– Hello, welcome. Welcome to the Hood Museum of Art event. My name is John Stomberg. I’m the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum. We are pleased to present the seventh in the Hood series of annual lectures that revolve around The Epic
of American Civilization, the internationally recognized mural by José Clemente Orozco, located on the ground level of the Dartmouth College library. These lectures have been made possible by an endowment from
The Manton Foundation, which promotes scholarship
on and provides care and conservation for the
Orozco mural at Dartmouth. We would like to express our appreciation and gratitude to The Manton Foundation for their ongoing support
of these amazing murals. Note too, that in 2014 we
celebrated an important landmark. The conferring of national landmark status to The Epic of American Civilization by the National Park Service. Our speaker this evening, Associate Professor of
Art History, Mary Coffey, specializes in the history
of Mexican visual culture. With an emphasis on Mexican muralism and the politics of the exhibition. After graduate work in art
history and cultural studies at the University of
Illinois Urbana-Champaign, professor Coffey taught
at Pomona College and NYU before finding her true calling and joining the faculty at Dartmouth. (audience laughs) Since coming to Hanover
she has been a tireless and productive teacher and scholar, an affiliated professor with
the Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies programs, and the Women and Gender Studies program. Professor Coffey has taught everything from the introductory survey
of western art history, to specialized courses on public art, Orozco, Fluxus, and museum practice. At the same time, she
has remained an active and very important contributor to the fields of American art history, Latin American culture
studies, and museum studies. She has published essays on a broad range of visual culture topics, from Mexican folk art to motorcycles and eugenics exhibitions. So, I’m really pleased to remind you too, that her much celebrated book How a Revolutionary Art
Became Official Culture: Museums, Murals, and the Mexican State, published by Duke
University Press in 2012, received the Charles Rufus Morey prize from the College Art Association for a distinguished book
published in art history. And, very soon, wait with baited breath, we will have the results of her most recent thinking
on Dartmouth’s mural when her forthcoming book from Duke University Press arrives. That book, Orozco’s American Epic: Myth, History, and the Melancholy of Race, is sure to be the definitive
study on the Dartmouth mural, and set a high bar in general
for the study of art history. We could not ask for a
more knowledgeable scholar for the 2018 Manton Lecture. Please join me in welcoming our friend and colleague,
Professor Mary Coffey. (audience applauds) – Thank you. (chuckles) Thanks. Thank you, thank you. Thank you so much,
John, for those remarks, or that introduction. It’s really wonderful to be
here and to see all my students as well as all my friends and colleagues. Thank you so much for
coming on such a rainy night to hear my latest musings on this mural which I’ve been musing
about now for 14 years. Before I begin, I wanna give
thanks to a couple of people and I wanna begin by just
acknowledging the Abenaki people on whose lands we’re
gathered at this moment. I think that’s appropriate
at this occasion. I also wanna give my thanks to the museum and to the Manton Foundation who have been such vigorous
supporters of my work from the moment I arrived in The Manton, from the moment it was endowed. They in fact invited me to
give the inaugural lecture, and that was the seed
that became the book. So, I owe a lot to that
organization and that foundation. And, finally, I wanna be sure that I acknowledge all of my students, many of whom are not here. They’ve graduated and
moved on in their lives. The book that John mentioned
is dedicated to my students, because it is, as a consequence of all these years of teaching the mural, and, sort of, engaging with
my students’ questions, with their observations, and also with their
investments in the mural, that a lot of my thinking has been shaped. And in fact, a lot of my sort of original understandings of the mural, or ways of thinking about the mural, have been kind of fundamentally
turned on their head as a consequence of my students’
involvement in the mural, and helping me to see the
mural from the standpoint, less as a scholar of
Mexican cultural history, which is the standpoint
I brought to the murals, and more from the standpoint
of U.S. American politics. And that’s really the transition that I sort of write my
way through in the book. So, I wanna be sure to acknowledge them. And, finally, the book is also dedicated to four Scholars, who are also not here, but whose influence on
my work, and friendship, has been particularly
important for this project. And they are: Mishuana Goeman,
Lourdes Gutiérrez Nájera, Amy Bong, and Reena Goldthree. So, this is dedicated
to them, as is the book. Turn the lights down? Okay. So, I want to frame my remarks
tonight with two texts. The first is a quote from Jean
Genet’s 1959 play Les Nègres that the artist Glenn Ligon
has stenciled repeatedly on canvas in his Untitled
Study Number 2 from 1992. It reads “You’re turning us into specters before our very eyes, but
we’re going to haunt you.” “You’re turning us into
specters before our very eyes, but we are going to haunt you.” The second is a quote
from the Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco’s autobiography, in which he describes
his time at Dartmouth when, between 1932 and 1934, he painted his 24 panel mural cycle, The Epic of American Civilization, in the basement of Baker Library. In this account, he comments
on the college’s founding, relying less on historical fact, and more on a popular
lyric turned drinking song penned by Dartmouth
alumnus, Richard Hovey. While Orozco was wrong when he argued that
Wheelock’s civilizing endeavor resulted in the annihilation
of the region’s Indians, he was likely responding to the fact that between 1900 and 1969, despite the college’s
founding charter admission, Dartmouth enrolled approximately
30 indigenous students, many for only a year or two. During his two years at Dartmouth it is unlikely that he encountered any indigenous students
or local residents. However, it is quite
likely that he witnessed the student body’s penchant
for playing Indian. In his study of Native
Americans at Dartmouth, Colin Calloway notes that
during the 1920s and 30s the imagined Indian took
the place of real ones. In response to this U.S.
