The Liberation Of The Peon Film Studies Essay


The Liberation of the Peon uses art to communicate a political theme, much like Osiris and Isis by Kiefer. Although similarities do not end there. Both pieces feel relatively earthy. Rivera’s piece is earthy because of the way he chose to do his mural, in fresco. This is a technique of mural painting done on plaster right after it has been laid. [2] We see this in Kiefer’s piece as well. However, the main difference is that Kiefer uses it a paint application and contributes meaning to his piece, while Rivera’s decision was based on doing a mural for the purposes of reaching out to as many people as possible. Although, the earth tones do add to the themes of origin and history as both pieces suggest similar themes. In Kiefer’s piece, he is relating to his own past and the past of Germany. The struggles he faced as an individual in a society that was not very kind toward Germans.

Kiefer portrays a stepped temple that is the central focal point of the piece. The work is physically overwhelming, measuring 150 inches by 220 inches. The piece feels very messy, the colours are all over the place. Jumping out yet, they still seem to produce a strong image. For example, on the middle-left on the piece, there are vertical strokes going over from the bottom of the page at the way to the sky. Yet, it still feels like it’s a part of the piece, creating a glowing-like effect.

It is painted with an array of earth tones, grays, browns, beiges. All the colours have a little bit of each other of them. For example, if you look at the highlights, the whites aren’t pure white they have a mixture of the colours around them. He also includes mixed media into the piece. At the top of the piece, one can find an odd use of a television circuit board. The board connected by copper wires to pieces of what seems to be plumbing fixtures. These pieces of porcelain plumbing fixture can be found all over the canvas. Furthermore, they represent Osiris’s lost body parts. This use of multi-media adds layers of meaning to the piece, in which one has to slowly peal back to really know what he intended.

Rivera designed his composition such that it reflects the Lamentation. Similarities can be found on the naked body of the peon, and the cloth used to surround him. It draws on a piece by Giotto di Bondone’s Lamentation at the Capella degli Scrovegni of which Rivera had studied first-hand. [3] 

References to Mexican artistic traditions specifically, the Pre-Columbian influence, which can be seen in the rounding of the hands on the revolutionary soldier; who is covering the Peon with a red blanket, add to Liberation of the Peon’s impact. In his portable mural, Rivera carefully depicts the individual whip-wounds that cover the peon’s broken body. The piece seeks to answer the purpose of the Mexican Revolution.

He uses muted greens, browns and yellows with an earthy tone because it emphasizes the brighter colours and thus the objects like the blanket. The blanket is a symbol of comfort and warmth. Two things that a peon would not be familiar with and the people providing this would be the Rebels. The use of colour does add to the “propaganda theme” of the piece. It also simply isn’t coincidence that the blanket is the same colour as the dominant Communist Red. This then increases the popularity of the current government. Using those colours in that way, it also creates a center of interest around the Peon. The viewer’s eye is drawn to it because the blanket pops out and the theme becomes even easier to understand as a result as the slave now becomes the center of interest, not the soldier or the burning buildings.

All movement leads to the focus. For example, that revolutionary soldier is using a knife to cut the rope. Movement is also created when the viewer follows the direction in which the revolutionaries are looking-directly at the peon. This ultimately creates visual movement toward the focus. Interestingly, the eyes of the horses are not pointing toward the slave, but the horses look directly at the viewer. This cunning trick draws the viewer into the grouping of figures and horses.

Now, with Kiefer size is normally not an issue with mixed media paintings or paintings of any sort of that matter, size does play a role and does have a connection with his theme. Unlike Rivera who did his piece large because it was to be a public piece and because he wanted it shared with as many people as possible. Kiefer may have done a large painting because it could have reflected the large issue he was dealing with. [4] 

In terms of colour, Kiefer uses dirty, earthy and undesirable colours creating a doomsday atmosphere over the painting. He uses computer boards and other mixed media to specifically achieve a different set of meanings adding more depth to the value of his piece.

Before the Mexican Revolution, haciendas, were large farms owned by very wealthy individuals, dominated the country’s social and political landscape. [5] In under fire, hinting that these individuals were the ones that inflicted the wounds on the peon. The mural depicts the reasons for the Mexican Revolution, making the theme relatively obvious for individuals who probably did not receive a formal education and individuals whom were likely illiterate.

Although both pieces are extremely political, they both try to achieve completely different goals. In one sense they are similar because both pieces are about telling a story that has deep connections to the painters and they are both making references to the past. However, the way Rivera is depicting the past and Kiefer is depicting the past are two very diverse takes. For one, Kiefer’s piece is messy, dark, and somewhat mute. To someone without a background in Kiefer’s life or Egyptian mythology would not be able to understand what he’s really trying to say. However, with Rivera although he has a personal connection to the piece, his background is not required to understand what the piece is about. Based on what we see we can assume that this is taking place in Mexico and that the people in the foreground, are the good guys because they are freeing the Peon, an innocent slave to a cruel master. We know those individuals were cruel because of the lash marks on the back. And we get the basic idea that these men likely burned the buildings in the background and because we know these guys are good, they must have burned the master’s home, the bad guy.

With Kiefer it’s a lot harder to peel back those layers without some form of background knowledge. There is no direct symbolism to the aftermath of Germany during the Post-WWII Era in the piece. His links are brilliant in that sense because the choosing of the Egyptian myth as an allegory for what took place could not be more fitting.

Kiefer has pieces of porcelain all over the piece. Symbolically they represent the fragmented dismembered body of Osiris and he is literally in the piece because of this, Kiefer directly and physically links the tale of Osiris and his personal link, Germany after World War II.

There is an obvious Pre-Columbian Influence to the Liberation of the Peon, seen in the rounding of the hands, the face and the fingers. Also, because this is a fresco, we tend to see a lot of washed out colours, this is because fresco is a technique of mural painting executed upon new plaster that has not set yet.

Although, I personally feel that the Kiefer’s piece, Osiris and Isis, is cleverer in terms of how he depicts his artwork. He combines so effectively the different Egyptian and German civilizations and relates it all to his theme under multiple layers. However, if I had to choose which piece I felt was the better artwork in terms of which artist had more efficiently met their goals I would pick the Rivera piece. There are a number of reasons, the first being the fact that it is very easy to understand the theme and what Rivera was saying about the subject. Everyone who lived in Mexico would have been able to piece together exactly what Rivera wanted them to. He used the composition effectively, embracing a religious-esque approach to the way the Peon was depicted. The piece would have also met its goal of substantially helping the Party gain more members and the piece was very inspirational. The relationship between the background and the foreground is emphasized with what those sections depict. With the foreground containing the victim and the good guys. We assume that they must have burned the estate, owned by the same person that caused the harm on the Peon. Justifying the actions of the good guys. His genius relies on how the piece seems relatively simple, however in reality we are dealing with a very cunning and intelligent use of space.

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