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"Collective Suicide" by David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1936 | MoMA Education

A MoMA educator discusses how she teaches "Collective Suicide" by David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1936. Visit MoMA Learning for more teaching and learning resources. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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  • hopper cool style avatar for user ☣Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☢ Ŧeaçheя  Simρsoɳ ☢Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☣
    So is it just me or does this work have a distinctly Jackson Pollock feel in the middle there? I know this was way before his time, but is it possible this was an early influence? Thanks, T.S.
    (7 votes)
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    • piceratops seed style avatar for user agus marquez
      good catch! Jackson Pollock was actually part of a core group of artists that was working in Siqueiros' Experimental workshop in New York during that year. A lot of the work that was done within this workshop was done so through experimentation with the new materials available, one of them being lacquer (the same medium that Pollock used for much of his work, if not all). The methods that came out of this workshop, such as "dripping, pouring, and splattering the paint on the painting panel...poured directly from the can or dripped from a stick," are all methods that we later see in Pollock's explosive style.
      (1 vote)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user John Lee
    What does MoMA stand for?
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user John Lee
    How do artists name their paintings?
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Reyna
      Some artists name their paintings that reflect on the story it is trying to tell the audience. "Starry Night" by Van Gough, is literally the night sky. Or, this painting "Collective Suicide", is about the a civilization turning the weapons against themselves committing suicide. Since it is a lot of people, its almost "collective".
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Indie's point bot
    Is this art sort of a classic?
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user Kimberly Hemphill
    I'm curious now--where DO painters put the titles of their paintings? Is it written on the back? Or does the artist just tell people the title?
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Nicole
    To me, the picture says that starting war is equal to using the weapons against yourself. But I don't know anything about the historical context of this, so maybe this wasn't the message at all. Does anyone something about that ?
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Video transcript

- 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.