American Indian imaginary, Orozco devised his mural around the theme of indigenous priority,
achievement, and prophecy. What Orozco did not know, however, was that enslaved black labor had also been central to the college’s foundation and its early years. He thereby makes no reference to the disappearance of
Brister, Exeter, Chloe, Caesar, Lavinia, Archelaus,
Peggy, and an unnamed child, the enslaved people Wheelock
brought to the Hanover Plain, a few of whom were also
enrolled in his charity school. And I’m just giving propers
to my former colleague, Craig Wilder, whose book really helped me to understand this history pretty late in my Dartmouth
career, I have to say. The invisibility of this history within the college’s official
narrative of its foundations is mirrored in the silence on
slavery and black experience in period accounts of The American Epic. As with the likes of James
Truslow Adams’ The American Epic, which was published in
1931 to much acclaim, or Herbert Eugene Bolton’s
The Greater American Epic, a very famous address he gave to the American Historical
Society in 1933. There is no mention of the institution of
slavery in Orozco’s mural. A conspicuous absence, to say the least, in a mural dedicated to a critique of colonialism in the Americas. So, my comments today are drawn from chapters 3 and 4 from my forthcoming book. In this book, I argue that the
cycle is a dialectical image, and my students and I were
just talking about this today, a term I take from
German cultural historian and philosopher Walter Benjamin. In this mural, Orozco, I argue, has constellated the
conquest of the Americas and American modernity in
order to critically engage the cultural politics of nationalism in both post-revolutionary Mexico as well as U.S. American claims regarding settlement
and national progress. Exploiting the room’s
architectural features, Orozco structures a comparison between ancient and modern America, with the first half dedicated to scenes depicting the myth of Quetzalcoatl. And that’s this half of the mural. And this is the reserve desk here that marks the break in
the architectural space. And the second half, scenes of America’s
descent into modernity, rendered as a kind of horror show. It is through this
provocative juxtaposition of myth and history, Anglo and
Hispano-American conceptions of national history, that Orozco
situates the modern viewer. And I suggest in the book that the place from which the
entire mural’s dialectic sort of unfolds is from
the space that is opened up between the so-called
ancient and modern Americas. So, Orozco situates the modern viewer within the crisis of
post-colonial nation formation. A crisis, he demands that she take on as though it were a concern of her own as a necessary precondition
for any redemption of the violence that founded
modern American civilization. Today, I’ll be focusing on
the modern half of the mural, paying particular attention
to the first four panels: Cortes and the Cross, The Machine, Anglo-America, and Hispano-America. As well as to the supplement,
Modern Industrial Man, located across from the reserve desk. The allusion to decryption in my title is drawn from Ranjana Khanna, who argues that the decolonial work
of melancholic nationalism lies in its capacity to decrypt
the specters of colonialism that haunt post-colonial
national formations. In that spirit, I explore
the encryption of blackness within Orozco’s Epic. Despite the fact that
Epic makes no reference to black experience in the Americas, I argue that it is haunted by what Anne Anlin Cheng calls “the shadow of the lost object”, who are the buried but formative ghosts in the Constitution as a founding document and in the constitution of American national history and identity. To decrypt blackness in Orozco’s Epic I read the mural
symptomatically for encryptions of what lies without, or that is beyond both U.S. and Mexican
national representation. I’ve been aided in this task by the many U.S. American
students and visitors I have toured through this mural, who routinely interpret the figures of Anglo-America as zombies, and The Modern Industrial Man as black. These are identifications
I initially viewed as misidentifications,
misunderstanding of the mural, that I have come to see us sort of central because they, in a
sense, tap into something that’s encrypted within the mural, but not explicitly expressed. I ask how these identifications speak not only to the figure of the slave encrypted within U.S. American
discourses of freedom, but more significantly,
how they voice the role that anti-blackness, a legacy
that Lorgia García Peña attributes to a fear of
Haiti within the Americas, plays in the violent bordering of both Anglo and Hispano-America and their respective racial imaginaries. So, the modern wing begins
with Cortes and the cross. Here, Cortes stands passively
amidst the destruction of Mesoamerican civilization
and a heap of dead bodies. He’s accompanied by a friar who stakes an enormous
cross into the rubble, announcing the spiritual
conquest of the Americas. The scenario then jumps in
time to the 20th century with The Machine, a highly
compressed landscape of industrial machinery that feeds off the destroyed bodies at Cortez’s feet. Anglo and Hispano-America follow. Orozco characterizes Anglo-America as a white, Anglo-Saxon,
Protestant nation. We see children issuing from a white schoolhouse/Protestant church together around a stern school mistress. To her right, businessmen
in grey flannel suits and frowning blond women gather for a town hall meeting before a red barn. A collection of atomized persons, they stare dourly, but without purpose toward an absence at the
heart of their gathering. This is the walking dead, or
these are the walking dead, who are often characterized
by students as zombies because their affectless gathering suggests subjugated agency, a key feature of the zombie trope. Anglo-America’s grid-like order gives way to the spiraling chaos of Hispano-America. In this panel, architecture collapses as businessmen, politicians, and generals, vie for gold coins that
spill from a large sack. Orozco pictures an armed
peasant standing dead center, posed against his rifle,
ready for purposeful action. However, his imminent death at the hands of a U.S. American general
reveals that he, too, is a walking dead man. So, with the first four
panels of the modern sequence, Orozco demonstrates that violence is what constitutes community. Ricardo Esposito observed that the mythical
violence of origin stories is fraternal in nature, arguing that it is not
difference, but rather, quote, “indifference that brings
human beings together.” End quote. However, history painting
in Mexico would suggest that it is difference that matters. For those images
consistently stage a scene in which it is a stranger and not a member of the family who kills. Moreover, it is through this killing that strangers become family, joined by the womb of the same mother, rather than starting out as brothers only to have that kinship
