Rivera, Ford, and the Work of the Archive

A screening and conversation about the work of Diego Rivera and the production of the Detroit Industry frescoes


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Cinema & Media Studies and Hispanic and Portuguese Studies at Penn


Julio Sebastián Figueroa, Nancy Roane

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce a screening of Detroit's Rivera: The Labor of Public Art (2017), a short film by Julio Ramos, on Thursday, January 24, 2019 from 6-9 pm at Slought. It will be followed by a conversation with Ramos and Professor Anna Indych-López (CUNY), followed by a reception. This program is co-presented with Cinema & Media Studies and Hispanic and Portuguese Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with support from Latin American and Latino Studies, History of Art and Visual Studies, and the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory.

Ramos' Detroit's Rivera is an experimental film depicting the making of the frescoes painted by Diego Rivera at the Ford Motor Company in the city of Detroit between 1932 and 1933. Based on film archival materials and animations, the documentary explores the links between industrial labor, public art, and social struggles during the agitated years of the Great Depression in the US.

The screening and conversation will reflect on the role of labor in art and on art as a form of labor, particularly in regards to the representation of industrial labor and mass production in public art and the early years of cinema. At issue is the relationship between the assembly line, mural painting, and archival montage in the context of Fordism and 20th century industrial modernity, which Ramos' film explores by using images from Ford Company Moving Picture Division archives of Rivera's painting process as well as the United Auto-Workers Union Audiovisual Division, among others. In addition, the event seeks to understand the significance of the revolutionary language of Mexican muralism in the United States during a period of economic, political, and cultural turmoil in which Mexican muralists reconsidered their artistic strategies in order to reach international audiences.

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Julio Ramos has written extensively about literary and visual culture in Latin America and the Caribbean. Emeritus Professor at the UC Berkeley, he recently served as the Fall 2018 Andrés Bello Chair in Latin American Cultures and Civilizations at NYU's King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center.

His books include Desencuentros de la modernidad en América Latina: literatura y política en el sigo XIX (1989, 2002 in English), Paradojas de la letra (1996, 2007), and Sujeto al límite: ensayos de cultura literaria y visual (2012). His documentary work includes La promesa (1995), Mar Arriba: Los conjuros de Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (2011), and Retornar a La Habana con Guillén Landrián (2014).

Anna Indych-López is the 2018-2019 Stuart Z. Katz Professor in the Humanities and the Arts at The City College of New York and Professor of Latin American and Latinx Art at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. Indych-López investigates Latin American and U.S. modernisms as well as Latinx and U.S.-Mexico borderlands contemporary art, focusing on trans-American exchanges, the polemics of realisms, and public space.

Her books include Mexican Muralism without Walls: Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros in the United States, 1927–1940 (2009); Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art (2011); and a recently published monograph on activist artist Judith F. Baca.

"The presentation of muralism in the United States faced numerous ideological, logistical, and aesthetic challenges. Perceptions of Mexican cultural identity as rural and folkloric initially skewed the reception of the politicized, vanguard art of the muralists. And the reinterpretation of murals in entirely new media (small-scale portable frescoes, paintings, prints, photographs, and drawings) intersected with debates in the United States and Latin America about the role of public art in society."

-- Anna Indych-López, Muralism without Walls: Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros in the United States, 1927-–1940