Saturday, January 23, 2010

Arte Popular de Mexico

I was in Austin last week to visit friends and, I couldn't help but notice how much of Texan culture is influenced by Mexico. However far from the border that Austin is, Mexican culture has percolated well north, infusing the food, dress, decor and language with its flavor, and Mexican arte popular is everywhere.

I stopped by the Mexic-Arte Museum in downtown Austin, and caught the gallery inbetween exhibitions, but they were really warm and helpful and let me head into the back to check out some of the art for the upcoming exhibition, Imagining Mexico. The museum tapped local collectors of Mexican arte popular for the bulk of the exhibition.

Several tables were filled with the familiar pieces of brightly colored sculptures, reflective of daily life and beliefs. There were several small clay churches and storefronts, hotel and clubs, all peopled by small clay figurines shopping or dancing or talking. One in particular was exquisite in its detail: a church with a festival procession of oxen and carts and people circling the church.

One of the most enchanting sculptures was of a naguale, or animal spirit. Similar to a Sphinx in the mixture of animal parts, the part human, part cat figure was painted light blue and covered with painted flowers and swirls. The head and neck scruff alone were left the color of clay with the face detail painted in. It is at once ferocious and pensive.

Without seeing the show in its entirity, I do question the whole show: its not at all interested in presenting Mexico, but in how collectors have percieved it, and then based their collections on fulfilling that image. It makes me think, a bit of a news piece that I saw recently, Texas Conservatives Closer To Banning Cesar Chavez From School Textbooks, in the News Junkie Post.

Texas, like California, was Mexico. And both are filled with recent immigrants and children, grandchildren of immigrants, as both California and Texan culture founds themselves on Mexican culture, yet there continues to be a disconnect between embracing the artifacts of the culture and the people themselves. The border, for me, is most painful when it exists as a wall between people.

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