sundered by fratricide like Romulus and Remus, which is what Esposito was thinking about when he talks about foundational fictions. And here I’m showing you just sort of two classic examples of the Mexican foundational fictions, one from the 19th century,
in which, as you can see, the Dominican friar,
Bartolomé de las Casas, becomes the kind of the
surrogate husband, if you will, to this indigenous woman
whose husband has been slayed within the context of the conquest. And then Orozco’s sort of re- inscription, a re-scripting of this
foundational fiction, using the figures of Cortes and Malinche, Cortez’s indigenous courtesan/wife/slave. And they become sort of
the foundational parents in a pairing that that
comes at the expense, again, of another indigenous male figure. And so this trope is pretty typical throughout Latin America. And it’s certainly consistent within the Mexican-American visual record. So, because Esposito ignores
the colonial theater, he asserts that it is radical equality that constitutes what he
calls “bare community” to indicate the original indifference that comprises our relation in common. It is the very sameness, the indifference of community, he argues, that propels in the
construction of boundaries in an attempt to stabilize an inside and an outside of community. Boundaries seek to
establish and us and a them. They can both confer an
identity upon the community, but also keep the
community from falling back into an undifferentiated
mass and violent chaos of an original communitas. The security of boundaries
come, of course, at a very high price: the subordination of life
to the law of the Sovereign, and or the state. This negative identification
is what Esposito calls the immunitary response
of the modern state. Immunitas, he argues, sets
up a protective borders against what is outside, as well as the threats that
inhere within community. So, a way I like to think about this, just to sort of translate Esposito’s kind of high theory here is, if you’re familiar with shows, like The Walking Dead for instance, I’m gonna keep using zombie motifs here, in The Walking Dead,
of course, all humans, whether they are living or dead, are infected with this virus that will ultimately
convert them into zombies. And one of the ways that the living humans attempt to sort of immunize themselves against this existential threat is by consistently walling themselves into exclusionary communities. And the show consistently
uses architectural forms, or institutional forms
that we’re familiar with: a prison, a factory, a hospital,
and planned communities. Those are sort of the architectural forms of this immunitary conception of community that attempts to draw a line between the self and the other in order to secure the
community from the threats that seek to, sort of, render it undifferentiated
again from the dead. And, of course, one of the things that the show consistently rehearses is that that threat is
never effectively mitigated. In fact, they are
constantly falling apart. These communities are
constantly falling apart. Both because of external threats, but also because of internal threats. The ways in which the immunitary impulse comes to, sort of, haunt, if you will, like chickens coming home to roost, the very community that
it’s supposed to secure. So. Now, Alexander Weheliye
counters Esposito’s account by arguing that, quote, “There exists no such thing as an absolute biopolitical substance, because the racializing
assemblages of coloniality have so dehumanized the colonized that they lie beyond the
very category of the human, and therefore are differentiated from human communitas at the outset. This helps us to appreciate why Orozco has lumped the victims
of Cortez’s conquest into a pile of mere flesh at the outset of the
modern half of the mural. For it is the political violence of the colonial modern matrix that differentiates and
hierarchizes humanity. Assigning the status of Man, capital M Man, to the
white Western subject, here represented by Cortes, and relegating subjugated people, such as Amerindians and enslaved Africans to the category of mere flesh. Esposito’s insights, however, about community and
immunity are compelling, especially with regard to
Orozco’s characterization of the two Americas in his Epic. Not only does Orozco foreground the violent foundation of the law through the Spanish
conquest of the Americas, but also his Anglo and
Hispano-America seem to emblematize the ordered immunitary
state on the one hand, and the chaotic threat of bare life of the bare community on the other. By situating the emergence of the modern biopolitical state in the conquest of the Americas, Orozco acknowledges what
Esposito effectively ignores. That is, the violence of the modern state has its origins in colonial violence and it’s racializing assemblages. So, Anglo-America, with its rigid geometry and relentless whiteness
presents of vision of the racialized a nation state, wherein all externalized differences have been expelled in order
to secure lost boundaries. The apparent absence of
violence in this scene would seem to confer a kind
of exceptionalism on the U.S, distinguishing it from, on the one hand, the violence of the Spanish conquest that’s on one side of this mural. And, on the other, from Hispano-America, or post-revolutionary Mexico in the 1930s. And yet, Orozco argues that Anglo-America derives its identity negatively. Recall the absence at the
center of the composition. It is neither Spanish in origin, nor like Hispano-America now. It has erected boundaries, established difference
via the Black Legend and a WASP imperial social imaginary that brokers no brown or
Catholic contaminants. Similarly, it’s order has been achieved
at the expense of freedom. For no one in this gloomy scene seems to express the
autonomy and individuality that modern sovereignty
is supposed to confer upon the members of its community. Orozco therefore refuses the exceptionalism of the settler state by rearticulating
Anglo-America’s community to the violence of Spanish Empire, which is a historical violence that is both internal and
external to the United States, and to the violence of
the political border that insists upon a difference between Anglo and Hispano-America. From this differentiation
of the American communitas into two Americas, racism
and exploitation follow. So, through his zombified citizens, Orozco seems to invoke
the white zombie fetish of the 1930s U.S. America,
when after the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation
of Haiti in 1914, the figure of the zombie
morphed into a loaded signifier put in the service of various
Caucasian fears and racism. Ann Kordas tracks the zombie through American popular
culture in this period, arguing that figures
