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Diego Rivera (Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez) began drawing at three, started stuying art at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (modern Academia de San Carlos, founded in 1781 as the first first major art academy in the Americas), and then was sent to Europe to study by the governor of Vera Cruz; in Paris he became close to Amedeo Modigliani and Ilya Ehrenburg. From 1913 to 1917 he worked in the new Cubist style but then, inspired by Paul Cezanne's work, he embraced a Post-Impressionist approach that employed simple forms and large patches of vivid colors. His younger comrade David Alfaro Siqueiros underwent a similar artistic revolution after his arrival in Paris in 1919, and the two traveled throughout Italy in 1920 to study Renaissance frescoes.
Meanwhile, Álvaro Obregón Salido became president of Mexico in 1920 and created the Secretaría de Educación Pública, giving it the largest portion of the budget except for the military. The new secretary, José Vasconcelos Calderón, sought to inculcate the principles of the new constitution to the masses and to build a modern Mexican culture that glorified the mestizo populace. The catalyst for the project was Vasconcelos' visit to Fernando Leal's art school, where he saw the artist's recent painting, "Zapatistas at Rest" and asked Leal to do a mural at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where Vasconcelos had studied and which he had later directed. Leal recruited his studio mate, the young French artist Jean Charlot and Rivera and Siqueiros returned to Mexico to participate in the project. Charlot's "Massacre in the Templo Mayor" was the first one to be finished (and the first to be done in the fresco technique that came to characterize the Mexican muralist school); in it he portrayed himself, Leal, and Rivera. He also painted "La conquista de Tenochtitlán" (Conquest of Tenochtitlan) opposite Leal's encaustic mural "Los danzantes de Chalma" which portrayed a ritual performed in the sanctuary town of Chalma, with its fusion of Catholic and indigenous rites. Rivera painted his "Creation" in encaustic in the school's Bolívar Auditorium while guarding himself with a pistol against right-wing students; while painting there he also met a 15-year-old student, Frida Kahlo. However, most of the murals ("Maternity," "Man in Battle Against Nature," "Christ Destroys His Cross," "Destruction of the Old Order," "The Aristocrats," and "The Trench and the Trinity") were done by José Clemente Orozco. Rivera's next project was in the SEP's Court of Labor; other artists, including Charlot, were assigned walls in the Court of Fiestas in the same building. The project, envisioned as consisting of 124 frescoes, began in 1922 and finished in 1928. Charlot regarded the project a first attempt at "communal painting," but Rivera wrested control, acquiring more space for himself, recasting the other artists as his assistants, and even painting over one of Charlot's finished murals, "Danza de los Listones" (Dance of the Ribbons) to create room for his own "Market Place." At about this time, Rivera, Siqueiros, and others, convinced their work lacked the genuinely "public" nature they envisioned, formed the Syndicate of Revolutionary Mexican Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, and Technical Workers, and Siqueiros co-drafted a manifesto "for the proletariat of the world," adocating the necessity of a "collective" art which would serve as "ideological propaganda" to educate the masses and overcome bourgeois, individualist art. They also joined the Partido Comunista Mexicano, and Rivera becoming a member of it central committee. Soon after, Siqueiros began his "Burial of a Worker"in the stairwell of the Colegio Chico, featuring a group of pre-Conquest workers in a funeral procession carrying a giant coffin decorated with a hammer and sickle; never finished, it was vandalized by rightwing students and later whitewashed by Vasconcelos' successor at the SEP.
As the union became more critical of the government's increasing conservatism, its members faced new threats to cut funding. Rivera left in protest over its decision to uphold politics over artistic opportunity, leaving Siqueiros at the forefront. Despite being dismissed from the SEP in 1925, he remained deeply entrenched in radical activities until he was jailed and exiled in the early 1930s. Rivera was invited to Moscow in 1927 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution but was expelled the next year due to his involvement in "anti-Soviet activities." When he returned to Mexico he met Kahlo again and encouraged her artistic efforts; though he was married, they began a romantic relationship despite the 20-year difference in their ages. In 1929 the now-outlawed PCM expelled him for his support of the leftist opposition movement within the Comintern (Communist International), and soon afterwards he married Kahlo; their mutual infidelities and his violent temper made for a stormy relationship. In 1937 exiled Leon Trotsky arrived in Mexico and lived with the Riveras for four months (and had a brief affair with Frida). [In 1940 Siqueiros led a party of men who had served under him in the Spanish Civil War and miners from his union in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Trotsky, who was indeed murdered a few months later.] The Riveras divorced in 1939 but remarried in 1940, staying together until her death in 1954.
Rivera painted "Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central" in 1946-47 at the request of architect Carlos Obregón Santacilia and displayed in the Versailles restaurant at the Prado hotel until it was destroyed by earhquake in 1985. The mural depicted 400 famous people in Mexican history, gathered together under the watchful eye of Porfirio Díaz in his plumed military garb, for a stroll through Ciudad de Mexico's larget park, created in 1592. The original park, between the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Hemiciclo de Juárez, was less than half the size of the current one; until 1770 the western section of existing park was a plaza known as El Quemadero ("The Burning Place"), where witches and heretics condemneed by the Inquisition were publicly executed. The figures in the mural included Francisco I. Madero, Benito Juárez, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Agustín de Iturbide, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, Maximilian I, Juan de Zumárraga, Antonio López de Santa Anna, Winfield Scott, Victoriano Huerta, José Martí, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, and Hernán Cortés. Ignacio Ramírez held a sign reading, "God does not exist," which prevented its public display for nine years, until Rivera agreed to remove the inscription, saying, "To affirm 'God does not exist.' I do not have to hide behind Don Ignacio Ramírez; I am an atheist and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis." The left side highlighted the conquest and colonization of Mexico; the fight for independence and the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) dominated the the central space; the right side depicted modern Mexico championed by the workers’ flags' "land and liberty." The central tableau featured La Calavera Catrina (the "Skull of the Female Dandy"), wearing around her shoulders a Feathered Serpent boa (the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl). "Catrina” was a nickname in the early twentieth century for an elegant, upper-class woman who dressed in European clothing. To her left she locked arms with the printmaker/engraver José Guadalupe Posada, who, among his other 15,000 prints and lithographs, had created her skeletal image in 1913 to satirize Mexican life under the long dictatorship of Díaz; the original Posada print was reproduced in the mural, though with the addition of the boa. As a boy, Orozco had passed by Posada's workshop on his way to school and observed him at work: "This was the push that first set my imagination in motion and impelled me to cover paper with my earliest little figures; this was my awakening to the existence of the art of painting." In 1922 Charlot discovered Posada's prints being sold on street corners and sought out his forgotten printing blocks (woodcuts, leadcuts, zinccuts, etc.) in the workshop of Posada's former publisher and then spurred the publication of catalogues of those prints in 1928 and 1930, reviving interest in his work. In the painting, Posada and La Malinche stared directly into each other's eyes. She was a Nahua slave given to the Conquistodores who became an interpreter, advisor, and intermediary for Hernán Cortés in his dealings with the last Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. Later she became Cortes' mistress and bore his first son, the "first" mestizo; after the Mexican Revolution she was generally portrayed as an evil, scheming temptress; a "malinchismo" or "malinchista" is a Mexican who denies his or her cultural heritage by preferring foreign cultural expressions. To La Calavera Catrina's right, she held the hands of Diego Rivera as a child. Just behind and between them, Frida Kahlo had her hand on Rivera's shouder, and she held a yin-yang device.
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