Paisaje con pina,1953, Maria Izquierdo
My nieces, 1940, Maria Izquierdo
Outside Frida’s home – the Blue House

Blue House is where Frida used to live and work. Currently it is a museum dedicated to the her life and work as an legendary Mexican artist. It’s known as Blue House for the structure’s cobalt-blue walls.

In Frida’s studio
Inside the Blue House
In the courtyard of the Blue House

Frida’s blue house is located in the Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Coyoacán in Mexico City.

 British-born painter, writer and sculptor Leonora Carrington was considered one of the last of the original surrealists. She was a member of a rare trio of Mexico-based female surrealists along with Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo. She was also part of a famous wave of artistic and political emigres who arrived in Mexico in the 1930s and ’40s. and in the male-dominated realm of surrealism.

Why are there so few ‘great’ female artists?

Today, I headed to Museo de Arte Popular, a Mexican folk art museum near Centro Histórico. The museum consists of three levels, showcasing pieces from pottery to sculptures to textiles. 

I personally found the exhibit of Mexican textiles to be the most captivating and enlightening. I learned about the process through which Mexicans traditionally make clothes, from finding raw materials for dye to spinning and weaving fabric on a loom, and saw the handmade huipil, a loose dress, and telar, a loom with a cloth still in-progress, all of them done in a variety of styles and colors and made in different states. 

Image from Museo de Arte Popular

 

Image from Museo de Arte Popular
Image from Museo de Arte Popular
Image from Museo de Arte Popular

Production of textiles traditionally has been the job of women and girls. To say that the task is demanding and painstaking is no exaggeration. Producing the dyes for clothes is itself already an undertaking. For example, to obtain indigo, they needed to dive into the sea and find the mollusk Plicopurpura pansa which secretes the color; to obtain red, they had to scrape cochineal  off of cacti and harvest them.

One of the questions that urged me to travel here to Mexico is why there are so few famous female artists. I think that the answer lies partially in this textile exhibit. The things that girls and women devoted so much time and energy into making such as textiles are not what people generally consider fine art. The amount of time, effort, and skill that is invested into them is no less than the amount in the pieces we consider fine art, yet while the names Picasso and Warhol are passed on generation after generation, the female weavers remain nameless, having never had the chance to even fade into obscurity in the first place. We tend to take for granted the hard work that goes into everyday items like textiles, overlooking their beauty and value which go beyond that of a famous name and hefty price tag at art auctions.

Still, the intricacy, individuality, perseverance behind each of Mexico’s traditional textiles and the cultural longevity of them, to me at least, is a mark of not just fine art— but great art.

During the later half of July in Oaxaca, colorful posters, live bands, and an overall air of festivity denotes the coming of Guelaguetza— an annual cultural event where different ethnic groups in Oaxaca perform in an outdoor auditorium to showcase their indigenous cultures through dance, dress, and food.

I went to the 10:00 am festival on the 22nd. The whole stadium was packed. All 11,000 seats were occupied and many people had arrived hours in advance, waiting in long lines that wound down along the mountain, to get a seat in sections C and D. 

The festival opens with the honoring of the goddess of corn Centéotl. A few days prior, a contest is held in which participants are tested on their knowledge of clothing, customs, and traditions. The winner is vested as the goddess and presides over the first activities of the Guelaguetza and walks among the audience.

Afterwards, each group performs, dressed in the clothes of their indigenous community and using dance to express everything from the groom bringing the bride’s family gifts prior to marriage to the conquest of the Aztecs to honoring Saint Peter. 

The Guelaguetza has been taking place since before the Spanish conquest of Mexico and so the preservation of indigenous cultures while integrating some Christian elements brought by the Spanish made for a diversity and character of each of the performances which was truly special to see. Every performance was energetic and unique, showcasing the richness of the respective group’s culture. 

What is even more special about Guelaguetza is that it goes beyond the dance performances that occur at the auditorium, encompassing the performances, and dissemination of traditional food, dress, and handcrafts happening in the city center and surrounding regions. 

The most extraordinary part of Guelaguetza is that it preserves indigenous customs and traditions and, in doing so, preserves the age-old art of ethnic groups in Oaxaca— similar to the way we put famous pieces on the walls of museum, only Guelaguetza is not just something to look at and admire from afar. Rather, it is a cultural exchange in which anyone can partake and, through doing so, truly appreciate the ways of different ethnic groups which have been passed down, generation through generation.

Exhibit: Colección Abierta Patrimoniales

Women artists were among the avant garde artists in that national reconstruction period. Those women artists includeFrida Kahlo, Maria Izquierdo, Lola Cueto, Tina Modotti, Lola Alvarez Bravo, and Rosario Cabrera.

Frida Kahlo
Cucrucholin Theatre_1940_Lola Cueto
Lola Cueto in Munal

Tina Modotti, Lola Alvarez Bravo

Maria Izquierdo, Rosario Cabrera

New democracy 1944, 5.50 x 11.98 m, David Alfaro Siqueiros
Birth of our nationality, 1952, Rufino Tamayo
Mexico today 1953, Rufino Tamayo
Katharsis or The eternal fight of humanity for a better world

The Casa Lamm Cultural Center is one of the best known landmarks in Mexico city.  It hosts numerous exhibits throughout the year.