For many of us Sundays spell a day of rest and respite from the tedium of work. It is the day where we can replenish our souls and dream of what is yet to come. Today, we will speak of a different kind of Sunday, but first, let us travel back in time to 1946, to the Mexico of the muralist, Diego Rivera. At that time, couples and families would spend their Sunday mornings and afternoons walking or playing in the heart of the city: The Alameda Central.
This urban park served as inspiration to Diego Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central mural. Every brushstroke of paint was the result of a commission by the owner of the Hotel del Prado —a popular hotel at the time, in which celebrities, politicians, and bankers used to stay—. It is through his work that the history of Mexico can be told in a jarring, poetic, mournful, and brashful way. The characters and colors resemble a dream, but also they portray the best and the worst of Mexico.
Diego Rivera was the centerpiece of the mural as its painter, and because he put a fragment of his soul into it. To this day, art critics affirm that this work reflects his ego, and although this might be true, he did it in a subtle way. “The composition of the mural is about my memories, my childhood and youth, from 1895 to 1910. All of the characters are dreaming, some do it while sitting on the bench, others as they walk and talk,” commented Rivera.
If we wish to understand the history of Mexico, we need to observe the intricate details of Diego’s work. From left to right Don José María Vigil (director of the Archivo General de la Nación —the governing body of the national archives and the central consultative entity of the Federal Executive—) dreams of the first years of the Mexican history. We can see the Spanish Conquest over the Aztec empire, the establishment of the Colony, the Independence, the first and second empire, and the rise of the Republic. This part of history includes characters like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, The Emperor and Empress Maximilian and Carlota, and the Presidents Santa Anna, Iturbide, and Juarez on the mural.
At the left lower corner of the mural we can appreciate a kid pickpocketing a wealthy man who is protecting some artists. This is a metaphor of how Rivera perceived the relationship of the people with culture. As a result, he always made an effort to use his murals to educate the people.
In the middle of the painting we see the past and the present of Rivera. The Catrina (an elegant, upper-class woman who is dressed in European clothing, and which represents death) is holding the hand of a young Diego. Next to the Catrina is José Guadalupe Posada, creator of the Catrina. Posada inspired many muralists including Diego. Behind him Frida Kahlo holds the symbol of Ying and Yang, to represent how both of them complemented each other.
Other major characters located at the center of the mural are the daughter and wife of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, José Vasconcelos, and Joaquín de la Cantolla y Rico (he introduced Mexico to hot air balloons).
A little bit to the right, Rivera painted Porfirio Díaz next to the winged victory. With this character, Rivera begins to talk about the Mexican Revolution. We see the indigenous people fighting to recover their land. At the top right corner we see Madero, Huerta, Pino Suárez and Manuel Mondragón, all of them characters who, for better or worse, took part in the revolutionary movement.
The details of Rivera’s dream also paid attention to the secondary characters of the Mexico of that time. We see a homeless person, kids of different ethnics who represented the miscegenation. An elder man walking with crutches, who has several medals, represents the decadent Porfiriato. Finally, we can also see the way Rivera included the beauty of the Mexican architecture; he painted the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Kiosko Morisco.
Without question Rivera is an artist who used his work to educate the public, who openly spoke about the contrasts of the country, and who understood the importance of passion in the process of creation.
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