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Laughter of the People [Risa del Pueblo]
Alfredo Zalce’s poster the Risa del Pueblo also takes on the aspect of a political cartoon. By juxtaposing text and image, the artist creates caricatures of contemporary political figures in order to denigrate them. Five figures—one a generic bandit and four labeled as Pablo González, Leon Ossorio, Iturbe, and Bolívar Sierra—are crowded into a gray car, the “automóvil gris.” They escape from a building they have raided, leaving a woman lying in the doorway.
The labeled caricatures would have resounded with the viewing public. During the revolution, Pablo González was involved in a network of thieves called the Banda del Automóvil Gris, who broke into homes by wearing police uniforms and showing fake search warrants. González was also a politician, and in 1919 he made a bid for the presidential candidacy. In order to change his image, he produced an extremely popular movie, El automóvil gris. This plan backfired, however, only cementing his reputation as a dishonest politician. The popularity of the film would have made Zalce’s reference to González as a synonym for corruption immediately apparent.
In the print, González sits at the front of the automóvil gris, with the late-1930s politicians Ossorio, Iturbe, and Sierra behind him. By including the anachronistic figure of González, Zalce indicts these contemporary politicians as corrupt…Zalce has exaggerated their features to make them easily identifiable to the Mexican public. The stolen scroll tucked under González’s arm, labeled as articles 123 and 127 of the 1917 Mexican constitution, also refers to the dishonesty of these politicians. The theft of these articles—which preserved the right to strike and prevented government officials from increasing their own salaries while in office—highlights the threat posed by these politicians. At the bottom left, a poem further condemns the clownlike characters of the automóvil gris, denouncing the group as “not revolutionaries, nor even Mexicans.” Through this distinctive, morbid comedy, Zalce has created a recognizable propagandistic image and a defense of President Lázaro Cárdenas’s politics.
from Costa, Para la Gente: Art, Politics and Cultural Identity of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (Notre Dame, 2009)