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"Collective Suicide" by David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1936 | MoMA Education
- Hi, my name is Lisa Libicki. I'm a School Programs Educator here at MoMa. This is Collective Suicide by David Alfaro Siqueiros. So usually when I bring students here they immediately notice the sort of top two thirds of the painting and how sort of crazy the paint application is. They notice these applied panels. Looking at this set of figures students immediately notice they're on horseback, they have weapons, the coloring suggests a sense of armor that they're wearing, and helmets. We see a second population of figures. You notice that they have weapons too, but they're not directly engaging in battle with this group rather the weapons have been turned on themselves and we start noticing blood and that they seem to be committing suicide as the title also explains. All these observations together start building this very social and politically minded conversation about okay, why are they doing this? And whether or not they've studied 17th century Mexican Spanish history they can get sort of like a generalized notion of like two civilizations in conflict. So I think this piece really resonates with students. One of the reasons I think has to do with sort of the form of the painting. I like to introduce the idea that Siqueiros really felt that if you're going to be talking about radical social and political sort of themes content-wise then you're method of producing that image should be equally radical. Secondly, on sort of like a different note, is like hey, this guy was so politically engaged. He fought in the Mexican Revolution, he went over to Spain and was about to at this moment when he painted this, fight in Spain's Civil War. And yet, in the 1930's did he choose to paint about any of those things? No. Instead he reflected back on this incident from the 1600's. And I think students find that sort of curious, I find that sort of curious, and we start to have a discuss about why would you do that? What would be the value to kind of reflect on contemporary ideas and situations and concerns by reflecting back on past issues? And I think that's something that really almost like challenges them and really makes their brains turn in new directions.