white fears of blacks, miscegenation, immigrants,
and the new woman that’s doing a lot of work in the 1930s. So, in period films like
The White Zombie from 1932, white women are possessed by racially ambiguous zombie masters and converted into affectless white slaves who simultaneously represent the anxieties of white audiences over
the sexual transgressions of the new woman, and the
repression of her opposite, the de-sexed Victorian woman. Orozco’s configuration of Anglo-America through the de-sexed figure
of the stern school marm captures both of these fears. Likewise, his characterization
of the school children, businessmen, and rural
citizens as dead-eyed drones anticipates the zombie as capital trope that we find in contemporary
subaltern discourses that, quote, “put it to work in opposition to the dominance of first
world economic models.” And here, I’m thinking of
films like Sleep Dealer, where the zombie represents the ways in which certain configurations of neoliberal capital suck
the life out of and turn, in this case, Mexican workers
into dead-eyed drones. The walking dead. So, what of Hispano-America then? What are we to make of Orozco’s image of its chaotic violence? It’s clear that Orozco depicts Mexico as a victim of both internal
and external corruption. However, his focus on the revolutionary peasant is significant. The guerilla, as an
emblem of popular struggle and eruption of violence
without a master ideology, represents the refusal of
the law of the sovereign originating in the Spanish conquest, and continuing through Mexico’s post-independence history
of liberal governance. Without the safeguards of the
state’s monopoly on violence, society falls back into the
chaos of bare community. Orozco’s guerilla is
an Indio or a Mestizo, whose very identity as such is rooted in the racial assemblages that emerged through the Spanish administration of its new world colonies. As the only dark-skinned protagonist in the modern half of the
mural, he figures the threat of racial violence that
fostered Anglo-American fears about the Mexican Revolution. A recapitulation of the fear of Haiti that overtook slave economies like the United States and
Spain following the slave revolt that began in 1791 and led to
Haitian independence in 1804. This fear, that is, the fear of Haiti, or racialized revolutions in the Americas, persisted well into the twentieth century and was reactivated in the
popular imaginary in the US. After the US occupation of Haiti, enabled the William
Seabrook to travel there and undertake what he passed off as an ethnography of Vodun rituals. It was Seabrook in The Magic
Island, this book from 1929, who converted the zombi,
the Haitian zombi with an I, a figure associated with
both powerful spirits of African origin and the
leader of a slave revolt, into the zombie. Z-O-M-B-I-E. A reanimated corpse, and the figure we’re familiar
with in the United States. So, Orozco’s guerrilla, while unambiguously a
Mexican revolutionary, can also be read as the revenant zombie of U.S. America’s fear of Haiti, and the revolution and
revolt that it threatened. Both Mexico and Haiti were
associated with revolutions undertaken by racialized
and colonizes subjects, and both post a threat to U.S. capital and suppositions of racial order. This reading is suggested more over by the fact that the guerilla is about to be assassinated
by a U.S. general. He is, therefore, literally
an animate corpse. Following Weheliye,
Steven Pokornowski argues that the zombie, quote, “as
a figure, already caught up in theorizations of bare life, enmeshed in existential
and political zones of indistinction between life and death, human and monster, the camp
and the colony, et cetera, and entangled with a
profound history of racism and exploitation, offers a unique window to see how life is made vulnerable and violence in justified.” End quote. In this formulation, the zombie
signifies vulnerable life, helping us to see how
power is consolidated, sovereignty is validated, and
vulnerability is disavowed through the othering and making vulnerable of groups marked by race. So I’m showing you a still
from The Walking Dead, and again, one of the things
Pokornowski’s argument is he argues that shows
like The Walking Dead, which, of course, deracinate
the trope of the zombie, also demonstrate the ways
in which the very victims of whatever it is that
caused the zombie outbreak also become its victims. And that the violence
that is routinely enacted against these walking dead
is justified, if you will, by the fact that they
have been constituted as other and a threat. And he sees that operating
in other realms of society. So, in this sense,
Orozco’s guerilla suggests that racialization is how the immunitary state of
Anglo-America not only seeks to secure itself against the threats of those it has colonized,
but also the ways that the very vulnerability
of those groups, with respect to Anglo-American
history and policy, comes to justify the violence enacted by U.S. American
state against them. Just a contemporary meme about our current immigration debates. So, I think this has become obvious in our current political environment where the racialization of migrants fleeing chaos and violence of U.S. backed civil war
in the northern triangle has enabled the deadly
immuno-political reaction whereby they have become construed as the threat to the community of U.S. America’s citizenship imagined implicitly and
explicitly as white, or, at the very least, as not Latin. So the imminent death of the revolutionary at the hands of a U.S. general acknowledges this long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America, as well as the violence
enacted against poor Mexicans through exploitation migrant workers and the demonization and
deportation of illegal aliens from the U.S. body politic. However, rather than depicting him as weak, docile, or pitiful like the figure of black servitude in many filmic zombies of the period, Orozco recalls power and rebellion associated with the Haitian zombi. Z-O-M-B-I. Okay. Orozco’s Epic also engages with the contemporary popular discourse about the so-called two Americas. And this is where his titles come from. One of various period
iterations of Pan-Americanism. His rendering of both
Anglo and Hispano-America have much in common Waldo
Frank’s contemporaneous arguments about the so-called two
American half-worlds. In his 1931 book America Hispana:
A Portrait and a Prospect. In America Hispana, he
characterizes Anglo-Saxon America, that’s his term, as materialistic and
technologically developed, with an atomized conception of the person that has lost his organic connection with the land and the creative spirit. Orozco’s homogenized gathering
of men in grey flannel suits and women with severely upswept hair, suggest precisely the kind
of immunized body politic that Frank attributes to the, quote, “self assertion and other annihilation that subtends U.S.
