1932 WHITEWASHING OF AMÉRICA TROPICAL MURAL
In June of 1932 the Mexican muralist Davíd Alfaro Siquieros arrived in Los Angeles invited by the Chouinard Institute of Art to conduct a series of workshops on mural painting with Los Angeles based artists.
To demonstrate the fresco style of mural painting, Siquieros enlisted a number of artists, “the fresco block painters,” to help him paint a mural on a wall at the Chouinard school. The mural, Street Meeting, was the first of three murals Siqueiros would paint in Southern California during his six-month stay. The Chouinard mural immediately provoked controversy as it depicted an African American labor organizer rousing Black and White workers to strike.
Siquieros painted a second mural, Portrait of Present Day Mexico, also with political content, at the home of Hollywood film director Dudley Murphy. The wall with that mural was eventually moved to Santa Barbara, California. Hearing of Siquieros’ fame, the owner of a beer garden in Olvera Street, the downtown Mexican section of town, commissioned Siquieros to paint a mural on the theme of “Tropical America.”
Siquieros recalled that the owner expected a folkloric mural depicting a tropical paradise with parrots, lush palms and men sleeping in hammocks. Instead, said Siquieros, “I painted a man crucified, a man crucified on a double cross, and posed proudly over it was the eagle of the U.S. currency.” Aware of the controversy the mural might arise, Siquieros contrived to leave the center portion of the mural depicting the crucified Indian, until the very end. Arthur Millier, the art critic for the Los Angeles Times recalls that the night before the unveiling of the mural, “I found Siquieros sweating in an undershirt in the cold air, sitting on a scaffold, painting for dear life the peon bound to a double cross.”
The América Tropical mural was unveiled on October 9, 1932. According to Siquieros it depicted U.S. imperialism in Latin America, “It was the mural of a Mexican artist who had fought in the Revolution, who knew that his first duty, before aesthetic concerns, was to fulfill the expression of his ideology.” Within a week the mural was whitewashed because of the controversial content.
Siqueiros’ visa was not renewed and he was forced to leave the country. The mural remained whitewashed for almost forty years until the effects of the wind and sun eating away at the whitewash made the images once more visible. In 1970, Jesús TreviZo produced a documentary about the history of the mural for public television station KCET which brought the mural to the consciousness of a whole generation of Chicano/a muralists.
THE 30 MINUTE DOCUMENTARY “AMÉRICA TROPICAL,” WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY JESÚS TREVIÑO, IS AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE FROM THE CINEMA GUILD. VISIT: www.thecinemaguild.com