Occupy MoMA: Diego Rivera’s Populist Murals Reunited
During his lifetime, Diego Rivera stood as one of the most important and controversial artists in the world. Today, thanks to the international feminist phenomenon of Frida Kahlo (who stood in her husband’s considerable shadow while alive), Rivera finds himself, at best, “Mr. Frida Kahlo” and, at worst, the philandering lout who only added emotional pain to Frida’s physical suffering. Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York through May 14, 2012, reminds us of the artistic genius and political passion that attracted both Kahlo and patrons to Rivera’s art. As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to find venues to occupy around the world, it seems only fitting that Rivera’s murals first created for a MoMA retrospective in 1931—as the Mexican Revolution and Great Depression weighed heavily on the world—reunite to inspire a new generation of revolutionaries facing a new time of economic turmoil.
Along with José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rivera led what is now known as the “Mexican Mural Renaissance,” when the politics of the day found themselves written on the wall in paint in symbolically subtle and not so subtle ways. The Mexican Communist Party expelled Rivera from their ranks in 1929, but he never renounced his Socialist ideals. Even when the promise of patronage in the United States beckoned, Rivera painted his politics, often in the most awkwardly non-Socialist places. In 1930, just a year before the MoMA retrospective, Rivera painted murals for the San Francisco Stock Exchange. In 1932 and 1933, right after the MoMA show, Rivera painted Detroit Industry, a 27-panel tribute to the human side of Henry Ford’s motor company that survived attacks for decades thanks to the protection of patron Edsel Ford and a sign imploring viewers to think about Rivera’s talent and not his "detestable" politics. The highlight (or lowlight, depending on how you look at it) of Rivera’s American adventure came when he painted the mural Man at the Crossroads for Nelson Rockefeller’s Rockefeller Center in 1933. When Rockerfeller (who originally wanted Henri Matisse or Pablo Picasso for the project, but both were unavailable) asked Rivera to remove a portrait of Vladimir Lenin from the mural, Rivera refused and Rockefeller had the mural destroyed (or at least covered over). Rivera took his pay and his paint and returned home to Mexico, where he repainted the mural—Lenin included—calling it Man, Controller of the Universe.
The MoMA show catches Rivera at the crossroads, when the tension between his painting and politics made him simultaneously famous and infamous. Despite the drama, Rivera remained the controller of his universe and never shied away from the spotlight, even when it began to burn him. These reunited murals (no small task, considering the fact that they’re painted on reinforced cement) reinforce the role Rivera paid in picturing the revolutions swirling around him and cement his central position in the spirit of that time—a spirit that might be breathing once more today.
In Agrarian Leader Zapata, Rivera memorializes Emiliano Zapata’s contribution to the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. (Click on the mural titles to go to their coverage on the MoMA’s extensive, educational, and interactive site for the exhibition.) Zapata stands at the front of a column of farm tool-wielding peasants as he literally steps over the dead body of a plantation owner—a confrontationally populist image, if there ever was one. Similarly, Indian Warrior depicts a jaguar-costumed Aztec warrior plunging a knife through a chink in the armor of a 16th century Spanish conquistador, proving that populist resistance was nothing new to Mexico. As a nod to his new American surroundings, Rivera painted murals titled Frozen Assets and Electric Power showing, respectively, workers toiling beneath an easily recognizable New York City skyline and other workers literally boxed within the works of a Hudson-side electrical plant. Rivera never missed an opportunity to remind viewers (and rich patrons) of the human core to the mechanized modern world.
The mural that struck me the most powerfully was Rivera’s The Uprising (shown above). The fierce woman in the center fending off a soldier—while still clinging to her baby as other protesters struggle behind and below her—stands for every person of every age struggling against powerful forces of oppression. You don’t need to know anything about Mexican politics of the early 20th century to read the conflict and to hope for the right resolution. Watching the recent crackdowns on Occupy camps across America, I couldn’t help but superimpose Rivera’s leading lady on those sad scenes of civil unrest turned violent.
The planners of Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art couldn’t have anticipated the Occupy movement, but the timing of this exhibition couldn’t be more perfect. Rivera’s murals occupy the MoMA and our imagination with scenes of the past’s almost primal struggles between the powerful and powerless and give us hope that a better tomorrow might come from it. For many, the end of the Occupy movement and its aspirations seems “written on the wall,” but the dreams “written” on these walls by Diego Rivera eight decades ago refuse to go away.
[Image: Diego Rivera. The Uprising. 1931. Fresco on reinforced cement in a galvanized-steel framework, 74 x 94 1/8” (188 x 239 cm). Private collection, Mexico. © 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.]
[Many thanks to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for providing me with the image above and other press materials for Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art, which runs through May 14, 2012.]
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
The world's getting hotter, and it's getting more volatile. We need to start thinking about how climate change encourages conflict.