America’s Protestant ethos.” I should just make
clear, if you don’t know, Waldo Frank, he wrote
a million bucks books. He’s U.S. American. (laughs) He’s making this critique
from within the United States as a U.S. protestant. Well, as a U.S. citizen. Moreover, the patch of wheat, unnaturalistically confined to
the composition’s grid logic gives voice to Frank’s concerns about how Protestantism has rationalized the capitalist exploitation of man and nature in the United States. It is an emblem of nature subjected to capitalist America’s,
quote, “machine culture.” His words. America Hispana, on the
other hand argues Frank, is spiritually strong, but
lacks leadership and morale. Quote, “Whatever his
condition,” Frank asserts, “the Hispano-American has direct contact with his soul and his soil.” He elaborates, quote, “If he has remained the
simple Indian or Negro the contact of soul and soil is intense and can become almost
maniacal with oppression. The Indians experience, maybe,
his archaic self-awareness as an integer of the clan whose body is the communal acre. However, elementary and arrested, it is the seed of creation against the coming of
some spiritual spring, which shall warm it, and make it grow.” End quote. If U.S. Americans are individualistic and dissociated from Soul and soil, their Hispanic counterparts, due to the vestiges of archaic life ways, the so-called Indian and Negro, is connected to the communal acre. Here, Orozco’s image of Hispano-America ratifies Frank’s vision of
this American half-world insofar as he emphasizes
indigenous popular revolt through the figure of the peasant warrior. His warrior’s resemblance
to Emiliano Zapata articulates popular struggle specifically to the agrarian
platform of Zapatismo. So, characterizing the
two Americ an half-worlds as body and spirit, respectively,
Frank asserts that, quote, “In one place there is
order that lacks life, in the other there is
life that lacks order.” End quote. For Frank, the solution to the problem of the American half-worlds
is an epiphanic union wherein the seed of America
Hispana’s spiritual wholeness lodges itself within the
sterile but solid body of the United States, quote, “Taking unto itself the energy of the body and bursting it in transfiguration.” End quote. He really says these things. Frank’s discourse is both
prophetic and sexualized wherein the violence of revolution is achieved metaphorically through the insemination
of the North by the South, or through an ecstatic sexual union between Anglo and Hispano-America. And again, I think we might think about these two figures as,
again, a re-scripting of this foundational fiction that I rehearsed for you
a little bit earlier. In Frank’s estimation, both
the Indian and the Negro embody Hispano-America, right? That’s, they’re in
Hispano-America, not Anglo-America. And both are understood to be
excluded from Anglo-America. While Frank locates
indigeneity and negritude in Hispano-America, His promotion of this epiphanic union of the two American half-worlds reveals the melancholic dynamic
of white racial formation. For this lament about Anglo-America is rooted in its a
simultaneous exclusion of and desire to retain
the denigrated remnants created in the formation
of American identity. Frank’s answer to the vexed question of liberation and racial exclusion is to project U.S. America’s
externalized racialized others onto Hispano-America,
only to conjure them back to foster the cause of American progress. But their return can only be configured as a foreign invasion, a violent
seduction of Anglo-America that at once breaks her while supposedly making her whole again. So, Lorgia García Peña argues that both the denigration of blackness and its identification
with liberty and freedom were generated by the Haitian revolution and the anti-Haitian sentiments
it produced within the U.S. Not only did a fear of Haiti structure emerging
conceptions of U.S. blackness, but it also incentivized the U.S. states, the United States political, economic, and military expansion into Latin America. A process that was, quote, “foundational to the production of Latinos as a U.S. racial category,
and consequently, to the process of U.S.
