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Moreover, it was also during his final years in Europe that he developed his ideas about muralismo (mural art) as public art which would focus on the Mexican people (Brenner 280). He saw himself as a revolutionary who believed that all art was political propaganda thus he chose painting as his most important tool of expression because he thought that it was the easiest and most effective method of reaching the Mexican people -- this also accounts for the fact that the dominant theme of his murals was the social and political history of his country. His murals depict ideal occupations of Mexican peasants: dances, rituals, harvests, a fair-day, sugar-making, mining, smelting, weaving, dyeing, pottery manufacture and receiving the promised lands (Ibid 282).
Similarly to "the masses," women are depicted as faceless in his paintings. Generally speaking, they appear only as mothers with children or prostitutes. However, they are stripped not only of their individual characteristics but also their class identities as for Rivera they represent little more than models for his nudes, or idealized images of Mother Earth. From this point-of-view, his narrow view of history was what gained his the praise of Mexican statesmen. Rivera's philosophy was in many ways closer to the bourgeois faction who had triumphed in the Mexican Revolution than to Marxism, and his paintings fully expressed this ideology. Between 1929-1930 and 1934-34 Rivera painted his 'History of Mexico' in the National Palace in Mexico City. At this time the mechanics of Mexican government still resembled that of the prerevolutionary era with its bureaucrats and economy based on land monopoly. There was also a decrease in the redistribution of the power to the people as well as the industrialization of capitalism. Rivera's murals represented a place where the new Mexican citizen was momentarily suspended from the day-to-day aspects of life, where he could witness the birth of a new society whose paradoxes would either be resolved or integrated into the newly-established order through an esthetic ceremony based on powerful imagery.
His work did not receive much praise from critics at home but attracted increasing attention abroad. In 1927, when the murals at the Ministry of Education had been finished, Rivera was invited to go to Russia for the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Revolution. There he signed a contract with the Minister for Culture to paint a mural for the Red Army Club in Moscow. However, Rivera had a moment of acute discomfort when he met Stalin. He writes in his autobiography: "the Central Committee ... my fellow guests smirking with satisfaction, drooling with superiority ... they might have been entering paradise. ... Suddenly a peanut shaped head, surmounted by a military haircut, decked out with a magnificent pair of long moustaches, rose above them ... one hand slipped into his overcoat and the other folded behind him a la Napoleon. ... Comrade Stalin posed before the saints and worshippers." (Rivera as quoted in Lucie-Smith 200). Russian Communists did not appreciate his conduct while in Russia, thus his project for the Red Army Club was soon at a standstill, and in May 1928 Rivera was ordered home by the Latin American Secretariat, the first step in his expulsion from the Mexican Communist Party in 1929.
Throughout his life, Rivera fully devoted himself to his art. His autobiography, Mi arte, mi vida (My art, my life) was published posthumously in 1960 although Rivera himself checked the manuscript right before his death. The title reflects Rivera's attitude towards painting: he lived for it as art never came second to anything in his life. Rivera is considered the most prominent figure of the Mexican school of painting which included other great artists such as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo. His work was always controversial, and the myths surrounding him continue to represent the focal point of the discussion on Rivera's life. Nevertheless, what truly stands out are the contradictions in his own life and work. He was regarded as one of the most important painters of the Mexican Revolution although he only returned to his home country after the Revolution of 1910-1917. Rivera labeled himself as a Marxist but he was hired to paint murals for the Mexican government, and was widely respected by Mexican statesmen. He was involved in the social struggled of his era although his art often reflects the perspective of the ancien regime.
Rivera's life and work can be fully comprehended from the perspective of the Mexican Revolution. Nonetheless, both of them are directly and inextricably linked to the broader question of the mexicanidad ("Mexicanness") i.e. Mexican national identity. For Rivera, the thirst for a personal identity as an artist was part of his broader search for an identity as a Mexican, and it is precisely this search that resulted in a unique and very personal form of creation. Simply put, Rivera sought to express Mexico to Mexicans (Werner 1283).
Brenner, Anita. "Diego Rivera." Idols behind Altars. Biblo and…[continue]
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