Two years before his death, Diego Rivera undertook what would be one of his last artistic projects: a mural for the walls of the main buildings of the Faculty of Chemistry, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). In 1955, when he was 68 years old, and shortly after having finished the monumental work of 46 meters long by 10 wide that adorns the Teatro de los Insurgentes or its famous Dream of a Sunday afternoon in Alameda Central, the prolific muralist had prepared the preparatory drawings for his new project: ‘Chemical science present in the main productive activities useful to human society’. Only a pencil sketch on paper measuring 61 by 47 centimeters was known of that work, until now that, thanks to the video mapping – technology in which projectors are used to display an animation on architectural surfaces -, that mural came to life and was painted in colors in the building of the Faculty of Chemistry that faces west at the largest University in Latin America and the language Spanish.
“We take advantage of the 105th anniversary of the Faculty of Chemistry to make the work that the teacher Diego Rivera conceived for exactly that wall a reality. At least for a few moments. We took the liberty of coloring the sketch and hired experts in Rivera’s work and experts in the video mapping”, Explains the director of the Faculty of Chemistry, Carlos Amador Bedolla, in conversation with EL PAÍS. The digital art that gave life to the building was in charge of the company Casa de Luz and Medusa Lab.
“Nobody like Diego Rivera, because of his culture and talent, to turn the cold motifs of science into elements of plastic beauty,” said cardiologist Ignacio Chávez in 1944 and with good reason, who commissioned the muralist to paint the paintings that would decorate the auditorium lobby of the recently created National Institute of Cardiology of Mexico City. It would not be the first to address scientific, medical or technological issues. For example, it is enough to see the trace of the mural for the Faculty of Chemistry that, in Rivera’s own words, had the intention of “glorifying the legacy of chemistry linked to social development, the benefits within the mining industry, civil engineering, the development of hydraulic and medical infrastructure, for the benefit of the homeland ”. The mural was conceived in two parts of 360 square meters each, in which the artist proposed various activities related to chemistry, such as the production of iron and steel, glass, bronze, as well as pottery and ceramics in construction. architectural.
In the sketch for a bas-relief in color, Diego Rivera wrote: “Upper explosives center, the chemist and his workers deliver them to the citizens to build roads and tunnels; give way to water between mountains to fill irrigation dams; to extract useful and precious metals from the bowels of the earth, and so that science, opening the hands of knowledge, gives all its gifts and points the way to the defense of the Homeland and Liberty “
“This sketch was projected for the east and west walls of the building of the Faculty of Chemistry. There, Rivera’s aesthetics is perceived in all its force, based on scientific development as a central theme and as one of the activities of modern society. Once again, flesh and blood characters live in a dynamic and industrialized world, and the matter extracted from the subsoil is transformed and incorporated into daily life. Had he seen the light and the color, his message would undoubtedly continue to amaze anyone who set his sights on this work, which was not carried out. In the sketches, however, the creative effervescence of the artist makes the spaces exalt the human figure, the characters that one by one would tell their story ”, explains the researcher and curator of the National Institute of Fine Arts, María Estela Duarte Sánchez.
“Masterfully and like a great alchemist, she used the fresco technique in the murals, taking it back from the Italian tradition and drawing inspiration from pre-Hispanic iconography, as well as expanding her color palette and experimenting with various materials. Rivera conceived the modern as a common good in favor of society and put emphasis on industrial workers and peasants who are the basis for development, ”he adds.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.