David Alfaro Siqueiros

Mexican (Santa Rosalía de Camargo, Mexico, 1896 - 1974, Cuernavaca, Mexico)

Penitenciaria (Penitentiary)

painting | oil on canvas
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  • Penitenciaria (Penitentiary)

    David Alfaro Siqueiros, Penitenciaria (Penitentiary), 1930; oil on canvas, 32 1/8 in. x 20 1/2 in. (81.6 cm x 52.07 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Brayton Wilbur; © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

After painting his first murals in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Siqueiros spent most of the late 1920s organizing mine workers in the state of Jalisco. In 1930 he was arrested during a government crackdown on Communists and spent May to November locked up in Mexico City's Lecumberri Penitentiary. Unable to continue his political work from prison, Siqueiros turned to art.

Working under difficult conditions (using cheap supplies smuggled in by his companion, the Uruguayan poet Blanca Luz Brum), he managed to produce approximately twenty small paintings as well as scenery for prison theatricals. Here, three barefoot women wrapped in heavy rebozos huddle together within the grim walls of the penitentiary, accompanied by a small child carrying a staff. The faceless figures stand in for the poor, shivering family members who often had to wait overnight to visit their incarcerated loved ones.

32 1/8 in. x 20 1/2 in. (81.6 cm x 52.07 cm)
Acquired 1950
Collection SFMOMA
Gift of Brayton Wilbur
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City


bars, gates, jails, prisons, women, children, small spaces

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