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Wed, 12.08.1886

Diego Rivera, Artist born

Diego Rivera

*On this date, in 1886, Diego Rivera was born.  He was a Mexican painter whose artistic intersectionality mentored and influenced many Black artists. 

Diego Rivera was born as one of the twin boys in Guanajuato, Mexico, to María del Pilar Barrientos and Diego Rivera Acosta, a well-to-do couple.  His twin brother Carlos died two years after they were born.  They were said to have Converso ancestry (Spanish ancestors forced to convert from Judaism to Catholicism in the 15th and 16th centuries). Rivera wrote in 1935: "My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life."  

Rivera began drawing at three, a year after his twin brother died. When he was caught drawing on the house's walls, his parents installed chalkboards and canvas on the walls to encourage him.  His large frescoes helped establish the mural movement in Mexican and international art.  Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals in, among other places, Mexico City, Chapingo, and Cuernavaca, Mexico, and San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City, United States.  

In 1931, a retrospective exhibition of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York before he completed his 27-mural series known as Detroit Industry Murals.  Some of the many Black artists he influenced or befriended were Rex GoreleighJohn BiggersNorman Lewis, and Hale Woodruff.  Rivera had numerous marriages and children, including at least one natural daughter. His first child and only son died at the age of two. His fourth wife was fellow Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, with whom he had a volatile relationship until her death. He was married a fifth time to his agent.  On June 5, 1940, Rivera returned for the last time to the United States to paint a ten-panel mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. His work Pan American Unity was completed on November 29, 1940.

Rivera painted in front of attendees at the Exposition, which had already opened. He received US$1,000 per month and US$1,000 for travel expenses.  The mural represents two of Pflueger's architectural works and portraits of Rivera's wife, Frida Kahlo, woodcarver Dudley C. Carter, and actress Paulette Goddard. She is shown holding Rivera's hand as they plant a white tree together.  Rivera's assistants on the mural included Thelma Johnson Streat, a pioneer Black artist, dancer, and textile designer. City College of San Francisco now holds the mural and its archives.  Diego Rivera died on November 24, 1957.  

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Poetry Corner

From deep sleep I sat upright And clutched his new lapels, For he was laughing. Back from the dead He came, I say, Laughing I asked not "Are you not dead?" But "What is it?" His talcum chin, And pebbles eyes, And... NIGHTMARE by James Emanuel.
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