"But for me," Siqueiros says in the documentary, " 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments."
Visit the America Tropical Interpretive Center
America Tropical Interpretive Center is located in the heart of Olvera Street.
125 Paseo de La Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Winter mural viewing hours: 10am- 12pm
By Ginette Rondeau, Arts and Culture
David Alfaro Siqueiros, who died in 1986, was one of the "Tres Grandes," Mexico's Big Three muralists (along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco) who help establish the Mexican mural movement of the 1930's that endures to this day in the United States, as well as, Mexico.
Upon his expulsion from Mexico in 1932 for radical political militancy, David Alfaro Siqueiros came to Los Angeles for six months. During that brief time, he completed three murals. The first, "Street Meeting," was painted at the Chouinard School of Art, where he taught a class on fresco painting.
He painted the last mural, "Portrait of Present Day Mexico" (which still exists), at a home in Pacific Palisade. But Siqueiros' most important mural in Los Angeles was his second -- "Tropical America." The powerful political statement was executed along the exterior of the second floor of Olvera Street’s Italian Hall, where the Plaza Art Center was located.
F.K. Ferenz, the director of the Plaza Art Center, suggested the mural’s title. Along with Los Angeles Public Library muralist Dean Cornwall, Ferenz, sponsored the work. Commercial companies donated paint, cement, mechanical equipment and wood for the scaffold. Siqueiros was assisted by approximately 20 artists known as the Bloc of Mural Painters and began the mural in mid-August.
Working primarily at night, he painted with an airbrush after the design had been outlined on the wall with a projector. The fresco, made of cement rather than the traditional plaster, was completed the night before its dedication on October 9, 1932.
The central visual and symbolic focus of the piece is an Indian peon, representing oppression by U.S. imperialism, is crucified on a double cross-capped by an American eagle. A Mayan pyramid in the background is overrun by vegetation, while an armed Peruvian peasant and a Mexican campesino (farmer) sit on a wall in the upper right corner, ready to defend themselves.
Siqueiros’ allegorical depiction of the struggle against imperialism wasn’t a comfortable topic for the Downtown L.A. business and political establishment. It was also an uncomfortable topic for societal matron Christine Sterling, Olvera Street’s leading promoter, possibly because it did not conform to her image of Olvera Street as a docile and tranquil Mexican village. Unfortunately for the artists, the conservative politics of the era triumphed over artistic expression, and within six months a section of the mural visible from Olvera Street was painted out. Within a year, the work was completely covered.
Virtually forgotten for years, the mural was rediscovered in the late 1960s when the whitewash began to peel off, revealing Siqueiros’ hidden yet still powerful statement. However, the mural was severely damaged from the exposure to the sun. A plywood cover was installed in 1982 to prevent further deterioration. The mural is now going through the process of conservation.
In executing this work, along with his other murals in Los Angeles, Siqueiros used mechanical equipment, such as his extensive use of the airbrush, for the first time. "Tropical America," ("La América Tropical") is also significant in Siqueiros's development as an artist, for it was his first outdoor mural. Most importantly, it was the first large-scale mural in the United States that created a public space by being painted on an ordinary exterior wall. So unusual was its location that at its dedication, Dean Cornwell predicted: "it would stimulate the execution of murals on similar blank walls." But it took the political and social upheavals of the Vietnam War and the Chicano Civil Rights movement 35 years later for the prophecy be realized. For when murals began appearing in urban neighborhoods across the nation during the 1960's, Tropical America acquired its most far-reaching significance by becoming their predecessor and prototype.