Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Riverside

UC Riverside Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Riverside

Re-Conceptualizing Social Medicine in Diego Rivera's History of Medicine in Mexico: The People's Demand for Better Health Mural, Mexico City, 1953.


Diego Rivera's History of Medicine in Mexico: The People's Demand for Better Health mural has been interpreted as a representation of the Social Security Institution in Mexico, ancient and modern medicine, or mythological indigenous iconography relative to fecundity. Interestingly, the mural's descriptive title overshadows Rivera's gritty commentary embedded within the depiction of ancient and modern societies of Mexico, specifically Mexico City. The overall narrative chronologically demonstrates a generational shift from the indigenous Nahuatl or Nahua medicine and myth, mainly reproductions of early colonial imagery, to the modern nineteen fifties urban landscape and hospital setting. Highly regarded as a creative interpreter of Mexican tradition and culture, Diego Rivera was not necessarily focused on representing accurate depictions of the ancient societies of Central Mexico. Scholars must reconsider how to approach Rivera's art representing indigenous communities, in this case Nahua mythology and the social need for social security, and analyze their relationship relative to the push for modernity throughout the industrial era. Rivera's artistic vision, coupled with his polemic character, produced a final mural that strongly conveys a multilayered dialogue between the artist, the viewer, and the past. The mural History of Medicine in Mexico: The People's Demand for Better Health actively engages with the viewer through the ongoing regeneration of thoughts, movements, and actions that channel the fluctuations of modernity itself by questioning the institutionalized system and the organic indigenous perspective. Interaction with the mural is necessary to open one's comprehension of not only Rivera's own personal struggle and realizations, but a nations' choice to move forward towards modernization. Ultimately, Rivera's visual articulation of ancient and modern medicine allows the viewer to interact with, exchange ideas and potentially manifest the dynamic yet fragmented essence of an ambiguous modernity.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View