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Siqueiros & the Hero Priest

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One of the most familiar faces in Mexico is that of a priest with the resounding name. Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla. The father of Mexican independence, Hidalgo was shot by a firing squad in 1811 after leading a revolt against Spain, and since then every artist worth his salt has honored him with a portrait. Diego Rivera has shown Hidalgo's brooding visage in half a dozen murals; Jose Clemente Orozco depicted him with a flaming torch of liberty and counted the painting among his greatest works. The last of the big three to tackle Hidalgo is David Alfaro Siqueiros, who was commissioned by San Nicolas University in Morelia to paint a mural for a celebration commemorating the 200th anniversary of Hidalgo's birth.

In eight strenuous days & nights, Communist Siqueiros turned out a 10-ft.-square mural hopefully calculated to stir up a lively religious row. Done with a luminous, three-dimensional effect, the painting shows Hidalgo before a Spanish firing squad, one bullet-riddled hand still clasped to his breast in the moment before a final volley cut him down. His accuser is a mitered Catholic archbishop, stiff-backed and sinister, holding a standard topped with a cross. Beneath is a Spanish crown and Siqueiros' own paraphrase of the death sentence: "Excommunication and death penalty for Miguel Hidalgo for professing and spreading exotic ideas partisan to democratic French Revolution. For social dissolution and trying to make Mexico independent of Spanish Empire. In consequence, a traitor to his country."

Trumpeted Siqueiros: "The church was against the French Revolution just as it is now against the Russian Revolution.

The Inquisition killed Hidalgo.They killed him because he had exotic ideas."

At the dedication ceremony in Morelia last week, all was unexpectedly quiet. A group of 100 dignitaries marched in, stood under the mural, and marched out again without a word. Small groups of students and teachers trickled in to look, left to think it over before saying much. Siqueiros seemed disappointed that no riot had broken out, added hopefully: "The students in the university are progressive. They will like it, but wait until outsiders see it." Just to make sure, Siqueiros planned to address a mass meeting in Morelia to explain his mural, had friends plaster reproductions all over Mexico City.

Said one priest, noting that the Catholic Church has long considered Hidalgo a national hero: "The purpose of the mural, instead of getting Mexicans together as Hidalgo tried to do, is to divide them up again."

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