One hundred years after his death, Jose Guadalupe Posada’s body of work continues to inspire practicing artists in the 21st century on themes of social justice, human equality and Chicano/Latino identity.
Posada, referred to as the grandfather of printmaking, was known around the world for his use of satire and political engagement.
The Mexican Museum’s current exhibition, “Dialogos Gráficos: Posada to the Present,” displays Mexico’s printmaking dating back from the life of Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) to other contemporary Mexican graphic artists and printmakers.
In one of his most famous pieces, La Catrina, Posada depicts a high-class society Mexican woman as a skeleton wearing a large fancy French-style hat, suiting the upper class outfit of a European of her time.
The image is a reminder that no matter the class—rich or poor—everyone has the same ending. This image, along with other skeleton figures, has become an icon for Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrations.
Posada inspired other artists during his time including José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera, who channeled Posada in the 1920s after his death.
Most of the art that was in the exhibition from Posada’s time consisted of lithographs, etchings and engravings. All were in black and white depicting images of Mexican culture and society.
A more modern piece by José Chávez Morado (1909–2002) displays a lithograph of a half human that resembles Jesus and half of an indigenous sculpture, which can be interpreted as the divide between Catholic religion and indigenous culture.
Orozco’s “Dead Woman” lithograph from 1935 is more graphic, showing a dead woman on the floor showing her chest and with legs wide open surrounded by gruesome looking women. This intrinsic piece is a representation of Orozco’s focus on human suffering, which was a reflection of the political strife happening around him at that time.
The post-modern section of the exhibition is distinguished by the use of its vibrant colors and text in its series of lithographs and serigraphs.
Esther Hernandez’s groundbreaking “The Offering” (1988) displays a tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the back of a woman with a “masculine” haircut, which works within and against cultural traditions.
The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the tattooing of religious figures is a very common gender specific practice that shows masculinity. Hernandez’ image of a tattoo on what can be identified as a butch lesbian, can be seen as exotic, provoking, and explicit within the context of the Chicano culture.
The Mexican printmaking traditions have had a profound impact on the work of contemporary artists in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Many of them established creative spaces for political and art movements.
Mission Gráfica, a printmaking workshop was founded in 1977 as part of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA), and Galeria de La Raza.
Galeria de La Raza, an art organization founded by a group of Chicano artists and community activists in 1970, was built in response to the difficulties Chicano artists faced when trying to exhibit their work in mainstream art museums.
Today, Posada’s legacy lives on as the Mission prepares to celebrate Día de Los Muertos with art inspired by the grandfather of printmaking himself.