ART: Diego and Frida: Art Transcends Borders


In the midst of the Great Depression Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo went to Detroit, Michigan commissioned by Edsel Ford. CLAS Chair Harley Shaiken provides a personal perspective on their time in the American Midwest and the profound impact it had on the artists and on generations of Detroiters.

The Great Depression was a tough time in Detroit. The city’s unemployment hit 50 percent, twice the national average, and economic collapse translated into fear and desperation. A plaque on the Fort Street Rouge River Bridge, not far from the sprawling Ford River Rouge plant, commemorates a traumatic and defining moment. At a memorial, days later, 60,000 Detroiters marched through the center of the city in grief and solidarity for the five demonstrators who had been killed. A month-and-a-half  later, in the midst of a plummeting economy and social upheaval, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo arrived in Detroit, where they would spend the next 11 months. Rivera was 44 years old and a world-famous muralist; Kahlo was 24 and an artist who had yet to make her mark. They would both do great things while in Detroit and be forever changed by the experience.

Publication date: 
January 13, 2015
Publication type: 
Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies Article