AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE
Posted on 19 April, 2017
Alberto Híjar Serrano
Arturo García Bustos died of a heart attack while an exhibition of his and Rina Lazo’s work -organized by Dina Comisarenco- was still open to the public at the library of Universidad Iberoamericana. The beloved maestro passed away at the Red House in Coyoacán; some people call it the House of Malinche, but I prefer the former name, with its association with the color that identifies all communists.
Through engravings, paintings, newspaper articles, propaganda for the liberation of Guatemala and for the Student Movement of 68, the small exhibition shows how this admirable couple followed the poetic line established by Gabriel Celaya, which was adopted as a slogan by poets engaged with the struggle for freedom: “Poetry is a weapon loaded with future”, wrote the Spanish Republican poet. Verses from the poem were written in the exhibition panels.
An emblematic engraving on show at the exhibition has been widely reproduced for years on t-shirts and posters. Zapata, pointing towards the spectator, with his gun by his side, escorts the written question: “What have you done to defend the achievements for which we gave our lives?” A photograph of this emblematic engraving, among other pictures from the past, greeted the grieving friends and comrades of the couple at the wake. Cecilia Santacruz, from the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana, which numbers the couple among its founders, told how Rina stopped momentarily when a ceremonial guard was being mounted around the coffin, because she noticed her partner wasn’t by her side and she wanted to fetch him.
Cristina Híjar has expressed her grief with a reproduction of the engraving next to a mural by Lucía Vidales in Santo Domingo Pedregales, placing Vicente Guerrero next to Zapata. García Bustos thought this addition was an excellent idea. He received with gratitude one of the t-shirts printed with it that were sold during the demonstrations for the Ayotzinapa 43. He wanted me to keep it and wear it, but Rina prevented it with her comradery and good judgement.
In Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas’ book about Lázaro Cárdenas, there is a photograph of this exemplary President, side by side with Diego Rivera and Siqueiros, mounting guard around Frida Kahlo’s coffin in the lobby of Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1954. A red flag with the sickle and hammer can be seen over the coffin; it was put there by García Bustos, to the authorities’ horror. The INBA director, Andrés Iduarte, was sacked the next day because of this. I managed to give Bustos and Lazo a copy of a book by Rafael Gaona, who was Deputy Director of INBA at that time, in which he tells this story from the government’s perspective. They were so worried about communist activities that they kept INBA’s top brass in their offices, reporting events to the secretary of Governance as they were unfolding.
This wasn’t García Bustos’ sole communist action. He played a major role in the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional, (1960-61), a movement inspired by President Lázaro Cárdenas and encouraged by the Mexican Communist Party, which ended up expelling all those who objected to taking part in the elections while the jails were filled with political prisoners and the democratic unions of teachers, railroad, telegraph and oil workers were being brutally repressed.
The quality of the engravings produced by Arturo García Bustos earned him wide recognition, which he put at the service of the struggles for freedom. His mural in the sugar cane mil of Atencingo was erased and both he and Rina Lazo had to flee under threat of execution. Luckily, Héctor García was passing through and he left a photographic record of the mural.
Rivera and Bustos met while doing a banner in support of the democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, where they organized an engraving workshop at a school where a young Argentinian doctor came by to sleep at night. When he became Comandante Guevara, in charge of the La Cabaña stronghold that allowed the triumphant entry into Havana of the revolutionary army in 1959, Che invited García Bustos to organize the first exhibition of internationalist engravings of the Cuban Revolution. In 1961, the maestro witnessed the trials of the invaders defeated at Bay of Pigs, and he left his testimony in metal engravings -a technique very rarely used by the Taller de Gráfica Popular.
One of the last homages paid to him while he was still alive took place during the Encuentro Internacional de Muralismo in Guanajuato, where Leticia López Orozco organized exhibitions of the surviving “Fridos”, Frida Kahlo’s pupils: García Bustos, Guillermo Monroy, Arturo Estrada. Then came a tribute at Museo Mural Diego Rivera, where a book about his work was presented.
There are some outstanding testimonial videos made by TV UNAM, and one by Cenidiap which will be premiered during this year’s homage to the Taller de Gráfica Popular on its 80th anniversary. His work is alive because of its remarkable artistic quality, exemplified by his most widely reproduced engraving, which has been adopted by people committed to the struggle for freedom everywhere. All of this guarantees the historical presence of maestro García Bustos and his beloved partner, the excellent painter Rina Lazo.
, Visual culture
, Graphic Arts, World