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The International Writers Magazine: Art and Science Archives

Didactic Science through Art
Andres Botero
One of the most recognized Latin American artists is the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957); his artistic production can be understood as being a giant classroom for all in which science played a fundamental role that covers significant moments in the human cognitive evolution.


Most of his public works are extraordinary in size and considered as allegoric themes that commemorate the rich Mexican arqueology as well as numerous recollections of natural history moments in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics, technology and medicine.
The Mathematician
Allegory of California

The process of didactic science employed by Rivera in his works can be found in several examples all along his prolific career and as early as in “ The Mathematician” c. 1918 in which the artist explore the concept of mathematical logic and how its refers to art. In  “ Allegory of California” (1930-1931) at the Pacific Stock Exchange Tower, San Francisco, Rivera painted botanist Luther Burbank.

One of the most controversial murals in his career was “Man, controller of the Universe” (1934); the work was originally designed for the Rockefeller Center in New York City, but it was never showed to the public due to the incorporation of important communists personalities, the mural was destroyed in 1934 but same year an identical replica was produced for the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.

Besides this controversy, the mural is one of the most biology explicit depictions made in art history; Rivera incorporated the idea of men as controller of the macrocosms represented by telescopes, magnifying glasses, film projectors and an expanding universe through galaxies and celestial bodies; in addition, the depiction of the microcosms is even more intriguing, illustrating a microscope in the center of the composition and different types of specialized cells and tissues, opposite to this panel, the hormonal and endometrial stages of the ovarian cycle and fertilization are magnificent represented in detail.

Water as the foundation of life was a constant element in the world of Rivera, water as the most important contributor of life on Earth it is visually represented in “Water, Origin of Life” (1951), a fresco made in polystyrene and rubber solution; several microscopic creatures that dwells in the water occupied every cubic centimeter of water in this mural, the cycles of life that water sustained are also clear all along the numerous details that describe several karyokinesis phases, the changes from larval to adult in the frog metamorphosis, culminating with the representation of the human embryo surrounded by an aqueous environment and the raised of the homo sapiens symbolized by the African and Asian races.

Production of Automobile
Progress in science can be ambivalent, it may bring destruction through the fabrication of powerful weapons or it can bring hope to different human struggles; this concept of ambivalence can be observed in “Production and Manufacture of Engine and Transmission” (1932-1933), Detroit Industries, in which science is illustrated as a bellicose activity where several employees fabricating nuclear weapons are highly protected from radiation, on the other hand, in “Production of Automobile Exterior and Final Assembly” (1932-1933), Detroit Industries, science is synonymous with hope, giving to humans the chance to expand the life expectancy through medical procedures like surgery intervention and vaccination.

Medical and technology histories were a passion for Rivera who represented in several frescoes his observations of past events concerning to the sciences like in “The History of Cardiology” (1944) at the National Institute of Cardiology in Mexico City, he succeed in confronting reason and superstition in two panels in which many contributors to the medical branch of cardiology are depicted. Among these personalities are easy distinguishable, 16th century scientists Andreas Vesalius that work contributed to the anatomy of the heart and circulatory system, Michael Servetus that worked in the lung circulation, and there is even a space dedicated to the cardiology practiced by the different indigenous communities of Mexico.

In all these examples of art executed by larger than life Diego Rivera, it is clear to recognized the deep influence that science and technology played in his career development. It was an intellectual curiosity that he effectively communicated in a didactic form, like observing a biological process through a magnifying glass; projecting a perfect fusion between art and science, validating the idea concerning the dispersal of knowledge through visual or plastic tools. After all, experimental sciences are no more than a creative recreation of our surroundings; that was the strength of Diego the scientist when interlinked with Rivera the artist in the agitate life of 20th century cultural Mexico.
Flower sellers

© Andres Botero July 1st 2010

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