by Aly Worthem
Diego Rivera, The Fiesta of Santa Anita (La Fiesta di Santa Anita),1926, photo-mechanical halftone relief print in red, from a drawing. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A principal artist of the Mexican Modernist movement of the 20th century, Diego Rivera created The Feast of Santa Anita only a few years after the end of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). As depicted by Rivera, the feast is not a celebration of consumption, but rather of community-building, a reverence for nature, and thoughtful preparation of the feast itself.
Artists such as Rivera were critical to the creation of a national identity and consciousness that was inherent to the Revolution (Kennicott), and it is therefore significant that Rivera chose to focus on Aztec ritual and celebration in this piece. The expressionless, stock characters that populate this work imply that the sacredness of the feast is not in the individuality of the participants, but rather in the community building it allows. The lack of individuality of the characters fosters a sense of unity, in contrast with one of stereotyping or Othering, that was lacking in the post-Revolution years. The involvement of man, woman, and child in this piece furthers this idea that the community, rather than individuality, is what has made this feast day sacred. We can see these motifs of togetherness and the sacredness of the feast in movies such as The Hundred Foot Journey or Big Night in which the feast is first and foremost a cultural celebration, and to lose that cultural identity would be to submit to an anti-feast.
Characteristic to Rivera’s art, the Calla Lily in this piece is a tribute to Aztec heritage as the flowers were commonly sold in markets on the days leading up to feast (Maureen Gilmer). Interestingly, the Calla Lily is not native to Mexico, but it’s prominence in Rivera’s art has created an ownership of the flower in Mexican consciousness, therefore indicating that the feast is not a singular event but an ideal to be continuously sought after. The simple lines in this work, specifically of the flowers, implies that the feast necessitates sharing and celebrating nature’s simplicity.
Finally, preparation, rather than consumption is essential to this piece. Similar to the movie Babette’s Feast, the care put into the preparation is what has made the feast a special meal. The act of feasting is not just one of consumption, but must include the preparation as well. While the people dancing in the background may be the actual consumers of the feast, Rivera’s positioning of those preparing the feast in the foreground elevates their, often overlooked, essentiality to the feast.
Kennicott, Philip. “Artists Helped Make the Mexican Revolution an International Phenomenon.” Washington Post, 27 Dec. 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/artists-helped-make-the-mexican-revolution-an-international-phenomenon/2016/12/26/2f344fde-c953-11e6-8bee-54e800ef2a63_story.html.
Maureen Gilmer. “True-Blue Bloomers Colorful Calla Inspired Mexican Muralist: [Final Edition].” Journal – Gazette, Jan 04, 2004, pp. 2F. ProQuest.