Siqueiros Exhibition Closes, but Leaves Its Own Legacy in Music and Poetry
There was poetry and music in the galleries, to add to the art on the walls, at the Autry when Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied closed on Sunday.
elegiac poem written by the Uruguayan poet Blanca Luz Brum, David Alfaro Siqueiros’ second wife, on the occasion of his death in January 1974. Musician Mark Guerrero accompanied them on guitar as they moved through the audience interpreting the lines.
“Por el amor que pusiste en mi alma, la pasión que pintaste in mi cuerpo, yo te canto y te lloro, y te lloro y te canto,” Arizmendi recited in Spanish, with Portillo echoing in English. “I sing and I weep, and I weep and I sing the most ancient song of mythological tragedies.”
Arizmendi and Portillo told Trading Posts the performance had special meaning for them — both as actresses and as Latinas.
“I’ve always been very excited about work that is in non-theatrical spaces,” said Arizmendi, known for her role as Rosaura in Like Water for Chocolate (1992) and as Lila Rodriguez in A Day Without a Mexican (2004). “Anything that puts us where we’re supposed to be, I want to fight against, because I think that art is all the time, it’s everywhere, in all its ways. So in a sense, to be told, ‘This
is the closing day of an exhibit and we want you to do something in the gallery,’ it’s like, ‘Yes! Let’s figure out what.’ “
Portillo, who now works mostly in the theatre but is also known for appearances in Party of Five and Cagney & Lacey, said she liked the idea of adding human interaction to a space where people are mostly supposed to be quiet and contemplative.
“The artwork is full of life, but we still think of a gallery and a museum as very static,” she. “So, to infuse it with the living body and cross that bridge of what’s gone before … you’re touching history, you’re engaging with history, you’re bringing it into the present and sharing a moment with living human beings. It’s very exciting.”
Arizmendi, who was born and spent part of her childhood in Mexico City, said she didn’t realize the extent of Siqueiros’ influence until she saw it in Los Angeles.
“I just said, ‘What is the obsession of chicanos with Siqueiros?’” she said, laughing. “My God, is he that big of a deal? … And now I understand what an important and vital part of Chicano cultural and political movement he has been. So one more time, Autry Museum and Chicano movement, thank you for clarifying it all for the Mexican!”
Portillo, who is L.A.-born and -bred, discovered Siqueiros mainly at her father’s urging.
“When I was 12 my father took us to Mexico to experience that,” she said. “And No. 1 on the list was seeing the great murals. So I was aware of how important that was to him and mesmerized by the work and the massiveness. And really, I remember being 12 and thinking, why don’t we do that here (in the United States)?”
Portillo said she can also relate to the deeply personal language of a poem written by a mature woman who had a conflicted, nuanced relationship with the artist.
“All of your life and your history lives within you,” she said. “You come to a point where you realize that the struggle and the difficulty and the badness and the pain has brought (you) to this point. She needed not to be married to him. She needed not to be with him. But that did not diminish the love and the gifts that they gave each other…. She isn’t afraid to scold him in the afterlife and to welcome him, help him be welcomed into his afterlife, and to say in a very deep way, ‘I miss you’.”
Guerrero’s connection to Siqueiros is just as deep, but it centers more on the mural, América Tropical, that was at the center of the exhibition. In 1991, he wrote a song, “White Wash,” about the mural and its checkered history. He performed it Sunday, with an added, updated verse.
“I’ve written a lot of songs about Chicano culture and Mexican culture that are hidden and nobody knows,” he said. “I have zillions of them at home. So it’s wonderful when something I write comes to life at the right time.”
Here’s a taste of the event: