Murals in Pilsen

Public art is an integral part of the character of Pilsen. The Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum is an important force in the cultural and artistic life of the community. There are numerous murals in the area bounded by 16th Street to the north to the Chicago River to the east and south and Western Avenue to the west. It is one of the largest Mexicain American communities in the country. In the 19th century, the area was populated by immigrants from Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The name Pilsen is derived from Pizen, a city in Bohemia. The first recorded Mexican immigrants began arriving in the 1950's. About 90% of Pilsen's 44,000 residents are hispanic and most of those are Mexican. The immense, vibrant murals of the neighborhood suggest an immediate connection to the Mexican muralist tradition.

Mexican Influence

In Mexico, the muralist movement was spurred on by the Revolution of 1910. The Revolution had a tremendous influence on the artists of this time; provoking significant changes in the arts. The leaders of the revolution used murals to communicate with the people, the majority of whom were illiterate. The topics of art were social and revolutionary: worker conditions; poverty; and agricultural reform. The murals addressed the general problems of the worker, the indian and the peasant. The social mission was primarily carried out by three muralists known as Los Tres Grandes. They were Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and David Siquieros.


Rivera was the most hopeful and optimistic. He was not in Mexico during most of the revolution. He painted with bright colors and soft lines. In his youth, Rivera's enthusiasm for the revolution inspried him to study the history of the Mexican people. He traveled to various sights to study his homeland: its history; precolumbian artefacts; myths; legends; and traditions. He wanted to express the pain and suffering felt during the tumultuous revolutionary era as well as the greatness of Mexico's prehispanic past. Orozco and Siquieros experienced the violent upheaval first hand. Their work shows the stark reality with dark colors and harsh lines. Orozco and Siquieros painted the gruesome reality of the revolution.
 

Selected Murals in Pilsen
 

CASA AZTLAN (1974)
1831 South Racine

Casa Aztlan is a social service agency. It was the Bohemian Settlement House for the earlier immigrants to the neighborhood. In 1970, its mission was to serve the wave of Mexican immigrants to the area. Casa Aztlan operates as a community and cultural center. The external walls of the building are covered with vivid murals that represent the concerns of Pilsen. Ater a fire in 1974, an artist, Marcos Raya, led neighborhood teens to depict figures in Chicano and Mexican history. There are portraits of Che Guevara, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Frida Kahlo, Caesar Chavez, Benito Juarez, and local activist Rudy Lazano. He also included the Mexican flag and precolumbian symbols. The name Aztlan refers to the Aztec empire which once included the southwestern United States.

OROZCO ACADEMY/COOPER ACADEMY (1991)
1645 West 18th Place

This elementary school is named for one of Los Tres Grandes, Jose Clemente Orozco. Since 1991, art teacher Francisco Mendoza has collaborated with students to covered the building's unremarkable facade with Venetian glass mosaic tiles. The portraits include labor leader Cesar Chavez, artist Frida Kahlo, revolutionary Emiliano Zapato and muralists Diego Rivera, David Siquieros and Jose Orozco. On three columns are designs honoring the Olympic games, and the Aztec sun and moon gods.

ALTO AL DESPLAZAMIENTO URBANO DE PILSEN 1997
STOP GENTRIFICATION IN PILSEN
1805 South Bishop Street

This mural follows the tradition of muralist David Siquieros, the most politically active of Los Tres Grandes. It was painted by Hector Duarte and others.  The art is instructive.  It addresses the concerns of Pilsen, a working class neighborhood: jobs and housing.  The United Farm Workers' eagle symbol represents the plight of agricultural workers: low pay and poor living conditions.  City restrictions on push cart vendors, eloteros, are threatening their ability to sell their produce.  They sell the popular Mexican snack of corn smothered in butter, mayonnaise, and grated cheese and sprinmled with lemon and chili pepper.  Other vendors vendors sell nieve de barrica, the Mexican version of Italian ice.  The mural portrays people organizing and marching to maintaion their homes and jobs despite the threat of developers and city bureaucrats.  There is a message in the art.

VIVA MEXICO

The selected art displays a deep commitment to Mexican history and culture.  It celebrates the Mexican mural movement and its three leaders: Rivera; Orozco; and Siquieros.  Mexican influence has traveled to Pilsen.

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MEXICAN FINE ARTS CENTER MUSEUM

THE MEXICAN MURALISTS/SPANISH VERSION

THE MEXICAN MURALISTS/ENGLISH VERSION

DIEGO RIVERA AND FRIDA KAHLO