNCER: David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Artist, revolutionary, forced into exile.
LUIS GARZA: His politics and art were one.
He depicted the human condition, and sometimes that offends people.
ANNOUNCER: A controversial figure with a powerful legacy.
"Siqueiros: Walls of Passion," on Doc World.
♪ SIQUEIROS (in Spanish): ♪ CHRIS FULTON: Siqueiros was a major figure in what's known as the Mexican mural movement.
He became a symbol of an artist who fights always for the cause of social justice.
♪ GREGORIO LUKE: For many years, the figure of Siqueiros has been practically banished from art books, perhaps because of his politics.
♪ FULTON: Siqueiros had a very enduring effect in Los Angeles.
His mural activity here inspired the Chicano mural movement.
JUDY BACA: Many of us muralists began to look at this work.
It began to say to us, "Paint the streets.
This is the way we can tell our story."
♪ GARZA: His politics and art were one.
He depicted the human condition, and sometimes that offends people.
♪ ♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): My family was distinguished, professional.
We were three children growing up in Mexico City.
♪ My father was Cipriano Alfaro, a fervent Catholic, who left his family ranch at a young age to study law and then became a respected attorney.
He always dressed like a gentleman and loved all things French.
♪ My mother died when I was a toddler, so for a time, my brother, my sister, and I moved to live with my father's parents, in the Northern state of Chihuahua.
♪ My grandfather was rough, terrifying.
He claimed that children must be educated with a tight fist, and there was nothing worse than having a sissy in the family.
FULTON: Siqueiros's grandfather had been a heroic guerrilla fighter in the 1860s, when Mexico was fighting off a French invasion, and gave Siqueiros a spirit of rebellion and independence that Siqueiros retained for the rest of his life.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): When I was nine or ten, a painter came to decorate the walls of our house.
He was very Bohemian and wore a cape.
I was fascinated by him and could spend hours watching him paint.
Siqueiros starts to paint, inspired by him, and he imitates not just the art that he does, but also the way that he dresses and he acts.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Every day, as soon as the painters arrived, I would sit by their side, watching their every move, practicing their fine brushstrokes.
♪ For my first oil painting, I took a card with an illustration of The Virgin of the Chair by Raphael, and I copied it.
♪ My father disapproved of the unconventional ways my grandfather was raising us, so he took us to live with him in Mexico City.
And when I turned 14, I became a student at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria and attended the Art Academy in the evenings.
This was just as the winds of the revolution were beginning to blow.
(crowd shouting) I found myself joining a student protest-- you can imagine how this irritated my father-- and then I became caught up in the strikes, alongside my fellow art students.
I was there as the revolution was born.
Over 200 of my fellow students at the Art Academy were thrown in jail-- me included.
(cannon firing) Many were also killed.
(gunshots, explosions) ♪ (in Spanish): SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I was 17 when I joined the Constitutional Army.
♪ As soldiers, we traveled all around our country, and I met many different Mexicans.
I learned who we were really fighting for.
♪ It was then that I became a "citizen artist."
I realized art had to capture the struggle of our people.
(gunshots, explosions) And I saw our people die-- peasants, workers, artisans-- right before my eyes.
(gunshots, men shouting) It's for them we became revolutionaries.
(in Spanish): (people cheering, bell tolling) (cheering continues) GRACIELA "GACHITA" AMADOR (dramatized): I met David just as the fighting ended in Mexico.
Instantly, we fell madly in love and rushed to be married at the justice of the peace.
I was shy and soft-spoken, while David was outgoing and boastful.
He would embarrass me, kissing me in public, and flying into a jealous rage if anyone so much as looked at me.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I was finally able to start painting again.
And then I realized that in order for me to grow as a painter, I had to continue my artistic studies in Europe.
I knew our government had no special budget for art students, but my friends in the army had all received some cash compensation for their service, so I asked, too.
