ART–Rivera, Kahlo, and the Detroit Murals: A History and a Personal Journey


CLAS Chair Harley Shaiken on growing up in Detroit with the artistic legacy of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

The year 1932 was not a good time to come to Detroit, Michigan. The Great Depression cast dark clouds over the city. Scores of factories had ground to a halt, hungry people stood in breadlines, and unemployed autoworkers were selling apples on street corners to survive. In late April that year, against this grim backdrop, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo stepped off a train at the cavernous Michigan Central depot near the heart of the Motor City. They were on their way to the new Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), a symbol of the cultural ascendancy of the city and its turbo-charged prosperity in better times. The next 11 months in Detroit would take them both to dazzling artistic heights and transform them personally in far-reaching, at times traumatic, ways.

Publication date: 
August 21, 2019
Publication type: 
Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies Article