cultural and bordering that continues to render
Latinos as foreign to this day.” End quote. While Latinx identity as a category did not exist as a such in the 1930’s, Orozco’s experience as a Mexican living in the United States subjected him to the cultural bordering
that renters all Mexicans as foreign nationals, regardless
of their place of birth. Moreover, Orozco’s U.S. stay coincided with one of the high points of xenophobia with the imposition of
immigration restrictions, and the forced repatriation of Mexicans during the depression. While he may have found solace in Frank’s praise for Hispano-America, it is unlikely he could have seen himself in either Anglo-America’s machine body or Hispano-America’s Indians and Negroes. So, Orozco’s epic deviates, ultimately, from Frank’s vision of the two Americas. For Orozco’s imagery mitigates against the possibility of a reproductive romance. Rather than endorsing mestizaje, Anglo and the Hispano-America refuse it. Orozco’s gendered, geopolitical proxies intimate the end of the reproductive line. The immunitary impulse that has created two Americas from one communitas leads not to procreative union but, rather, to a thanatopolitical fate. This fate is underscored
by the following panels: Gods of the Modern World,
and Modern Human Sacrifice, where skeletal figures give
birth to stillborn fetuses or are buried beneath the pomp
of national commemoration. And while these panels speak broadly to the phenomenon of modern nation-states, their constellation with scenes of the Spanish conquest industry, and the racializing
discourses of Pan-Americanism implicate the general questions of the, sort of, death
politics of racist nationalism into Orozco’s more specific critique of history, progress, and
justice within the Americas. Orozco’s coupling of the
disparate historical events of the conquest and
interwar Pan-Americanism demonstrates that the thanatopolitics of the modern nation
state can be traced back to the colonial modern matrix and its racializing assemblages. Following Walter Benjamin, Esposito argues that the
law should not be, quote, “understood as the abolition of violence, but, rather, as the modern transposition of the ancient ritual of
the sacrifice of a victim.” End quote. The immunitary dialectic
that divides communitas into sovereign states is always rooted in an act of violence, and the establishment of
juridical order in its aftermath can only be enforced through the very violence
it seeks to banish. Sovereign power both wields
and suspends justice. It declares war, and exports violence from within its own borders, outside. Thus, when Orozco depicts
the anonymous soldier in Modern Human sacrifice, he recalls not only the
ancient human sacrifice of the Aztecs across the corridor, but also the victimization of Amerindians in Cortes and the Cross, whose sacrifice gave
rise to the imposition of a new sovereign law in the Americas. “You’re turning us into
specters before our very eyes, but we’re going to haunt you.” At this point, I wanna shift
to The Modern Industrial Man. For he conjures the many
exclusions of race populations within national colonial representation. The very possibility of
this figure’s blackness tells us something about how Orozco was navigating the color line in the U.S., as well as his own status as an artist within a cultural
project that approximated some of the most anxious features of labor under industrializing capitalism. The sequence of sketches
of Orozco prepared for the central panel
of Modern Industrial Man reveals that the artist modeled the figure after a Dartmouth student. This square-jawed man sports a crew cut and wears what looks like a sport coat or, possibly, a Letterman’s jacket. Orozco switched gears in the
preparatory process, however. Subsequent sketches reveal
that he set about changing not only the racial
identity of the figure, but also his class. The resultant figure’s
shoulders are more rounded, he dons a worker’s cap
and what appear to be the shapeless coveralls and
black boots of the worker. His face has been broadened
with prominent cheekbones, a wider, flatter nose,
and almond-shaped eyes, as opposed to the more angular features in the earlier sketch. Most conspicuously, the figure’s bare hands have become gloved. These gloves link this figure to the laboring men in adjacent panels who are also wearing gloves. They too wear gloves to do their work. But, in the central panel, the
gleaming whiteness of the gloves stands out within a composition that is otherwise a somber-hued. Moreover, they contrast
with the man’s skin tone, calling even greater attention to his racialized physiognomy. And I have to say, this is one of the most
frequent questions I get. Why is he wearing white gloves? (chuckles) Why is he wearing white gloves? So, The Modern Industrial Man indexes Mexico’s revolutionary
cultural politics and its emphasis on the urban worker. He is recognizable through
iconographic conventions that became consolidated in the mid-1920s by artists, photographers, and printmakers working in league with Mexico’s
working class organizations. This archetype is nearly always depicted in blue overalls and
wielding some kind of tool. Blue denim overalls were
also iconic features of the radical artist, who
increasingly crafted himself as a skilled manual laborer,
rather than as an intellectual. They organized themselves into a union: The Mexican Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, and asked for laborers wages
from their government patrons. They published a Manifesto in El Machete, the union’s official newspaper in which they asserted that
campesinos, that’s peasants, city workers, the proletariat, and the Indian soldier were on their side. And they pledged to
socialize artistic expression by making monumental
rather than bourgeois art. While these artists sought
to anchor their call for collective public art and the authenticity of indigenous past, their emphasis on collectively
was equally derived from the nature of industrial labor. And I think it’s important to note that they ended their Manifesto, which is largely about indigenous culture as Mexico’s, sort of, true culture, with a call for the world
proletariat to unite. So, this tells you what
their sort of political, where their political allegiances were. The union’s commitment to Mexico’s rural and
urban working classes is borne out in the
imagery of public murals during this period. For example, in Rivera’s
National Palace mural, we see a large number
of dark-skinned workers clad in blue overalls and
engaged in radicalizing acts. They wield hammers, they
strike, they organize, and they educate their brethren. And in each instance, their actions clearly guided
by orthodox Marxist principles. And, of course, Marx is famously depicted holding up The Communist Manifesto, and this figure over here is
also holding Capital by Marx. So there’s very explicit
connection here in this mural between the urban proletariat and the extent to which
they are being, sort of, educated by Marx and implicitly by Rivera, who’s providing these texts for them. By comparison, Orozco’s
Modern Industrial Man has set his hammer aside
and picked up a book. Unlike Rivera’s workers, who
are ministered to by Karl Marx, he is a self edifying individual. While the figures in
Modern Industrial Man, figure in Modern Industrial Man does not wear the telltale blue denim overalls of the urban worker, his nondescript clothing
