Diego Rivera (1886)
It was on this date, December 8, 1886, that Mexican Socialist and muralist Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato. His father was a municipal councilor with liberal and anticlerical views. In 1892 the family moved to Mexico City and from 1898 to 1905 Rivera attended the Academía de San Carlos there. He excelled at drawing and had his first exhibit of paintings in 1906.
Rivera shortly became involved in the Mexican Communist Party, joining the MCP in 1922, and turned to creating public art with a communist message, revolutionizing the art of the mural in the process. After touring Europe, in 1929 Rivera decided to try marriage for a third time, joining with an artist of equal talent and equal commitment to the communist cause: Frida Kahlo. Rivera pursued commissions in the US and elsewhere, including the colossal debacle of the “Man at the Crossroads” mural in the Rockefeller Center in New York in 1933.
In 1937 Rivera received the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife at his home with Frida, which caused consternation in the MCP. Rivera’s loyalty and his Atheism never wavered: “Stupid people!” he shouted to churchgoers in Guanajuato,
You talk of heaven, pointing with your fingers over your head. What heaven is there? There is only air, clouds which give rain, lightening which makes a loud sound and breaks the tree branches, and birds flying. … At the entrance of this place, I saw boxes to collect money, and a man asking for more money. … With the money he collects for the church, he pays the painters and sculptors to paint all these lies and puppets. He does this to get more money to make stupid people like you believe that these are truths and to make you fear the Virgin Mary and God. … If there really is a Holy Virgin or anyone up in the air, tell them to send lightening to strike me down or let the stones of the vault fall on my head. If you are unable to do that Mr. Priest, you’re nothing but a puppet taking money from stupid old women. You’re no better than the clown in the circus coaxing coins from the public. If God doesn’t stop me, then there must be no God. Get out of here! You see, there is no God! You’re all stupid cows!*
It wasn’t until after Frida Kahlo died, in 1954, that Rivera was allowed to rejoin the MCP. Diego Rivera died on 24 November 1957.
* My Art, My Life: An Autobiography, by Diego Rivera with Gladys March, 1960, repr. 1991. The quote is recorded by Gladys March.
Originally published December 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.