Michele Greet takes class to Mexico City to study murals

Michele Greet takes class to Mexico City to study murals

Over the spring break Dr. Michele Greet traveled with eleven students from her Mexican Muralism seminar to Mexico City. The trip was part of GMU’s new initiative to embed study abroad into regular semester classes, and received a competitive “global discovery” grant to cover half of the students’ travel costs. The seminar focuses on the study of the murals (wall paintings) executed in Mexico City during the years following the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) until the 1950s, with an emphasis on works by the so-called Big Three: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. Murals, by their very nature, are site specific, meaning that to fully understand and appreciate them they must be observed in person. Viewing murals in the classroom in digital reproduction, while our best option without travel, cannot convey the scale, architectural environment, city context, or even the true colors of the works. Because murals were painted on the walls of public buildings throughout Mexico City, they could not be bought or sold, could not be hidden away in bourgeois homes, museums or galleries, or consumed only by elite patrons. In other words, murals became an art truly of and for the people, decorating the walls of schools, theatres, government buildings, union offices, markets, and other public sites. The subject matter of the murals was also in direct contrast to bourgeois art, depicting workers and their struggles, educational initiatives, and indigenous customs and festivals as a means to valorize Mexican culture. Mexican muralism was the first modernist movement in the world to receive extensive state sponsorship and relates directly to the ideology of the Mexican Revolution. Seeing and experiencing these murals in person in their original context was a truly amazing experience for the students in the class. Entering the buildings and the city where the murals were painted facilitated a whole new level of understanding of the relationship between architecture and wall painting, the flow of viewers through the space, and the experience of interacting with large-scale narrative images.

 

In addition to visiting many of the most famous mural sites throughout the city, the class took a day trip to Teotihuacan to climb the ancient pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and walk along the Avenue of the Dead. We also visited numerous museums including the famous National Anthropology Museum, the Aztec Templo Mayor, the National Cathedral, the Dolores Olmedo Museum, and Frida Kahlo’s house. It was a lot of walking (some days we hit almost 10 miles), but I think everyone would agree that the trip was well worth it, and contributed greatly to a better understanding of the class material, and on top of it all, the food was fantastic!

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