Art As Liberation: The Mexican Muralists At The Whitney Museum



Vida Americana is an exhilarating, expansive and immensely satisfying exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum.

Like a great and varied feast, this is a show that one must take one’s time to fully appreciate and digest; an exhibition that includes photography, film, sculpture, charcoal sketches, colored pencil and graphite, watercolors, lithographs and oil paintings, from the easel to the epic in scale.

Not only are the greatest Mexican artists of the twentieth century represented here – including Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros (‘Los Tres Grandes’) – but also many of the notable American artists who they had a profound influence on, such as Jackson Pollock, Jacob Lawrence, Marion Greenwood and Charles White, among others.

The show occupies the entire fifth floor of the Whitney, and upon entering we are immediately greeted by a large, and colorfully exuberant canvas by Rivera featuring men and women commencing to “Dance in Tehuantepec” (1928).

It is a fitting beginning to an exhibit which is at once a celebration of indigenous Mexico – its colors, and textures, its sorrows and its joys – as well as a close look at the new visual language that emerged during the cultural renaissance that began following the decade-long Mexican Revolution.

The horror and brutality of war looms large in this exhibition, especially in the work of Orozco.

In his depiction of “Pancho Villa” (1931), we find the revolutionary leader, pistol in hand, standing barrel-chested over emaciated men and women who crouch at his feet in abject terror.

In the top left corner a building is engulfed in flames, while in the bottom right a pregnant women kneels, completely naked and exposed, her arm covering her face, in a gesture that heightens our sense of her grief and shame.

Orozco’s images are among the most provocative, violent and daring in the entirety of the exhibition, which notably includes a reproduction of his mural Prometheus (1930), “the greatest painting done in modern times,” Pollock would declare.

The central figure stands with his anguished face and hands upturned to the heavens, as if he is both in the act of stealing fire from the gods to give to the throngs of suffering, desperate humanity flanking him; and at the very same time being condemned to eternal suffering for doing so. The penalty is implicit within the deed itself.

One of the most arresting paintings to confront the devastation and despair wrought by modern warfare is Siqueiros’ “Echo of a Scream” (1937).

The scene is one of utter desolation, drained of almost all color, save for the striking red garment that barely covers the solitary infant whose cries echo across the ruined landscape.

The destruction we see is the result of fascist forces in Europe – forces that Siqueiros was so determined to see defeated that, not longer after this painting was completed, he joined the Republicans fighting against General Franco’s army in the Spanish Civil War.

When Siqueiros’ Experimental Workshop opened near New York’s Union Square in 1936, Jackson Pollock was among the initial group of artists to join.

Siqueiros would emphasize the importance of discovering novel techniques and materials, and Pollock would wholly embrace the use of unorthodox paint applications, including spraying paint through stencils, as well as pouring, dripping, bespattering, and flinging paint at the canvas; in a word, “the exploitation of accidental effects.”

Vida Americana includes a generous selection of Pollock’s work from the 1930’s, including “Landscape with Steer” (1936-37), a haunting work which he created by airbrushing lacquer onto the surface of the paper.

The Guggenheim is presently exhibiting Pollock’s Mural (1943), his first great masterpiece, and a reminder of just how important the great Mexican muralists were for his development.

Another welcome highlight of the show are ten panels from Jacob Lawrence’s 60-panel Migration Series (1940-41) about the largest exodus in American history, where beginning in the 1920s some 6 million African-Americans would eventually leave the south in search of a better life in the great metropolises of the northern states.

Lawrence clearly drew inspiration from the Mexican muralist’s commitment to produce art that confronted the history of the marginalized and oppressed, the subjugated races and classes, including the experience of women and people of color.

Panel 3 depicts a sizeable group of black men, women and children walking north, carrying large bags and boxes, presumably all that they own. As they move, they form a triangle, a “V” shape, which is of course how birds – like those hovering above the dense crowd – fly in formation.

Lawrence would in fact observe that, “we are very much like other kinds of animals in that we move for different reasons.” The Mexican muralists sought to create socio-politically transformative public art; and Lawrence was effective in realizing that objective in works with the thematic breadth and scope, the poetry and potency of the muralists, but on a much smaller scale.

The painters of Mexico’s renaissance saw the potential of art to serve as a political force against social injustice, nor was this lost on their counterparts to the north. A subject to which these artists frequently turned was police brutality against unionized workers.

