Mar 6, 2014

Jose Orozco:The Beefcake Murals of Mexico and New Hampshire

After the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), a number of artists tried to restore the Mexican national identity through muralismo, distilling their anxieties over modernism, industrialization, human suffering, and war into huge murals.

Jose Orozco (1883-1949) was the most prolific of the muralistas, painting murals primarily in schools all over Mexico and the United States. He was also the adept at beefcake,  using muscular men to signify what is important and valuable in the human spirit.

Many of his works criticize the Mexican Revolution, and are regularly censored or dismissed by the Mexican government.

Others use more universal themes, such as "Prometheus," the Greek god who brought wisdom to humanity (in the Frary Dining Hall at Dartmouth College).

He often used arcane, mystical symbolism, tying him into the Western hermetic tradition where homoerotic activity was a conduit to godhood. For instance, "Omnisciencia," ("Omniscience," 1925), in the the Casa de los Azulejos  in Mexico City, shows an ecstatic male figure, rays of power shooting from his torso, flanked by nude male and female figures who are being manipulated by half-hidden gods.

"Civilization The Coming of Quetzalcoatl" (at the Hood Museum) is a homoerotic masterpiece, combining Western esoteric and traditional Mesoamerican motifs.  It shows five ancient Mesoamerican priests holding down a naked, muscular sacrificial victim, the knife posed like a phallus, with the Aztec god approaching as if he intends a sexual assault.

No indication if Orozco was gay.  He was married, with three children, but during his era, many gay people married.

The best place to see his murals is in the Orozco Room at the Hood Museum, on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire (about 2 hours north of Boston).