Sunday, July 15, 2007

Nicaragua's Revolutionary Murals

During the 1980's, when the Sandinista government was in power, hundreds of revolutionary murals were painted on buildings and walls throughout Nicaragua. These vibrant "billboards of the people" celebrated the socialist ideals of the 1979 Sandinista Revolution, which were still fresh in the national consciousness. Sadly, after the Sandinistas lost the 1990 Nicaraguan elections, many of these artistic treasures were defaced or painted over.

Some of the best murals were executed in the handsome colonial city of Leon, which has always been a hotbed of leftist activity. On a return trip to Nicaragua in the fall of 2006, I was happy to see that the murals I had enjoyed almost ten years earlier still adorned Leon's walls. Like the ideals of the revolution, they had faded somewhat, but they were still intact.

My favourite mural covers the entire wall of a large building next to Leon's massive cathedral. A series of panels document the history of Nicaragua from the arrival of Nahuatl-speaking tribes from central Mexico during the 13th century to the toppling of the Samoza regime by the Sandinistas. The final section presents an idyllic future for Nicaragua with two children shown romping in a green field backed by a shimmering lake and smoking volcanos.

Across the street, another mural shows revolutionary leader Augusto Sandino stepping on the heads of both Uncle Sam and one of the Samoza dictators who oppressed Nicaraguans for much of the 20th century. Some of Leon's most compelling murals can be found in the Casa XXI, a former prison that has now been turned into the Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas. These sombre works depict prisoners being tortured by Samoza's infamous National Guard.

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