♪ AMADOR (dramatized): After knocking on many doors, he arrived home with a sack of gold and an appointment to Paris as an aide to military attachés.
♪ (in Spanish): ♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I knew all about Diego Rivera before we arrived in France.
He was our most famous Mexican painter.
We called him "Don Diego."
He had been working in Paris throughout our revolutionary period.
♪ We spent hours together talking about Mexico and the war.
I was around him a great deal, so I studied his work and I heard all about his ideas.
Most important to me was his full theory of modern art.
LUKE: Diego Rivera introduces him to avant-garde art, to the world of Picasso, to the idea of the Futurists, and also to the great Masters of the Renaissance.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): As I traveled for work all around Europe, I began to see how these great religious masterpieces were actually public art in their own time-- created to educate and speak directly to the people.
Diego and I both loved these monumental works, and soon, our interest in easel painting faded away.
At the center of our vision was the idea of public art: art made about the people and for the people.
We believed art could be greater than it had ever been.
LUKE: Siqueiros writes a manifesto in which he talks about public art, about rejecting an art that is for the wealthy, of pursuing an art that is for everybody.
So, we can see that almost from the very beginning, Siqueiros has this idea that art should reach the people, that it should have a social mission, in addition to an aesthetic one.
♪ AMADOR (dramatized): We received a cable from Presidente Obregón's new minister of education inviting David to return to Mexico City and paint murals to celebrate our new post-revolutionary society.
We were both so excited to go home!
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Of course, I shared the government's vision for a big, public art project that was made available for everyone to see and enjoy.
♪ A group of us painters were assigned to the mural project at the preparatory school.
♪ We divided the walls among us as if dividing a piece of bread.
Diego Rivera painted a symbol of poetry, of dance.
José Clemente Orozco painted a religious matron inspired by Botticelli.
The symbols I focused on at first were water, wind, and fire-- very elemental, but also broadly spiritual to our people.
LUKE: Suddenly, the public walls of Mexico are canvases for these young artists to paint, and to paint what the country had just lived, which is the revolution.
♪ MIGUEL ANGEL CORZO: It was a wonderful way of educating people about their history in a very easy and accessible manner.
You didn't have to go to a museum to see a piece of art.
You had to go to a government office, and you were faced with a piece of art that was staring at you and that was telling you a story.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): While our public art project was received very well, the government itself was not so progressive.
It soon fell behind in its revolutionary promises.
Our government was being pressured by powerful American businesses and investors, who had a lot more influence on how Mexican workers were treated or how policies were changed than we did, as a bunch of radical artists.
In response, we began to organize protests, like we did during our student days.
FULTON: They established a union called the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors.
Siqueiros was appointed general secretary.
They also founded El Machete.
And this journal, as well as the activities of the union, were radical and very critical of the existing political regime.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): The majority of the rural poor and manual workers in Mexico were illiterate.
So, the mission of our syndicate was to educate people through images.
We made it graphic, in vibrant colors of red and black, and hung it on public walls in workers' neighborhoods, like posters.
FULTON: In 1923, the Mexican mural movement transformed, as the principal members became radicalized and affiliated with the Communist Party.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): We wanted the agrarian reform we'd been promised.
We wanted a nationalized oil industry, with all profits given to the people instead of the imperialists.
But the military resisted.
They bashed the labor unions, so we used El Machete to organize the resistance.
♪ Soon, the minister of public education warned us to stop publishing El Machete, or we'd lose our commissions.
(people shouting) As artists, we did not all agree on what to do next.
Diego said, "Even if we have to sell our souls to the devil, we will continue painting the murals."
Orozco said, "If politics prevents us from continuing "to paint our murals, to hell with politics.
I'll move to the U.S." I understood the politics-- we weren't going to continue our contracts and criticize the establishment on public walls.
But we could use El Machete as mobile walls.
We could transfer our message into our journal instead.
♪ FULTON: He gave up painting entirely, and became a public speaker and an agitator for various leftist causes, including union organizing.
