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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This mural was completed in 1953 and its full title is The History of Medicine in Mexico: The People’s Demand for Better Health. Diego Rivera was proud of his Mexican roots and regularly promoted the country and its culture through series of commissioned frescoes.

Rivera was a proud socialist who rejected the impact of Capitalism and within this painting he provides a contrast between the interests of the people and business. The Mexican Revolution would bring about a number of developments which would better serve the Mexican people and many of these new institutions would be related to public health. The fuller title refers in this painting to how the people of Mexico would demand improvements in the health system but that they were met with resistance at times. It is therefore socialist in values, and certainly displays the artist's own dislike for the richer members of society who stand to the right hand side and appear to be disinterested in helping the common man. Rivera is therefore proclaiming the importance of protest and revolution as a means to getting the right treatment for those without power in society, and that actually they could have a voice and influence if they were suitably organised and persistent. Socialist themes would continue throughout his work and also appeared in his wife's too, Frida Kahlo.

Sadly, despite improvements that were made, Mexico still suffers significant inequalities and so continues to strive for further development. The artist also touches on bureaucracy and corruption within The History of Medicine in Mexico: The People’s Demand for Better Health as a further impediment to success and these issues remain very relevant today, many decades later. The artist only ever wanted to see the poorer elements of society receive better treatment and he was passionate about socialist movements throughout his life, also becoming connected to Communist groups at times in his career and even going as far as producing portraits of some of their iconic leaders. Ultimately this would cause a clash when he started to work in the US which did not share quite the same following for left-leaning ideas as this, but he was still able to garner support for his work, such was his charm and clear technical ability. Rivera also took on other themes and content which helped to broaden his appeal within the US and Europe.

Rivera is regarded as a key exponent of Social Realism and did so as a means of expression of his love for the common man. He always desired more power for those struggling in society and he regularly collaborated with other artists who broadly shared his political views. Socialism was strong within his native Mexico and so he would be encouraged to instill some of these views into his work for various commissions which started to flood in once his artistic reputation had been established. Today he is best known as a muralist, meaning items such as The History of Medicine in Mexico: The People’s Demand for Better Health are particularly important for understanding the key elements of his artistic style. See also his History of Mexico.