As Sally Potter travels around the world with 'YES'
she is keeping a diary exclusively for this web site
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The Critic

The Rivera Murals

The Casa Azul


Festival Screening

The Trotsky Museum


Profound Mexico


Rain on canvas

The Jury

The Anthropological Museum


Political Correctness

Two Houses

False Virtue

Life is a miracle

Weird Roots

The Meeting

Turtles Can Fly

The Oscars

Luis Barragans house

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The Rivera Murals

Arriving in the evening in Mexico City the heat, noise, and traffic is overwhelming.  I feel exhausted, but also hungry to see whatever I can in the coming days.  The next morning I ask our lovely ‘minder’, Montserrat (taking time out from her theatre studies course at the university to volunteer for the festival) to take us to see the Rivera murals at the Presidential Palace.  En route I grill her about her view of Mexican history and current politics.  She speaks impressively knowledgably about trade treaties, the I.M.F, the inequities of the so-called ‘free market’ which allows US companies to expand into Mexico and raid its resources, but offers little or no advantages to Mexicans. She also describes the struggles of the indigenous people, one hundred and twenty tribes and languages still in existence; of the desperate problems of emigrants doing low paid subservient menial work in the USA, but who nevertheless provide the second biggest source of revenue in Mexico with the money they somehow manage to send home.

As Montse talks from the front seat in the jolting taxi I stare out of the window at the enormous, sprawling city of twenty-five million people we are traveling through, the faces that tell their own stories, the hazy light, the thin air which is leaving me breathless.

The murals at the Palace tell the story of the history of Mexico, from the Mayans and Aztecs through to the conquest by the Spanish in 1519.  In a way the murals are like cartoons; or perhaps documentaries; they can be ‘read’ by the illiterate – they are, in their own way, hieroglyphics.  What stands out to me is the loving and respectful way Rivera portrays the artists of the time; the images of people creating dyes, decorating objects; the scenes portrayed are of an industrious, skilled, and advanced society. 

The murals at the Palace were completed in 1956.  Rivera died in 1957, so these constituted his last great work.  Unlike the early history of conquest in the USA, where indigenous people were almost completely exterminated, many tribes in Mexico fought back successfully and survived, albeit in greatly diminished numbers.  But the story of struggle and warfare is not over.  Uprisings continue to this day, mostly in the jungles and forests of the north.  And even last year, in 2004, Montse tells me, student protests against globalization and unfair trade agreements (which lead to monopolies setting very low prices for some crops, crippling local farmers) ended in mass arrests and torture.

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SP and Montse at the Presidential Palace

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Detail of Rivera mural

Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated