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Murals of revolutionary Nicaragua live on today

NSC News | Friday, 15 December 2017 |

Mural depicting the history of Nicaragua, Ministry of Education, Managua

Mural depicting the history of Nicaragua, Ministry of Education, Managua

Murals of revolutionary Nicaragua live on today

John Kotula, US artist and writer who lives in Managua, describes the remarkable artistic phenomena of murals that swept across Sandinista Nicaragua in the 1980s.

In the days of ‘new Nicaragua’ the arts were an integral part of the popular revolution. There are more than 300 documented examples of revolutionary murals of the time, portraying historical struggles and the vision of the future.  Many were painted by international brigades of cultural workers who went to Nicaragua in support for the new government and to join in the efforts to solidifying the revolutionary vision.

The murals functioned as the people’s billboards. Instead of peddling products, however, they represented ideals: literacy, anti-imperialism, national sovereignty, women’s rights, and solidarity. They also documented the abuses of the dictator Somoza and US imperialism, often with graphic imagery.

Reflecting the context of the time, the murals made no apology for armed revolution. An example is a mural in Esteli, which reads “Los Derechos se tomen, no se piden. Se arrancan, no se mendigar.” (You don’t ask for rights, you take them. Don’t beg, get going.)

The quality of the murals varied greatly from the primitive to works rivalling the Mexican masterpieces of Diego Rivera. However, taken as a whole, El Muralismo de Nicaragua was recognised early and consistently as a cultural movement of global significance.

This recognition took on added urgency after the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinistas when the US backed government  began to systematically destroy this heritage. There is little doubt that the US indirectly supported these vandalistic acts - an act equivalent to book burning.

"The new government may remove images of Sandino from the walls, the ramparts and the electric posts, but not from the hearts of the people, because Sandino lives,” once said Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardinal.

Muralismo is not just a historic movement but also a living art form in Nicaragua today. Organisations such as Movimiento Cultural Leonel Rugama are continuing the tradition by creating politically informed street art, as well as training young artists. As in the 80s, the rich political dialogue that is part of the Nicaraguan character, continues to take place in public spaces across the nation.

Murals are also sometimes used as educational tools for communities, particularly in areas where literacy rates are relatively low. In Nicaragua murals have proven to be a medium of people's revolution across generations.

John Kotula and the US based Alliance for Global Justice are planning an artists’ trip to Nicaragua in summer 2018. For further information contact johnkotulapchn@yahoo.com

For information on the Funarte, an Esteli based art organisations working with children and young people, see http://www.funarte.org.ni


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