(cheers and applause) SIQUEIROS (dramatized): In the late 1920s, President Calles-- after he became Mexico's Jefe Máximo-- feared that our labor unions were getting out of hand.
He outlawed the Communist Party, and we began to experience widespread repression against any voices that opposed the government.
(people shouting) While in Uruguay, I met the exceptionally talented poet Blanca Luz Brum.
She was a widow with a young son and she was extraordinarily beautiful.
We fell madly in love and I had to leave Graciela.
TIBOL (in Spanish): ♪ BRUM (dramatized): It was like we were ignited by a deep, rapturous fire.
It was alchemical, profound.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I brought Blanca Luz and her little boy back to Mexico City with me, and immediately there was trouble.
My fellow Communists had gone underground-- that is, anyone President Calles hadn't already jailed, and on no real charges, just his orders.
So we hid out in the Uruguayan consulate.
But on the one day I took a few steps outside, Calles's police captured me.
I was sent to the national penitentiary for 14 months.
♪ BRUM (dramatized); While locked up in prison, David again became driven.
He painted with energy and passion, the same intensity he'd brought to the struggles of workers and to fighting government repression.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): When I was finally released from prison, I was sentenced to house arrest in the beautiful town of Taxco.
♪ (bells tolling) In many ways, this was welcome freedom.
But our little family was desperately poor, and there was no market for my paintings.
FULTON: He had to improvise.
And this was the first time that Siqueiros began his experimental research.
♪ He made his own canvas out of simple burlap.
He produced his own colors from vegetal dyes.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Our picturesque little silver-mining town was very attractive to tourists, so we met many distinguished artists and interesting visitors during my detention there.
Perhaps most fascinating to me was Sergei Eisenstein, the Russian filmmaker.
We spent many hours discussing his new movies, and he, he opened my eyes to the remarkable creative power of cinema and the messaging impact of montage.
♪ GONZ ÁLEZ (in Spanish): ♪ ♪ ♪ BACA: Siqueiros was a Modernist much different than the other great maestros, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.
He went much further in terms of looking at Modernist techniques and photographic usage.
GONZ ÁLEZ: ♪ (woman vocalizing) (singing continues) SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Without photography, artists would remain in some static, mystical state, parasites to beauty.
Our artwork has no value if we fail to understand real life.
♪ (woman vocalizing) ♪ FULTON: Siqueiros came to Los Angeles in April of 1932, at the invitation of the Chouinard art school, to demonstrate the new methods of mural painting for American artists.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): The Mexican government finally released me and granted me permission to travel to the United States to teach.
FULTON: Before he knew it, he had 17 artists enrolled in his demonstration piece.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): My first American mural was called Street Meeting.
ANTHONY WHITE: That mural was very significant in the sense that it's the first attempt by any sort of contemporary artist to paint a mural outdoors.
It's an exterior mural on an exterior wall of a building facing a street.
FULTON: The work he executed in the courtyard of the Chouinard school represented a workers' strike, and it portrayed a mixed-race population gathered around a thundering orator, who is attempting to incite their rebellion.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): The mural generated quite an uproar, perhaps because I dared to mix Blacks and whites in a public work.
FULTON: Not long after the mural was completed, it was covered over by whitewash.
♪ Siqueiros executed a second mural in Los Angeles after the workers' strike.
This second mural was set in the Plaza Art Center on Olvera Street.
FILM NARRATOR: Olvera Street.
Populated with people in Mexican and Spanish costumes, their shops adorned with gay awnings, Olvera Street throbs with the spirit of the past.
And here, one hears the soft salutations of, "Buenos dias, señorita," "Buenas noches, señora," and, "Muchas gracias, señor."
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): My patrons asked me to paint América Tropical, a lovely place bedecked in beautiful flowers, with women swinging in their hammocks.
