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David Alfaro Siqueiros. Collective Suicide. 1936

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David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexican, 1896–1974)

Collective Suicide

Lacquer on wood with applied sections
49" x 6' (124.5 x 182.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Dr. Gregory Zilboorg
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Siqueiros David Alfaro / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 172

Collective Suicide is an apocalyptic vision of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, when many of the indigenous inhabitants killed themselves rather than submit to slavery. Siqueiros shows armored Spanish troops advancing on horseback, a bowed captive staggering before them in chains. The broken statue of a god demonstrates the ruin of the indigenous culture. Chichimec indians, separated from their tormentors by a churning pit, slaughter their own children, hang themselves, stab themselves with spears, or hurl themselves from cliffs. Mountainous forms create a backdrop crowned with swirling peaks, like fire or blood.

Siqueiros, one of the Mexican mural painters of the 1920s and 1930s, advocated what he called "a monumental, heroic, and public art." An activist and propagandist for social reform, he was politically minded even in his choices of materials and formats: rejecting what he called "bourgeois easel art," he used commercial and industrial paints and methods. Collective Suicide is one of his relatively few easel paintings, but here, too, he used spray guns and stencils for the figures, and strategically let the paints—commercial enamels—flow together on the canvas. Collective Suicide is both a memorial to the doomed pre-Hispanic cultures of the Americas and a rallying cry against contemporary totalitarian regimes.

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