Philip Evergood’s “American Tragedy” (1937) depicted the Memorial Day Massacre which occurred when hundreds of steelworkers, demanding the right to unionize, marched toward the Republic Steel plant on the South Side of Chicago.

When police officers failed to disperse the crowd with tear gas, they charged in firing their guns. This is the awful the scene that Evergood depicts, where police officers use their batons to beat protesters bloody, and their guns to shoot men and women in the back as they flee.

Evergood manages to capture the mayhem, the blood-soaked ground, the cracked heads and broken bodies with frightful clarity – but also the bold defiance of the workers.

In the central foreground, a worker stands tall and resilient, his right arm supporting a young woman who firmly holds a long stick, while his left hand grasps the lapel of the officer who, standing before them, seems ready to fire his gun on the courageous couple.

The exhibition includes a large-scale reproduction of Rivera’s most famous and controversial commission, Man, Controller of the Universe (1934), a fresco in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.

It is a truly extraordinary achievement, not only for its immense thematic scale and scope, but because it grasps the world in all its irreducible complexity and at the same time insists on organizing it, making some kind of sense of the world, and taking a stand on what it all means.

The world it depicts is filled with conflict and strife – from the soldiers in gas masks marching across the top left, while just below them mounted policeman brutalize workers.

Opposite an image of capitalism’s jaded and decadent elite, drinking and playing cards, is an image of Lenin, in whose hands are the hands of men and women of all different races.

At the heart of the fresco is man, in all his mastery of nature, at the very center of a chiasm formed by two elongated ellipses – one containing the cosmic world of stars galaxies, and the other the world as seen through the microscope.

Modernity may be defined by struggle, conflict and contradiction, but at the same time we have the power to create an egalitarian society where workers are treated fairly and decently, or a society where the people are literally trampled over for the sake of a callous and cynical few.

Vida Americana is an astounding exhibition which almost manages to do justice to the breathtakingly immense contribution of the artists that it revisits.

It is the kind of exhibition that places great demands on the viewer and rewards the viewer with great riches in return.

For the Mexican muralists, and many of their notable students to the north, art is ultimately about human liberation, it is about ushering in the new, delivering humanity from the forces that subjugate us, and creating the conditions in which personal and collective renewal are possible.

Genuine art is inherently transgressive, subverting the structures that perpetuate an unfree world.

By creating an art which is at once “for and about the people,” the Mexican muralists also created an art with the inherent potential for social and spiritual transformation.


Building A Better Normal: Inclusive And Green Economies



When I saluted friends and colleagues at the beginning of last year and extended New Year wishes for a great start into the “Golden Twenties”, I was making reference to the 1920s in Germany, more broadly referred to in the western world as the “Roaring Twenties”. This was a time of profound societal, cultural and economic advances following World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic. The ground-breaking transformations of that decade were made possible by the evolution of liberal values and the power of modern technology.

A century later, when I said, “Happy New Year”, I had no idea that 2020 would go down in history as the year of lockdowns, recession and mass unemployment. Since then, there is hardly a country or person on the planet who has not been affected by this crisis.

Early into the COVID-19 outbreak, global opinion leaders were quick to define events as the “new normal”, signaling that the return of daily life and circumstances would never be the same again. Such language reflects the human need to deal with absolute unknowns by regaining at least some control and – most importantly – hope when insecurity was at its peak. From here, we moved quickly towards focusing on the opportunities presented by the crisis with regulators, corporate decisionmakers and strategists committing to “building back better”. Declaring that the crisis should not be wasted became a mainstay in agenda-setting language, allowing the concept of a reset to suddenly become popular.

But how can financial policymakers and regulators leverage the potential gains in front of us to manage or cushion the unintended consequences of a crisis in a concrete, practical and feasible way?

Despite existing opportunities, the economic and social realities we are living in are highly problematic. As the pandemic generates shockwave after shockwave, we must not forget those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who are a hospital bill away from falling into poverty and for whom the economic slowdown means less income and mounting debt. Vulnerable groups are rapidly increasing in number with neither solid safety net to fall back on nor financial resilience.

Silver lining of opportunities

COVID-19 has already been a major setback for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the economic crisis that has been developing alongside the ongoing health emergency is not only intensifying existing inequalities in the developed world, but also threatening to set back decades of economic growth and poverty reduction in emerging and developing economies.