LUKE: The original idea was creating a mythical Latin American village, where people could eat their tacos and buy their artisans' works-- all this kind of idea of a happy little village.
♪ This is a time when the U.S. is in the Great Depression.
♪ Thousands of Mexican workers that are being deported.
♪ All this unrest, all this storm underneath the surface is what América Tropical captures.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): To me, América Tropical was a continent where people of color suffered from exploitation and persecution, where they were harassed by their respective governments.
GARZA: The night before the opening, Siqueiros sent everybody home, and in the middle of the night, came back and painted that central figure.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I could never have painted just a simple, lovely place.
I needed to reveal the truth of the lives of our people and our races.
GARZA: The next day, when the drapes and the scaffolding was all pulled away and everybody was able to see the entire mural in its totality, people gasped.
They were in awe.
They were in shock.
They were indignant.
♪ The most important reaction was, of course, the city fathers and la madrina of Olvera Street, Ms. Christine Sterling, who felt that it was not exactly what they asked for when they asked him to paint América Tropical.
Because the actual title of América Tropical is Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism.
That was offensive, which is why it was whitewashed, first one-third, and then, within the decade, the entire mural.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I was very sad when they shipped me out of the country, because I felt I had contributed to founding a new movement of outdoor murals in the United States, the foundation of public art-- one that could be truly public in the fullest sense of the word.
GONZ ÁLEZ: FULTON: Blanca Luz later recounted that Siqueiros, at this period of life, was drinking excessively and could often be cruel to her.
BRUM (dramatized): David's jealousy began to come between us.
I was devoted to being his wife, his muse, his model for paintings and murals, but this primitive temperament of his, this base anger and possessiveness, began to incinerate my desire.
I came to see that the only way to save myself was to leave David.
WHITE: Siqueiros becomes involved again politically and is arrested, is deported from Argentina.
His wife, Blanca Luz Brum, deserted him.
♪ FULTON: Siqueiros came to New York City in January of 1936 to participate in the American Artists' Conference.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Fortunately, my U.S. deportation had been forgotten by then.
I was so excited and inspired by New York City-- its great bridges, soaring skyscrapers, enormous tunnels.
The city was truly impressive.
FULTON: He formed around him a group known as the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop.
For Siqueiros, this group was intended to produce propaganda art for the Communist Party of the United States.
("The Internationale" playing) For May Day of 1936, they produced this fabulous allegorical float, which showed the hammer of communism smashing a capitalist.
("The Internationale" continues) In New York, he undertook some of his most brilliant and unorthodox experimentations in painting technique that he termed "controlled accident."
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): In my experimental workshop, we made some wonderful discoveries through the mystery of creation.
When we applied simple superimpositions of color paint, combined with their unique patterns of absorption, we produced an inexplicable, marvelous web-- truly a remarkable phenomenon.
♪ Siqueiros has a deep influence in American art.
He was a teacher of Jackson Pollock.
This drip painting was something that Siqueiros really initiated.
So, Siqueiros's inventiveness, his experimentalism, quite literally laid the foundation for much of the work of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and '50s.
♪ (crowd cheering) LUKE: Now, even though he is fairly well-established in New York, Siqueiros leaves to join the struggle in Spain against fascism.
So, in the Civil War in Spain, he returns to this militant conduct.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Franco had tremendous firepower.
Fascist dictators from Hitler to Mussolini sent financial and military support for his efforts to fight against the workers and the farmers.
(ship horn blows) Many artists and intellectuals from all over the world traveled to Spain to help defend the democratically elected Republic.
I was one of them.
(gunfire, explosions) (speaking Spanish): ♪ LUKE: In the Civil War of Spain, the left is defeated by the fascists.
Siqueiros returns to Mexico, closely affiliated to the most radical part of the left.
Siqueiros was a Stalinist.
He believes that the left had been defeated because it was divided by those who believed in Stalin and those who followed Trotsky.
SIQUEIROS (dramatized): In 1937, our Mexican President Cárdenas granted asylum to Leon Trotsky.
