The first major modern art movement in Latin America was Mexican muralism, which featured largescale murals painted on the wall surfaces of public buildings. One of the most persistent strands in Latin American art in the last 80 years has been an engagement with political and social issues, including the struggle for social justice. This in turn has been accompanied by a desire for authentic forms of selfexpression and freedom from cultural dependency. Although these preoccupations have taken many different forms, Mexican muralism was the first, and its influence was the most far-reaching. Muralism flourished in Mexico in the years immediately following the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) as a result of a combination of circumstances: a climate of revolutionary optimism and cultural experimentation that challenged traditional Eurocentrism, a small but strong group of relatively mature artists of energy, ideas, and ability, and a visionary minister of education, Jose Vasconcelos. Vasconcelos believed that Mexico was destined to play a central role on the international stage. He understood that ideas could be more quickly assimilated through images than through any other medium, and he had the courage to allocate the funds, and the walls of public buildings, to the artists to do with as they liked. The muralists shared a belief in the power of art to transform society for the better, to challenge social, political, economic, and cultural stereotypes, and to enrich the intellectual life of their country. During the 1920s and 1930s, they covered miles of wall with paintings representing aspects of Mexico's past and present and the future to which all aspired. Although Mexican muralism is representational and often narrative in form, it should be recognized as a modern movement, it was modernizing in intent, in that it challenged the old order – culturally, socially, and politically. By definition, it was a public, accessible form of art – not a commodity that could be bought and sold by the wealthy elite. Its purpose was to educate, inform, enlighten, politicize and thus empower the general public, in particular the working classes. The muralist movement was not a unified force, however. The painters who were its leaders took different directions and did not always see eye to eye. Diego Rivera (1886-1957) sought to promote a pluralistic vision of Mexican society by drawing on the rich heritage of the pre-Columbian past (before Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492) and contemporary popular culture, and he investigated preColumbian styles and techniques in an effort to create an aesthetic language that was new and Mexican. He was deeply influenced by native pictographic traditions of communication in which pictures represent written words and ideas, and he sought to develop a modern equivalent, a visual language that could be read like a book. The art of Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) is less optimistic: he saw both the pre-Columbian past and the revolutionary present in a more negative light, the former as barbarous, the latter often tarnished by corruption and cruelty. He offers no comforting narratives and his expressive, aggressive technique serves as a metaphor of Mexico's harsh, contradictory reality. David Alfaro Siqueiros (1898-1976) was the most politically active of the three and was an internationalist both ideologically and artistically. In his art he deliberately avoided traditional materials and methods, preferring to use modern industrial paints and spray guns. His works look forward to a fully socialist future where the workers will have won the right to the benefits of the modern industrial era, and his often fragmented, complex imagery does not patronize or make concessions to his audience. The Mexican muralist movement is undoubtedly one of the most important manifestations of twentieth century Mexican culture. Its impact elsewhere in the region, as well as in the United States and Europe, has been enormous. The work of Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros triggered a homegrown muralist movement in the United States in cities like New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The influence of the Mexicans on the modern Spanish painter Picasso's first mural and almost his only major explicitly propagandist work of art – his famous Guemica of 1937 – is unmistakable even though the artist himself would have derived it. In Latin America, Mexican-influenced muralism has recurred whenever artists have felt the need to make a clear, public statement in a language that has not been borrowed from outside.