In its newest season, the locally produced arts and culture series, Artbound, dives into the history and impact of one of the most controversial art pieces in Los Angeles: América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism by Mexican artist and activist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
In 1932, after coming to Los Angeles as a political refugee, Siqueiros was commissioned to paint a mural on the outside of the Italian Hall at Olvera Street. Disregarding the sponsors’ intentions for the mural to feature celebratory Mexicans with tropical fruit and flowers, Siqueiros created a radical painting about the oppressiveness of American imperialism. The colorful mural depicts the crucifixion of an indigenous person in front of a Mayan pyramid with a large eagle painted directly above the cross. Several months after América Tropical’s completion, Siqueiros was deported from the United States for political activity. By 1938, the mural was completely whitewashed.
The PBS SoCal / KCET documentary América Tropical: The Martyr Mural of Siqueiros includes interviews with School of Art faculty Harry Gamboa Jr. and alums Rubén Ortiz Torres (Art MFA 92), and Barbara Carrasco (Art MFA 91), who shed light on the rediscovery of the mural in 1968, and how it subsequently became an inspiration for the Chicano Art movement. The documentary episode also delves into the technical innovations created by Siqueiros and the many ways he revolutionized mural painting.
Significant effort has been made to protect and restore América Tropical, and in 2012, after a full restoration, the mural was once again unveiled to the public.
América Tropical: The Martyr Mural of Siqueiros originally aired on Oct. 11, 2023, and will air again on Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 9 pm on KCET, and on Thursday Nov. 23, at 2 am on PBS SoCal 2. The entire episode is also available to stream online.