Trotsky had powerful, influential friends, and no one supported Trotsky more fiercely than Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo.
Siqueiros organizes a group of people and tries to assassinate Trotsky.
He and his colleagues dress as policemen, come to Trotsky's house armed with machine guns.
♪ (guns firing, glass shattering) He fails in this, because Trotsky had hidden under the bed with his wife.
♪ TIBOL: LUKE: And through the interventions of Pablo Neruda, who at the time was the consul of Chile in Mexico, he avoids prison, but is exiled to Chile.
And in Chile, Siqueiros would complete another masterpiece.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): We had been in exile for over three years when I returned to Mexico, but this was not an official, public homecoming.
I was still considered "dangerous" by the Mexican government, and could be punished.
JULIE ARENAL: I was four years old.
I lived with David in the house my father built and my grandmother built.
And when he had to go out on the street, my aunt would put us in the back seat of the car, my sister and I.
He would hide to protect himself.
(whistle blows) He did the Cuautéhmoc mural, and he had a little place in the mural on the upper corner.
That was for me and my sister to paint.
So we would come back in the afternoon from preschool, he gave us paints and we painted the little corner in the mural.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Once I finished the Cuautéhmoc mural and it was well received, word was out that I was accepted again in the Mexican society.
But the challenge was supporting my family.
Very few murals were being commissioned.
SIQUEIROS (in Spanish, archival): ♪ JULIE ARENAL: I remember David walking down Reforma with me, and the taxi drivers used to stop and they'd say, "Siqueiros, Siqueiros!
They would stop for him, and he'd just be walking, and they would say, "Maestro, Maestro!"
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Finally, Mexican art was being recognized.
This inspired me immediately, and it inspired new commissions, as well.
♪ ♪ ♪ FULTON: Most of Siqueiros's murals are set in architectural spaces, where you enter in a certain door, and, in effect, you are being directed through that environment by the artist's construction of that space.
♪ And all of this can be read almost like a film as you're passing through the space.
♪ ♪ ♪ BACA: He would look at a room and at a corner of a space or the ceilings of a space, and he would disappear them with line and with color.
SIQUEIROS (in Spanish, archival): ♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I was asked to paint a mural for the new Museum of Natural History, where I chose to depict the Mexican Revolution.
♪ ♪ (speaking Spanish): In the late 1950s, Siqueiros became even more adamantly opposed to the ruling party of Mexico, and gave a series of inflammatory speeches against the regime.
He was arrested and incarcerated under the dubious charge of social dissolution.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I was thrown in solitary confinement and subjected to debilitating interrogations, all trying to intimidate me.
When they closed the door to the jail cell, I felt the unspeakable darkness.
Nothing is more humiliating than taking a man's freedom.
♪ GONZ ÁLEZ: SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I was permitted a little supply of paints and some small canvases.
But I had to paint and sleep in the same jail cell, so the toxins of the pyroxylin and industrial paint took a toll on my health.
GONZ ÁLEZ: ♪ FULTON: His style began to change quite drastically, from a very directed and disciplined style, fulfilling political goals, to a style that was much more free.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Fortunately, my friends around the world called for my liberation.
Even Picasso and other international painters petitioned for my release.
♪ CORZO: My father was a member of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico.
One day, he said to me, "We're going to go to prison, "and if we're lucky, you're going to be able to meet Siqueiros."
When I went to see him, he said, "I know you have access to the president, and you see him from time to time."
And he said, "Please, give the president this gift."
And he gave me a little Ronson lighter which had a canvas around it, and he had painted a mini-Siqueiros mural in the lighter, because the president smoked.
So, when I went to see the president, I said to the president, "Mr. President, I went to see Siqueiros."
He saw the lighter, and he shook his head.
A few months later, he let him go free.
♪ GONZ ÁLEZ: ♪ WHITE: While he was in prison, he had a dream of painting a mural in a large space which covered everything-- the walls and the ceiling and the floor.
