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UCLA

Mural "América Tropical" Reborn for Concert

The controversial mural América Tropical, painted by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1932, comes to life in a multimedia concert June 6, 2008, with help from three UCLA professors.

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By Melissa Lambarena

Published Jun 4, 2008 11:35 AM


It is a startling and unsettling image: an American eagle perched above a crucified and apparently dead American Indian. Now the controversial decades-old mural, a condemnation of U.S. Imperialism that was once painted over and only recently restored, comes to life at Disney Hall.

América Tropical, painted by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1932, is reborn with visual effects, theatrical performances, and various musical compositions at Walt Disney Concert Hall on June 6. Three UCLA professors have spent two years developing music, narration and video for the multimedia concert.

The Mexico City Philharmonic will premiere Professor Steven Loza's América Tropical, accompanied by Los Angeles Opera mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán. The performance will also include narration written by Professor Jose Luis Valenzuela and performed by actor Edward James Olmos, and multimedia imagery by Professor Judy Baca. The concert is inspired by Siqueiros' mural and other historic Mexican artists, and includes music by famous Mexican composers and a Mariachi concerto by Los Camperos de Nati Cano.

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The mural's crucified Indian figure is surrounded by a pyramid-like structure, and in one corner, one of two watching figures points a rifle at the eagle perched atop the cross. The controversial mural was literally whitewashed over the course of a decade, starting just months after its completion more than 70 years ago.

To create the music, "I really sort of meditated on the piece," said Loza, professor of ethnomusicology. "I sat there with piano and trumpet and worked off the copy that I had of the mural."

Valenzuela, a theatre professor and artistic director of the Latino Theatre Company, is developing a performance based on Siqueiros' writings. "I've always been fascinated by the mural," said Valenzuela. "It is so interesting that you can cover the mural with something, and years later it comes back."

Baca, a Chicano studies professor and artistic director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), is working on a video that complements Loza's music. Although restoration has left the mural in muted tones, historians have recreated the original color for the video of América Tropical. The video will also feature never-before-seen photos of the mural. "We're doing a video that is a digital representation of Siqueiros' mural," said Carlos Rogel, SPARC mural lab associate. "It's a projection that will be shown behind the Mexico City Philharmonic orchestra."

Approximately $180,000 has been raised for the event. Half of the proceeds will go to scholarships for young artists, and participants hope the rest will transform this one-time event into a recurring tribute. Tickets range from $25 to $95 and can be purchased on Ticketmaster.

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