Pan American Unity

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In 1940, Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who had been divorced for a year, met on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Rivera was in town to paint Pan American Unity, a large mural commissioned by the Golden Gate International Exposition.

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In the mural, Rivera had depicted himself with his back to his ex-wife. In the image he was holding the hand of Hollywood starlet Paulette Goddard. The gesture, Rivera said, symbolized “closer Pan-Americanism.” When the mural was unveiled, Kahlo did not attend the ceremony. “I do not want to meet Paulette and other dames,” she said.

Then, to the surprise of many, Rivera and Kahlo showed up together on December 8 at City Hall. There they were quickly married for a second time. But within a couple of weeks Kahlo — who had married on the condition that there would be no sex between the two and that Rivera would support her financially — left for Mexico, never to return to the city.

At the advent of the war the mural was put in storage, where it remained for two decades. Today it hangs in the lobby of the theater at City College, testament to the midcentury affairs of artists and nations.

For more, see Intersections: True Tales of San Francisco

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