♪ SIQUEIROS (dramatized): Its theme is the march of humanity across all of Latin America, and it represents all the oppressed people of the world.
♪ The consummation of this expressive work that Siqueiros did late in life was his last mural, a vast production.
It is the largest mural ever made in the world.
♪ WHITE: His patron was a Mexican industrialist named Suarez y Suarez, who apparently supported the cause of fascism.
GONZ ÁLEZ: FULTON: The March of Humanity is a tremendously controversial piece.
It can be seen in two very distinct ways: it can be seen as the fulfillment of a grand theme of humanity and its aspirations for social justice, a concern that Siqueiros entertained from the very beginning of his career.
It can also be seen as the end of the mural tradition.
You can actually experience it through a light and sound show.
An audience is brought into this large auditorium, seated on chairs on a revolving platform, and a light and sound show emerges with Siqueiros narrating the different parts of the painting.
SIQUEIROS (speaking Spanish, archival): SIQUEIROS (dramatized): I began to feel sick after the completion of The March of Humanity, but I didn't want to worry Angélica until the pain became severe.
♪ Ironically, I learned the diagnosis of my prostate cancer sitting beneath one of my own murals, The Defense of the Future Victory of Medical Science Over Cancer.
♪ David Siqueiros, a militant communist and one of the world's great painters, died of cancer today at his home in Mexico.
He was 77 years old.
♪ FILM NARRATOR: The world of art has lost one of its outstanding figures.
According to many critics, David Siqueiros stands second only to Pablo Picasso in his influence on 20th-century painting.
(wind blowing) LUKE: América Tropical is an artistic ghost.
It is perhaps the most influential Latino mural in the country.
GARZA: In the '60s and the '70s, you began to see the mural.
It began to reappear.
Un espíritu that was coming through.
JES ÚS TREVIÑO: The wind, the sun, the rain had worked on the surface of this and had begun to etch away and blow away this white covering.
And the image that Siqueiros had painted originally was beginning to emerge.
I thought to myself, "This is a metaphor of the Chicano movement that is also emerging."
After decades of being an oppressed minority in the United States, a voiceless minority in the United States, my generation, the Baby Boom generation, was beginning to make itself heard.
We were saying, "Ya Basta!"
When we became aware of América Tropical, and the white paint, the whitewash began to burn off in the sun, this giant aparición became a calling.
♪ It began to say to us, "Paint the streets.
"This is the way we can tell our story.
"We can put an ethnic face on the city of Los Angeles where there is none."
♪ Remember, there were no TV programs, there were no billboards that spoke to us.
There were no way that we were really present in the public consciousness as an empowered group of people.
♪ The murals became a really excellent strategy to address that issue.
TREVIÑO: Here was an indication of the direction that we might want to go, a political direction, a direction of denunciation, of proclaiming, not just affirming who we were, but calling attention to the issues and the kind of discrimination that we as Chicanos had experienced in the United States.
GARZA: And it's not just Chicanos.
It is the African American, it is the Jew, it is the Catholic, it is the Protestant, it is the women, it is... Every community begins to go and paint and do art on a public scale that has never been seen before.
Siqueiros was one artist that, in the visual field, and in mural making, was considered an important voice.
It wasn't just his art.
It's what he was saying.
What Siqueiros said then is as relevant as what is happening today, and, in fact, as the years have passed, it's become even more relevant, a timeless piece of work.
♪ TREVIÑO: The art that is political can be transcendent, and does not need to be pamphleteering.
It can be great art and still make a statement.
So that's Siqueiros's legacy, is like a recipe now.
It's, like, you take grandfather's recipe and apply it to social situation.
Putting those things together, an idea about making a difference, affecting the physical environment, and engaging others in an imaginative act, you always get gold.
♪ SIQUEIROS (archival, speaking Spanish): ♪ ♪