We are grateful to Dr. Irene Herner Reiss for her assistance cataloguing this work.
In 1932, Siqueiros left Los Angeles, California, where he had been living as a political exile for nearly seven months, due to his communist activism in Mexico. During this period, he painted three murals with a team of collaborators that included several young artists and Disney animators, thus quickly becoming a pioneering figure in the city’s burgeoning street mural movement. In the second mural at Olvera St. Plaza, the cradle of the city of Los Angeles, he painted a crucifixion but with Christ depicted as a Mexican laborer under the image of the American eagle from the U.S. dollar bill. Following that incident, his American visa was not renewed and he and Blanca Luz, his second wife, and her son were forced to leave the United States immediately. At the end of November they embarked on the Nylus, for a long trip to Uruguay. In Uruguay, and later in Argentina, where he traveled a few months later, Siqueiros adopted the same agenda against racism and discrimination he had pursued as part of his membership in the Los Angeles Communist Reed Club.
Three years earlier, in 1929, Siqueiros had helped create the Latin American Union Confederation, and presented its inaugural speech in Montevideo. From Uruguay, he then traveled to Buenos Aires to attend the first Latin American Communist Conference. Siqueiros played an important role in the conference, as the Mexican delegation included other leaders who were unable to travel due to the government’s repressive policies against members of the Mexican Communist Party. It was during this earlier trip that Siqueiros met his great love, Blanca Luz Brum. A beautiful young woman, Brum was a writer and a poet, who also claimed to be the niece of Baltasar Brum, the Uruguayan president who in 1933 chose to commit suicide rather than surrender his power to the fascist dictator Gabriel Terra.
Siqueiros’ commitment to the cause against war and fascism is evident in Allegory with María Ilarráz Miranda de Terra. The central image is the figure of a woman wearing a necklace with a swastika pendant. She is the accomplice wife of President Gabriel Terra the leader of a coup d’état against Baltasar Brum’s democratic government. She is indifferent to the symbols of discrimination, treason and war that surround her. Siqueiros paints this important work precisely the same year as Hitler came to power in Germany.
Here Siqueiros’s anti-fascist views are made apparent through this allegory of international totalitarianism. The painting reveals many of the elements Siqueiros developed later in his paintings of the 1930s, in particular in his mural cycle at the Electrician Union in Mexico City—Portrait of the Bourgeoisie, painted at the end of the decade and the outbreak of World War II.
The woman’s black dress suggests the influence of the cinematographic and animation lessons learned from his interaction with Disney cartoonists at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles where he had been teaching as well as his interest in Hollywood films. The circular hem sets in motion the concentric rhythm of the composition, with the other figures situated around the central figure. Especially important is the image of the hanged black man to her side, a direct reference to the images of racism and torture he and other members of his Bloc of Painters were preparing for an exhibition at the Reed Club in Los Angeles. Their goal was to create journalistic paintings. Each artist produced his own visual report on racism. They criticized in particular the recent Scottsboro trial in Alabama, a case in which nine young black men were unjustly accused and sentenced on charges of raping a white woman. On the night of Sunday February 13, 1933, with Siqueiros in Montevideo, the police raided the artists’ work space in Los Angeles and destroyed all of the paintings.
It was also during this second trip to Uruguay that Siqueiros painted another highly politically-charged work, Proletarian Victim (1933), now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Yet, it is in this present work where Siqueiros not only paints an allegory of dictatorship but also augurs the massive killings in Europe that were soon to come. It is important to note that Allegory with María Ilarráz Miranda de Terra reflects Siqueiros feelings about the Communist Party prior to 1935, when the party expanded its policies and became The Popular Front Against War and Fascism. This Front included both communist militants as well as those who fought against fascism and war. At that moment Roosevelt and Stalin were allies against the Nazi-fascist governments in Europe.
One of the main symbols in the portrait is the Phrygian beret pierced by a spear, a reference to the betrayal of the universal principles of democracy. Along the upper left a Nazi flag appears leading an army of miniature soldiers. The depiction of masses marching is a fundamental signifier in Siqueiros’ work, and reappears as the subject of ¡No More, Stop the War! (1936, whereabouts currently unknown), and is also a central motif in Portrait of the Bourgeoisie depicting the Nazi army. From this point onwards the marching masses would become a recurring visual motif.
The dark background is painted in various layers of black and brown, projecting the symbolic elements of the horror to come. This mysterious and theatrical scenario signifying the inevitability of war would be developed further in 1936 in the powerful image of the whore giving birth to Hitler, Mussolini and Hearst in Birth of Fascism, and then as a cosmic explosion in other epic works painted in New York between 1936-37, including Collective Suicide (1936, Museum of Modern Art, New York).
Painted in a realistic manner, in an almost caricature-like style, Siqueiros separates each of the elements or symbols in the composition as if classifying them independently. The latter is evocative of the metaphysical geometric figures in the work of the Italian futurist Carlo Carrà whom Siqueiros knew well. This historically important allegory of fascism and war demonstrates that today as yesterday indifference to the people’s needs, despotism, discrimination and warfare are fundamental to tyrannical governments.
Dr. Irene Herner Reiss