DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
THE ASSASSINATION OF JULIO MELLA
Toward the end of 1928, the personal lawyer of President Calles paid me a visit in my home, No. 8 Tampico Street. He had come to urge me to end my ardent personal campaign on behalf of the revolutionary general and guerilla fighter Rodriguez Triana. Triana, a foe of Calles, was an outstanding contender for leadership of the peasants' and workers' bloc, sponsored by the Communist Party.
When Calles' representative had finished expounding his client's wishes, I told him quite calmly that I would support any political candidate I believed in.
"Think about it carefully, Diego," he said. "If you don't curtail your activities, the Old Man is likely to give the order to stretch your throat."
I answered, trying to conceal my anger, "All right, tell Calles I know he has plenty of ropes and lots of hangmen. But tell him also that he's mistaken if he thinks I can be frightened off. Don't forget to report what else I'm going to tell you, either. I shall continue to do what I wish until the Communist Party itself throws me out for using the Party to make myself dictator of Mexico. I mention this possibility because I long ago asked for the privilege of leading the first uprising against Calles."
I suppose my outright defiance was more than the poor man had expected. He made a hurried exit. I was not hanged; I am still living and painting.
As for Calles, he was later kicked out of power by my good friend Lazaro Cardenas, recent President of Mexico. With appropriate civilian and military rites, he long ago descended into hell, where his smoldering body has an honor guard of reactionaries, his former enemies when he pretended to be a revolutionary.
Throughout the following year, I was intensely involved in Party activities, the most memorable of which was in connection with the defense of Tina Modotti, who was placed on trial for the murder of Julio Mella. During this hectic period, I nevertheless managed to paint some frescoes in the Ministry of Health building, about which I shall speak first.
These panels, done in the building's Assembly Hall and covering over 350 square feet of wall and ceiling, comprised six large female nudes symbolizing Purity, Strength, Knowledge, Life, Moderation, and Health itself.
Purity sat on the ground near a stream of clear water flowing over her hand. On the ceiling above her, looking downward, flew Life. Strength rested on the ground, full-bosomed, with sturdy thighs and powerful hands. Knowledge sat with her feet doubled under her, dreamily gazing at an open blossom in her hand. Near her and almost touching her face, was a snake coiled around a tree. Health was a seated figure with hands raised. Moderation was a tall, big-boned woman lying down, her eyes closed. In her hand she gripped a snake below the head from which darted its forked tongue; its body was clasped between her knees.
Afterwards I designed four stained-glass windows for this same building. I tried, by blending the tints of colored glass, to create as plastic an effect as possible. To this end, I also used pieces of glass cut into curved segments to give the complete composition a symmetry of mobile lines.
Julio Mella was a Cuban revolutionary leader who had fled the dictatorship of President Gerardo Machado. Mella had come to Mexico seeking refuge, and here he had met Tina Modotti, an excellent painter and photographer. I had been friendly with Tina before my trip to Russia; in fact, this friendship had been the final cause of Lupe's divorcing me.
Long before my return to Mexico, Tina and Mella had become lovers.
In 1929, Julio Mella was assassinated, on President Machado's orders.
The Mexican government, however, chose not to see a political motive in the crime. It took the position that the murder was a crime of passion and indicted Tina, whose political views were offensive to the regime, as the murderess. The government's case was based solely on the fact that Tina had been Mella's most recent mistress. From this it deduced that Tina had tired of Mella, and had decided to bring their affair to an end by killing him.
Because the case was being used to give a bad name to the Communist Party, its leadership took up Tina's defense. It commissioned me to dig up the true facts behind Mella's murder. With the assistance of friends, I was able to establish that the assassin of Julio Mella had been a Cuban gunman in the pay of the Machado government, sent by the chief of its secret service explicitly to perform the crime. My evidence, presented in court, ripped apart the net of speculations in which the prosecution had hoped to entrap Tina. The detective in charge of the investigation was forced to resign. And the Cuban government's involvement in the intrigue was officially recognized in an order obliging the Cuban Ambassador to leave the country for one year.
This was my last Party assignment. Before the year was over, I was to be expelled from the Party.