In the short term, growth contraction will be most severe in the developed world. In the medium and long term, the COVID-19 impact will be much more critical for emerging and developing economies.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), countries such as the Philippines, India, Mexico, Argentina and Nigeria are at the top of the list of most affected countries with growth projected to shrink by up to 13 percent until 2025. IMF forecasts that declining economic growth will further reduce household incomes of the most vulnerable segments, such as women and less-skilled workers, who are disproportionately represented in the informal economic sector and currently face the brunt of the negative impact of the pandemic. As a result, the gains made in financial, economic and social inclusion we have seen over the last years are at risk.

Furthermore, national and international political processes and decision-making mechanisms remain complex, while trends towards isolationism and nationalism that emerged before the crisis do not seem easily reversed. This was also indicated in the way that COVID-19 was handled by decisionmakers in different regions around the world.

However, what we have learned and achieved over the past decade gives us hope and belief that we can master the outcomes of this crisis. These lessons should be preserved and not wasted, providing a silver lining of opportunities to tame any negative effects on our hard-won gains in inclusion.

Global convergence on financial inclusion

First, one of the most relevant lessons from the 2007-2008 financial crisis was that financial inclusion is among the few practical solutions that can have a substantive impact in strengthening the economic resilience of vulnerable groups and catalyzing economic recovery. We learned that even a simple financial service, such as a mobile money account, can make a huge difference in a poor person’s life.

Over the past decade, financial inclusion has moved into the mainstream of growth and employment, monetary and financial stability, and financial integrity. Global convergence in this space has brought a shared understanding that financial inclusion embraces the provision of safe, sound and sustainable financial services for all. It also includes cutting-edge financial technology (FinTech) policy and regulatory solutions. Resonating with both developing and developed countries alike and breaking traditional distinctions across jurisdictions around the globe, these solutions and policies are designed to respond to major, emerging, public policy challenges such as cybersecurity, systems interdependencies, consumer data management and effective consumer protection.

Although the crisis brought about by the pandemic is different from the global financial crisis, it provides relevant background and experiences for a smart design of policy and regulatory responses. This knowledge could mitigate the immediate, negative socio-economic outcomes of the crisis and facilitate a smooth recovery of hard-hit economies by reinforcing sustainable financial inclusion initiatives.


Second, we have learned about innovative policies that allow for and accelerate technological leapfrogging. Emerging markets have shown that deploying technology in a transformative manner permits the rapid emergence of mobile money and digital payments ecosystems beyond conventional banking. For example, Ghana increased the ownership of mobile money accounts (age 15+) to 40 percent in 2017 from 13 percent in 2014. During the same period, female (15+) mobile money account ownership increased to 34 percent from 12 percent.The advancing digital payments infrastructure enabled effective policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis. The use of digital payment and electronic money significantly increased after the outbreak and during the lockdown. Within a year, between October 2019 and October 2020, the total value of mobile money transactions has almost doubled from USD $5.3 billion to USD $10.2 billion.

In Ghana, enabling regulatory approaches have facilitated transformative growth that is technology neutral and gender sensitive through a risk-based approach to licensing and supervision of new financial technologies in the market. These are guided by principles of interoperability and proportionality through Bank of Ghana’s active engagement with the commercial banks, mobile money operators, and wider stakeholder groups. This is just one of the many examples from the developing world that we have learned from on how leapfrogging works in practice.

Development policy

Third, in recent years, trends have moved towards peer learning, country ownership and tailored adoption of policies and away from traditional and expensive expert-led technical assistance modes of development cooperation. Strong country ownership has been exemplified in the more than 50 developing and emerging countries which, since 2012, have adopted national financial inclusion strategies.

With this trend making an impact in many jurisdictions at relatively low cost, multilateral development bodies have recognized this demand and adapted their support to developing countries. Development partners have also realized that they cannot do everything on their own as effectively and cost-efficiently as required. Consequently, win-win partnerships that leverage the unique strengths of all institutions involved are increasingly prioritized.

The pandemic has accelerated this shift. With developments moving so fast, there is an urgent need to understand policy responses from other jurisdictions in real time, opening further opportunities for a bottom-up cooperation model based on peer learning, friendly peer pressure and peer understanding. Former geographical, economic and political patterns, such as north or south, rich or poor countries and developed or developing economies, do not properly reflect reality anymore. The future will bring new coalitions as knowledge and its practical application is scattered in pockets around the globe, and what will be needed is a mechanism to bring it to the surface to be shared for the benefit of all.

