Review Reviews: Orozco Murals

On October 11, Professor Mary Coffey delivered the seventh annual Manton Foundation Lecture on the Orozco Murals. The murals The Epic of American Civilization, were commissioned by President Hopkins and painted by José Clemente Orozco in 1934. The Mexican artist painted a fresco consisting of 24 individual panels located on the lower level of Baker Memorial Library.
Coffey’s talk was limited primarily to the panels, Cortez and the Cross, Anglo-America, Hispano-America, Gods of the Modern World and an image depicting the “modern industrial man.” She chose to explore the fresco by examining slavery’s conspicuous absence from the fresco which emphasizes many societal evils.
Unsurprisingly as an infamous social justice warrior, Coffey began her talk by thanking the Native Indian tribe upon whose land The College was built and mentioning the slaves that built Dartmouth—some of whom later enrolled as students at The College. Professor Coffey went on to say that the context in which she placed the murals shifted from Mexican to American over time, and argued that only through the “prism of blackness” could the murals be fully understood. She said that the white man in the murals is meant to represent a zombie and the industrial man, the “Negro,” (a word that she used frequently) a characterization she initially rejected.
On the panel of Cortez which includes violent imagery of men, presumably Spanish conquistadores, a priest carrying a large cross, and a jumbled pile of human bodies, Coffey had much to say. After echoing the standard opposition to Christian proselytization, Coffey told the audience that the men were drawn to be white, and that the “flesh,” the pile of bodies, was meant to represent Mexicans, a highly dehumanizing sentiment, if false. As the panel segues into the modern weapons of war, Coffey is of the opinion that Orozco’s point was that modern states’ violence is itself rooted in colonialism.
Coffey described the serenity of Anglo-America as “relentless whiteness,” and argued that the portrayed whites were meant to look like zombies and that European Americans typified the fear of the “new woman.” Conversely, she believes that the armed Mexican in Hispano-America symbolized the revolutionary peasant whose death is imminent– a literal “animate corpse.” According to Coffey, as the only non-white person in the mural, the peasant is constantly fearful of racial violence. The only mention of “the industrial man” was when Professor Coffey said Orozco’s early drafts indicate that he was meant to be a Dartmouth man, but he later transformed the individual into a Negroid working man because Orozco’s communistic tendencies inclined him to paint for the proletariat, not the bourgeois.
Coffey’s progressivism was on display throughout the lecture, from her discussion of the “chaos of bare community” to her argument that Anglo-American Protestantism had rationalized capitalistic exploitation to criticism of the “imagined autonomy of liberal individualism.” In fact, at another point in the lecture, she said that the Negroid man could be Hispanic or Indian, since the only thing that mattered was that he was not European.
However, the most ludicrous assertion Coffey made was during the end of her lecture. She argued that the white gloves worn by the industrial man was further proof that he was black since white gloves are symbolic of black-faced minstrels in the 1930’s. She then stated Mickey Mouse’s white gloves similarly denoted that he too symbolized a Negro. While Walt Disney’s moral compass might not have pointed due North, it seems a bit of a stretch to claim that Mickey Mouse was meant to denote a minstrel. Perhaps if one ignores the mouse ears, mouse nose, and mouse tail, we might be able to see an outline of a black person. However, it is inarguable that this tangent was solely to ruin the audience’s childhood by deeming their favorite cartoons racist minstrel shows since Mickey Mouse has absolutely nothing to do with Orozco.
It is unfortunate that the College holds this un-American piece of communist propaganda in high regard even while removing the Hovey Murals to an even more remote location. It is even more unfortunate that Professor Coffey thought it fit to further racialize an already arguably racist piece of art.

  • matt10023

    Ms. Coffey would be more credible in her apologia about stolen native land if she weren’t personally benefitting from a professor’s salary and benefits derived from the theft she laments. A good test of how seriously someone takes their virtue signally is how much they are willing to personally sacrifice to make good.

    Living in New Hampshire, Ms. Coffey is free from paying a cent of state income tax on her Dartmouth compensation. Not very sociallly driven it seems. She is also free, by her choice of employer and location, from having to mix with the Latino and African American hoi palloi her heart bleeds for.

    She doesn’t walk the talk, so why take her seriously?