The Midwest is home to a powerful mural by atheist artist Diego Rivera. This mural called “Detroit Industry” takes up an entire room of the Detroit Institute of Art and illustrates many issues of interest to Humanists. Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” celebrates science and illustrates issues of class, race, gender, workers’ rights, peace, and environmental protection.
For example, one panel of the mural parodies a nativity scene. Unlike traditional nativities, the child here is being watched over by three research scientists and being given a vaccination. The child is being held up and supported by the people around him. Also, surrounding the child are images of animals and factory equipment representing industry and agriculture. In short, the child’s life is being enhance by science, medicine, industry, agriculture, and the support of other people.
The resources of the land and roles of people in society come to life in many other panels of the mural. Diverse groups of workers labor in routine jobs while angry owners and supervisors watch and listen with suspicion. The workers in one panel are turning green from being exposed to formaldehyde as they work. Their efforts result in new technology such as airplanes but also in bombs and poison gas showing the contradictory, dual nature of modern progress. The creation of the mural itself came through contradictory forces. The mural was sponsored by capitalist Edsel Ford who wanted to bring the work of a famous artist to Detroit. However, the famous artist that Ford chose was a communist. Diego Rivera brought the experiences of marginalized people to the front of his artistic narrative and yet was paid generously for his work. Rivera admired the assembly line techniques of Ford which he thought could benefit many people.
In recognizing the harms and benefits in human relations and material progress, Rivera follows Mexican traditions of recognizing duality. Recognizing those dualities creates a mural that avoids oversimplification and that invites further inquiry. Humanists can appreciate that Rivera has brought to life many values and problems that concern us.
Featured Image via paula soler-moya/ Flickr.com