Empowering emerging and developing countries toward new growth trajectories does not always and necessarily require huge pots of development finance. Infrastructure finance deployed by multilateral institutions and development banks is indeed important. It is country-owned, demand-driven approaches that secure and maintain the political will needed to implement inclusive growth policies toward which developing economies contribute significant resources of their own.

A good example is AFI’s Inclusive Green Finance workstream. With relatively small investment, we currently have policymaking institutions from 44 developing and emerging economies working together to leverage linkages between financial inclusion, green finance and emerging technologies. The political will is there, paving the way for important policy innovations by financial regulators for a recovery that is both inclusive and green. This is essential given that climate change will be a source of future shocks that will require the building of financial resilience, especially for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Most importantly, the workstream gives voice to a vital group of stakeholders – both in terms of countries and type of institutions – within the broader global climate change debate. Its innovative policy approaches are balancing financial inclusion and sustainable growth and enabling pathways for development financing and private sector investment to be deployed wisely and cost-efficiently.

Inclusive and Green New Economy for resilient future

I am happy to refer once again to the wise words of Governor Benjamin Diokno from the Central Bank of the Philippines who, when the pandemic hit, explained that we should “prepare for a ‘new economy’, not a ‘new normal’, which is an oxymoron”. I looked up the meaning of “oxymoron” and found that it is a figure of speech in which two opposite ideas are joined to create an effect.

Considering our lessons outlined above, which are a public good, the notion of a “new economy” should be built around the experiences of the many countries that have recognized and understood the need for and have worked on financial and social inclusion over the past decade. Groups disproportionately affected by exclusion, such as women, youth and forcibly displaced persons, should be the focus when emergency and recovery responses are brought underway. Financial inclusion after COVID-19 can unlock and further drive economic participation among women and youth and enable transformative opportunities while leaving no one and their small business behind.

This crisis also offers opportunities to incorporate inclusive green finance into a recovery ushering in the dawn of a ‘new economy’ that is green, resilient and socially inclusive. Building resilience for future crises and risks, such as climate change, can be achieved by investing in low-carbon economies and in the well-being of the most vulnerable. This would enable a just transition that does not come at the expense of those at the base of the economic pyramid. COVID-19 can, therefore, be instrumental in revitalizing the crucial role of the SDGs to overcome the impact of the crisis on marginalized groups.

Finally, the future of financial inclusion and a broader recovery will continue to be shaped by technology. Emerging regulatory and policy frameworks suggest that there is scope for more innovation in the digital finance space, built on effective digital financial literacy solutions for existing customers such as the elderly and newly included groups, like women and youth. Regulators must ensure that new and arising risks are used in responsible, safe and sustainable ways that break down barriers and empower the marginalized and the excluded.

If we agree that further exclusion is not an option and move inclusivity to the core of our thinking and practice, we will be empowered to achieve a “normal” that may not be “new” but will be “better” than what we have been used to due to a solid foundation in the lessons we have learned in past years. We might even be in the position to make a humble contribution to what the second post-pandemic “Roaring Twenties” will be referred to in the history books of the future. However, unlike its predecessor a century ago – which partly contributed to the Great Depression –, the decade ahead of us might show more awareness of shared global challenges and address the disadvantage and inequality of the excluded.

Continue Reading


Did Isaac Newton Have A PHD?



No, Isaac Newton never received a PhD, nor any other doctorate. As was the case of the vast majority of English academics before the 20th century, his highest qualification was a Master of Arts (MA) degree.

And, even today, an MA from Oxford or Cambridge implies no further study or work beyond the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree.

The BA turns into an MA provided only that seven years have passed since the person first matriculated as a student.

For a very long time, the normal route to an academic career in England was to complete the BA degree (which entailed three or four years of study, followed by the passing of comprehensive final examinations) brilliantly enough to be rewarded with a college fellowship.

That meant that one could continue to live at the college and collect a stipend, provided only that one didn’t marry and wasn’t convicted of a felony. The more intellectually enterprising individuals could then advance to a tutorship, lectureship, readership, and perhaps finally to a professorship (which is, even today, a rank held by few academics at Oxford or Cambridge).

The English universities did grant some doctorates, but only to very senior academics, usually clergymen. The current system of further specialized study after the bachelor’s degree, followed by the preparation and defense of a dissertation containing original research and leading to a PhD, was introduced in the University of Berlin in 1810 and it wasn’t adopted in Britain until the 1920s.

