Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity Mural and Judy Chicago’s The Fall

Emily Pothast
Form and Resonance
Published in
3 min readOct 31, 2021

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The striking similarities—and key differences—between two works currently on view in San Francisco

Diego Rivera, “The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on This Continent,” also known as the Pan American Unity Mural, 1940. 22 x 74'.

In 1940, Diego Rivera painted a massive 74-foot mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Known colloquially as the “Pan America Unity Mural,” this 5-panel painting—temporarily on view at SFMOMA—depicts the history of North America from the Mexican artist’s perspective.

From left to right, the first panel depicts a variety of Indigenous North Americans engaged in cultural and technological practices: carving a stone stele, forging metalwork, dancing and drumming in ceremony, seated in a circle with a high priest, all woven through by the sinuous folds of Quetzalcoatl, the great rainbow serpent. In the second panel, founding fathers of the white settler state of the US insert themselves into an otherwise Indigenous milieu. Skyscrapers and bridges are built across the landscape; meanwhile Rivera has painted himself in the bottom panel, bearing witness to the flow of history. Panel three features the mural’s focal point: a great bear-like creature, half carved from natural materials, bearing the serpent skirts of the Aztec deity Coatlicue. The other half of this hybrid creature is depicted as a great industrial machine. At the bottom of this panel, Rivera holds hands with the actress…

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Emily Pothast
Form and Resonance

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. emilypothast.com