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Rivera exhibit uncovers truths of Mexican culture

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by Anna Roy
Editorial Director

The sketches of Mexican artist Diego Rivera are currently on display at the Long Beach Museum of Latin American Art until April 16.

Rivera, famous for his marriage to fellow artist Frida Khalo, had a fascinating life, which one learns a bit about at “The Brilliance Before the Brush” exhibit.

The exhibit contains 42 sketches which were made by Rivera on a trip he took to Tehuantepec, a city in Southern Mexico, in the 1920s.

The sketches would later serve as a basis for the murals that Rivera would paint that would help define Mexican national art.

The sketches all display smooth, lucid and distinct characteristics. They are done with either pencil or charcoal on plain, light brown paper and are well preserved.

Viewing these sketches lends an understanding of how Tehuantepec society was at the time and Mexican society in general.

His drawings are telling as they show rural landscape, people and animals. Rivera was obviously inspired, as the drawings seem as though they were done very quickly, similar to the way cartoonists work with animation.

The sketches are rough and reveal much about Mexican culture and society as Rivera shows people working together in a community, oftentimes doing very strenuous things.

The series of sketches on Tehuana women include a diverse group of women, including older women and young girls of different ethnic backgrounds. The women are all presented as having very active daily lives.

Some have baskets of flowers atop their heads, while others cook together on the floor, with a huge simmering pot in the middle. “Vendedora de Pinole,” which later became a watercolor painting by Rivera, features a woman selling the traditional Mexican drink, Pinole. She is sitting on the floor in a simple manner and looks pensive, modest and noble as she sits on the curbside. All the women that Rivera sketches seem independent, strong and beautiful.

Rivera also sketched Tehuana men. Some of the men are pictured carrying large bundles on their shoulders.

Rivera seems to overlook little, as he sketches people of many different backgrounds and identities.

One sketch of a little boy titled, “Tehuantepec Boy #36” seems universal. The little boy is lying down, with his feet crisscrossed up in the air. He is looking up, as if watching clouds, or just thinking.

Other sketches of the rural countryside portray little huts, with large trees in the background, and a small figure in the doorway, with the moon and the stars above.

Rivera’s sketches are very simple, which leads the viewers and think about each one individually and imagine how it must have seemed to Rivera and to his subjects.

Rivera had been away from his homeland of Mexico for a very long time. He had spent the past 13 years in Europe, like many Latin American artists of the time.

He left Mexico at a young age to study art in a French art academy and also learned about modern art from contemporaries, like Pablo Picasso.

Rivera returned to Mexico after the Mexican Revolution, after which a new, more liberal government was in power. The new government was very supportive of the arts.

For this reason, Rivera’s trip to Tehuantepec was paid for by the government, whose goals included educating an oftentimes illiterate Mexican population through the use of art.

The sketches are located in the lobby of MoLAA, which is located at 628 Alamitos Ave. in Long Beach. The museum is free on Fridays, and $3 for students and seniors and $5 for adults. For more information contact MOLAA at (562) 437-1689 or

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