might be interpreted as the kind of coveralls Orozco often wore when painting his murals. So, thus far, I’ve been
treating this racialized worker as though he were
unquestionably meant to be read as an indigenized worker along the lines of this
Mexican iconography. However, U.S. American visitors more often read him as African-American. The slippage between the reading
him as indigenous or black opens up an unexplored homology between the primitivism that undermines Mexican artistic indigenismo, that is, the identification
and appropriation of indigenous culture in Mexico, and racial stereotype in the U.S. The white gloves that
The Modern Industrial Man so prominently displays are not only signifiers
of the laboring classes, they are also signifiers of what Nick Sammond calls
“vestigial blackface”. Scholars of blackface minstrelsy have commented on the
ubiquity of white gloves as part of the conventionalized costume of the blackface performer. Dandified figures wore gloves as a sign of a affected gentility. White gloves signify the
absurdity of black aspiration, and within this genre they mark the exclusion of black subjects
from all things civilized. Now, Nick Sammond demonstrates how this blackface trope migrated to many of the recurring cartoon
characters of the period, such as Mickey Mouse. This is sort of the classic moment when American animation
bursts on the scene and becomes a kind of
international cause célèbre. Some scholars and animators have insisted that these characters wear white gloves because they were easier
to draw than hands. Sammond, however,
maintains that white gloves were markers of minstrelsy. As the industry advanced, and characters became more standardized, these markers of minstrelsy
became vestigial. That is, carrying but
rarely referring directly to the tradition itself. So, in this sense, Sammond distinguishes the animated minstrel, Mickey Mouse, from the vicious racial
caricatures of African Americans that also populated the genre. Both draw upon the blackface performance of African American life, but the latter are meant
to be read as black, while the former mobilize a host of ideas linked to blackness, without referring to any specific historical
figure or circumstance. Eric Lott argues that
one of the many ideas embedded in minstrelsy is a white, working-class protest against wage labor. Sammond follows that early animators too were reacting to the rapid
industrialization of their craft when they invented disobedient,
recurring characters, quote, “faced with a depersonalization within emerging industrial
modes of production, yet clinging to a craft
model of production, animators created a commodity that appeared to speak
back to its creators, and assert its independence from the social material
order of its making.” End quote. So, in early animated
sketches like this one here, one would often see the
live animator himself, or drawing his creation into being only to witness the character
slip the bonds of his control, and, as part of the routinized
script of these shorts, the animator would then eventually punish his creation for his disobedience, and thereby reassert his control, and draw the figure back into the inkwell from whence he came. In this sense, Sammond argues
that the animated minstrel becomes a vestige of the
commodity who speaks, the objected and abjected slave, and a stand-in for animator
as artist-for-hire. This is a scene of one of the famous animation studios in the 1920s. Over time, animators
lost their prominent role as named and visible artisans. Their labor was routinized through a Fordist and Taylorist process that significantly sped
up and streamlined, but also descaled the craft. At this point, the animator, or his disembodied hand,
disappeared from the screen. And what was left behind, however, was an animated minstrel, who continued to perform
a compulsive ritual of rebellion its suppression. Only now without any visual reminder of the social and material relations that conditioned his
disobedient performance in the first place. So, in the foregoing history
of animated minstrelsy, I suggested that we read Modern Industrial Man’s white gloves as a vestigial trope of
blackface minstrelsy. In this sense, he is a figure
who, like Mickey Mouse, carries the markers of minstrelsy without referring directly
to the tradition itself. In so doing, he becomes a
tense locus of contradiction between the American
fantasy of self-invention and refashioning, and it’s
frustration and constraint. And while Orozco’s figure is not animate like the
cartoon commodity who speaks, his identification as a racialized worker, a subaltern subject may
index Orozco’s own concerns about the transformation of
his art from a period when, in a period when emergent culture industry of film and animation threatened
the primacy of painting, and when the artist’s labor
was increasingly constrained by both the demands of publicness, and the whims of corporate
and private patrons. So, Orozco had experience,
through repetitive labor, of industrial art when he was employed to hand paint movie posters during his first trip
to the United States. He was deeply impoverished,
couldn’t get any work, and he ended up having
to do industrial art just to make ends meet,
before going back to Mexico. Likewise, he’d also spent a
considerable part of his career as an illustrator for satirical magazines, and during his time in the United States, he became acutely aware of the tribulations of
the private art market as he found himself modifying
the themes of his work to appeal to consumer tastes, and developing a print career to supplement the slow work
and low pay of mural painting. Even his murals were subject
to the whims of patrons. While at Pomona, he had come up against moral censorship of the male nude, and at Dartmouth, in the
midst of his project, he was embroiled in a public controversy over the content of his murals. At the very same time, Rivera’s
mural at Rockefeller Center was being white washed
and eventually destroyed by his corporate patrons. And while Orozco’s Epic persevered, it was due to the support of his patron, Dartmouth College
President Ernest Hopkins. For an artist who had,
earlier in his career, extolled the public mural as the most disinterested
form of art because he, quote, “could not be made a matter
of private theme or gain or hidden away for the benefit
of certain privileged few.” End quote. Coming up against the
limits of private patronage in the US was particularly unnerving. And I should just note, this
photograph of him painting live at the Museum of Modern Art. There’s a famous quote. He was asked by someone at a dinner party, said “What are you doing these days?” He says “Oh, I’m performing
like a clown in a circus” in reference to what he felt was the degrading experience
of having to paint publicly. And I should note that
this public performance was taking place within the
context of a museum practice wherein they were bringing
indigenous artisans in also, to, sort of, perform their culture live for the kind of people you see watching with great
interest in this photograph. So, together these
experiences revealed to Orozco that, like a commercial
or industrial artist, he was an artist for hire. He too was a commodity that speaks, a wage laborer who does not own the surplus value