- Climate change is usually discussed in terms of how it impacts the weather, but this fails to emphasize how climate change is a "threat multiplier."
- As a threat multiplier, climate change makes already dangerous social and political situations even worse.
- Not only do we have to work to minimize the impact of climate change on our environment, but we also have to deal with how it affects human issues today.
Human beings are great at responding to imminent and visible threats. Climate change, while dire, is almost entirely the opposite: it's slow, it's pervasive, it's vague, and it's invisible. Researchers and policymakers have been trying to package climate change in a way that conveys its severity. Usually, they do so by talking about its immediate effects: rising temperature, rising sea levels, and increasingly dangerous weather.
These things are bad, make no mistake about it. But the thing that makes climate change truly dire isn't that Cape Cod will be underwater next century, that polar bears will go extinct, or that we'll have to invent new categories for future hurricanes. It's the thousands of ancillary effects — the indirect pressure that climate change puts on every person on the planet.
How a drought in the Middle East contributed to extremism in Europe
(DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigel Farage in front of a billboard that leverages the immigration crisis to support Brexit.
Because climate change is too big for the mind to grasp, we'll have to use a case study to talk about this. The Syrian civil war is a horrific tangle of senseless violence, but there are some primary causes we can point to. There is the longstanding conflicts between different religious sects in that country. Additionally, the Arab Spring swept Syria up in a wave of resistance against authoritarian leaders in the Middle East — unfortunately, Syrian protests were brutally squashed by Bashar Al-Assad. These, and many other factors, contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war.
One of these other factors was drought. In fact, the drought in that region — it started in 2006 — has been described as the "worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilization began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago." Because of this drought, many rural Syrians could no longer support themselves. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.5 million Syrians — many of them agricultural workers and farmers — moved into the country's major cities. With this sudden mixing of different social groups in a country where classes and religious sects were already at odds with one another, tensions rose, and the increased economic instability encouraged chaos. Again, the drought didn't cause the civil war — but it sure as hell helped it along.
The ensuing flood of refugees to Europe is already a well-known story. The immigration crisis was used as a talking point in the Brexit movement to encourage Britain to leave the EU. Authoritarian or extreme-right governments and political parties have sprung up in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and other European countries, all of which have capitalized on fears of the immigration crisis.
Why climate change is a "threat multiplier"
This is why both NATO and the Pentagon have labeled climate change as a "threat multiplier." On its own, climate change doesn't cause these issues — rather, it exacerbates underlying problems in societies around the world. Think of having a heated discussion inside a slowly heating-up car.
Climate change is often discussed in terms of its domino effect: for example, higher temperatures around the world melt the icecaps, releasing methane stored in the polar ice that contributes to the rise in temperature, which both reduces available land for agriculture due to drought and makes parts of the ocean uninhabitable for different animal species, wreaking havoc on the food chain, and ultimately making food more scarce.
Maybe we should start to consider climate change's domino effect in more human and political terms. That is, in terms of the dominoes of sociopolitical events spurred on by climate change and the missing resources it gobbles up.
What the future may hold
(NASA via Getty Images)
Increasingly severe weather events will make it more difficult for nations to avoid conflict.
Part of why this is difficult to see is because climate change does not affect all countries proportionally — at least, not in a direct sense. Germanwatch, a German NGO, releases a climate change index every year to analyze exactly how badly different countries have been affected by climate change. The top five most at-risk countries are Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notice that many of these places are islands, which are at the greatest risk for major storms and rising sea levels. Some island nations are even expected to literally disappear — the leaders of these nations are actively making plans to move their citizens to other countries.
But Germanwatch's climate change index is based on weather events. It does not account for the political and social instability that will likely result. The U.S. and many parts of Europe are relatively low on the index, but that is precisely why these countries will most likely need to deal with the human cost of climate change. Refugees won't go from the frying pan into the fire: they'll go to the closest, safest place available.
Many people's instinctive response to floods of immigrants is to simply make borders more restrictive. This makes sense — a nation's first duty is to its own citizens, after all. Unfortunately, people who support stronger immigration policies tend to have right-wing authoritarian tendencies. This isn't always the case, of course, but anecdotally, we can look at the governments in Europe that have stricter immigration policies. Hungary, for example, has extremely strict policies against Muslim immigrants. It's also rapidly turning into a dictatorship. The country has cracked down on media organizations and NGOs, eroded its judicial system's independence, illegalized homelessness, and banned gender studies courses.
Climate change and its sociopolitical effects, such as refugee migration, aren't some poorer country's problem. It's everyone's problem. Whether it's our food, our homes, or our rights, climate change will exact a toll on every nation on Earth. Stopping climate change, or at least reducing its impact, is vitally important. Equally important is contending with the multifaceted threats its going to throw our way.
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