For a while after the research PhD was adopted by British universities in the 20th century, it was regarded as downmarket, being essentially a means by which someone who hadn’t been sufficiently brilliant to obtain a fellowship after completing the BA might have another shot at establishing an academic career.

Newton matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge in June of 1661. He was originally a “subsizar”, meaning that he had to act as a servant to wealthier students, in exchange for a reduction in his fees.

In 1664 he earned a scholarship that provided him with living expenses for another four years, until he received his MA.

In April of 1667 he was elected as fellow of Trinity College, meaning that he could stay there as long as he wished.

In 1669, Newton was chosen to succeed Isaac Barrow as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Newton was only 26 years old and had yet to publish anything, but Barrow knew him to be a mathematical genius and had recommended him for the post.

This wasn’t unusual at a time when the academic career wasn’t intrinsically tied to publication, or even to research in the modern sense.

This article was first published in the Quora.

Continue Reading


Impact Of COVID-19 on Future Immigration For ‘Low- Skilled Migrants’



We have all witnessed how much COVID-19 has changed the world. Simultaneously, the UK comes close to the Brexit transition period’s closing stages when its connection with Europe
will change ceaselessly.

It is high time the government took an internal look at the economic impact and lessons learned from the pandemic to reassess its proposed changes to the
country’s immigration structure.

The conservatives’ leadership election movement promoted an original point’s based system to take effect in 2021, January.

They assured the British public that there would be no route for “low-skilled migrants” (persons coming to the UK to do jobs that do not entail a-level common understanding).

Instead, they would raise the issued number of youth mobility scheme visas from 10,000 to 20,000.

On the other hand, the home office has been operating a guide itinerant agricultural worker plan, which would permit 10,000 migrant workers to move towards the UK to work on farms. Is the question, are these policies fit for a post-COVID-19 planet?

As the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was an instant outcry from farmers who depend on itinerant workers to guarantee a harvest for all their crops.

The UK relies on almost 80,000 itinerant undeveloped migrants to come to the country annually and work on the harvest. A huge percentage of those workers come from Europe.

The farmers’ biggest worry was that the workers would be incapable or indisposed to move to the UK to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The farmers’ worry sparked a movement nationwide to hire local workers. Millions of British citizens are not working and on the government’s furlough scheme making the labour force readily available in the UK.

Unfortunately, the job requires skills, and only a few British citizens have applied for the vocations.

The government needs to look at the numbers and reconsider whether the policy of confining “low-skilled migrants” from entering the UK in a post-Brexit world is still appropriate.

The idea was to give those jobs to local British workers, but even with millions unemployed, the farming business cannot employ local employees.

This work line will continue to depend on migrant workers, and the country needs t to be more accommodating to them.

If the 20,000 workers who came to the UK on the youth mobility scheme took seasonal jobs as agricultural workers and the home office gave visas to all the 10,000 seasonal workers, the industry’s workforce would still be less by a whole 50%.

The government needs to make better decisions before the issues that arose this year reappear in 2021.

The interruption to supply chains and closed borders due to the pandemic will most likely result in other organizations turning to technology, artificial intelligence, and automation, impending lousy news for migrants. The act will reduce or even eliminate the need for human workers in the industries.

Mostly the robot care workers are deployed to do the ‘hard jobs’ doing away with physically demanding jobs filled by migrants.

With GPS technology help, it is possible to use robots in exactitude agriculture to harvest and weed control.

The economic contribution of indispensable workers in low-wage jobs has been less prominent in public debates about migration than other potentially unconstructive impacts
such as effects on wages or civic money matters. If that changes, it could lead to more open immigration policies.

Suppose the COVID- 19 pandemic affects the public finances negatively. In that case, it will present more support for an immigration policy that focuses on
high skills considering the necessitate to clear the large accrued debt.

Despite the new restrictions and barriers, global migration may increasingly go back into the
silhouette, particularly in economies with weak law and health structures. In such cases, human traffickers and smugglers take over to take advantage of the desperation.

When the pandemic is over, restrictive border rules, mainly in countries with the government pursuing hard-line migration policies, might be hard to undo.

However, they will have to change how
they view migrant workers who contribute a lot to their economies.

Our wish is that the pandemic will call for better security of migrants and value low-skilled workers as significant
contributors to their economic accomplishment and sustainability.

Continue Reading
Advertisement Enter ad code here
Advertisement Enter ad code here