produced by his own work. Despite their anxious over-identification with the proletariat, muralists were no more industrial workers, enslaved to the Taylorist
and Fordist mechanics of industrial time, than
they were wage slaves, or, for that matter actual slaves. So, what does it mean that
they so readily and eagerly identified with figures of subordination? Orozco may not have been an animator facing mechanical outmoding, however, the social and material relations encrypted within the plasticity
of the animated character offer provocative ways to consider his expressive distortions of form. That is, his investment and expressionism as a aesthetic mode of freedom. Of artistic freedom. So, Scott Bukatman argues that, despite
its mode of production, animation also represented
a poetics of freedom that is necessary for
conceiving revolutionary change. This dialectic, while most apparent in the industrial production
of cartoon animation, also structures the
production of high art. Bukatman explores the examples of Henri-George Clouzot’s
film of Pablo Picasso painting in Le Mystère Picasso from 1955, as well as Hans Nimuth’s
photographs of Jackson Pollock executing his famous drip paintings. In these examples, he argues, quote, “What begins as an avowed attempt to document the process
of producing images, instead become arenas for
the image’s liberation. Laborers who, preceded by a created world, invested with a thoroughgoing animism.” End quote. While Bukatman argues that the metamorphic
nature of animated figures takes them beyond minstrelsy, opening up infinite
possibilities of becoming, that are denied racial caricatures, Sammond insists that because
these characters were minstrels in their resting state, they thus, quote, “always invoke the thingness lurking behind being human that from which Americans were expected to transform themselves
as they became American.” End quote. In sensing the objected slave encrypted within the
performance of freedom that metamorphosis entails, Sammond argues that bondage
is the very condition of American freedom, and, in
this case, artistic vitalism. So, in what sense, in that sense we might view
Orozco’s expressive aesthetic and working method, wherein
a Dartmouth man morphs into a racialized worker in the
shift from paper to plaster, as an index of the psychic conflicts of nation-state subjecthood
in the Americas. By configuring cultural
labor’s discontents through the plasmatic form of the vestigial blackface minstrel, Orozco was giving voice
to a racial structure of feeling that can only
be read symptomatically. By attending to the demetaphorized figure of the racialized worker, his status as a figure of
freedom and possibility lies in his iconic capacities. However, as I’ve been arguing, he defies that status
more than he embodies it. That is, I don’t think what
Orozco was attempting to do is to say we can solve
the problem of exclusion in the immunitary state by just substituting a black
person for a white person and that fixes everything. It’s compelling to read it that way, but I don’t actually think
that’s what he’s doing. His status, this figure’s status, as a figure of a freedom and possibility, he defies the status of
freedom and possibility more than he embodies it. He is more like the
shadow of a lost object that haunts the national ego, a figure of reproach and self-denigration. ‘Cause we have to remember that Orozco painted this for
a very particular audience at that time, was almost
predominantly elite white men, who would be in that
space checking a book out and looking up at this figure, and being expected to
sort of grapple with him as a representative of
American civilization. So, this figure cannot be assimilated into the normative ideals
of American identity. In that sense, he might
be read as the, quote, “negro Indian of America’s revolutions, who haunts the white
zombies in Anglo-America.” Hunting, Khanna reminds us, quote, “occurs at the moment when encryption is in danger of being deciphered. It does not merely a call for inclusion, assimilation, reparation, or restitution, it calls for a response
to the critical work of incorporation and the ethical demand that such incorporation
makes on the future.” End quote. If this is so, if the racialized worker is a specter of the
exclusion, yet retention, of the racialized populations
who found American freedom, the racial ambiguity of this figure forces the viewer to grapple with the question of racialization, just as Orozco likely was, as a Mexican artist working
in the United States, enjoying the privilege
of his non-blackness while also confronting the exclusion of his racialized foreignness. Modern Industrial Man then is not a figurative subject,
individual, or collective. He is a figure of community as relation. “If community is nothing but the relation, the width or the between that joins multiple
subjects,” muses Esposito, “it is a nonentity that
precedes and cuts every subject, wresting him or her from
identification with him or herself, and submitting him or her
to an irreducible alterity.” End quote. In this sense, Esposito argues that melancholy is the very
condition of community, insofar as the term captures what Judith Butler calls “precarious life” Life is precarious, she argues, because we are embodied, mortal, and therefore vulnerable
and exposed to one another. Though we struggle for autonomy, vulnerability is what forges
our relation in common. If we are to combat the immunitary impulse that arises from this relation, to keep from reproducing a
vengeful thanatopolitical regime in the name of security,
we must convert our grief. That is, the mourning that
results from suffering violence, into a resource for politics. Orozco seems to concur, in
his melancholic recasting of the Epic of the American Civilization. He calls upon the U.S. American subject to accept the limit of its
condition of exceptional being as the originary obligation that unites modern
Americans in communitas. As Weheliye puts it, quote, “Once suffering that results
from political violence severs its ties with
liberal individualism, this imagined autonomy, which
would position this anguish in the realm of the
dehumanizing exception, we can commence to think of
suffering and enfleshment as integral to humanity. That is, not the exception
to what it means to be human, but actually integral to
the conception of humanity.” End quote. So, by asking his U.S. American viewer to identify, not with the liberal subject of Western history: Cortes, but rather with the pile of
flesh that lays at his feet, Orozco challenges her to understand enfleshment as integral to humanity, to understand suffering as not the dehumanizing
exception to liberal democracy, but the rule, and to
reconceive political action from the standpoint of
immunity to one that proceeds from an embrace of precarity. It is only from this place,
a place of of precarity, he suggests, that we can evade
the thanatopolitical fate depicted on the wall and respond to the unanswered call for
justice encrypted within The Epic of American Civilization. Thank you. (audience applauds)


  1. So what you're saying is all races need their own racially homogeneous nations because diversity plus proximity equals war? I agree. There can be no racism is a society is made up of just one race.
    I agree, we should live in tune WITH nature and not go against it because of some cultural Marxist clap trap.

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