In the third room of Casa Azul you will see a small sampling of a vast collection of exvotos amassed by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It is said they had one of the largest collections of these small tributes of thanks to a saint for a miracle, for saving a life, a favor received.
These are charming, naive paintings on laminate, tin, paper or cardboard, made by the person giving thanks. It usually includes a personal message below the scene, along with the name of the petitioner, and sometimes a date. You often see misspellings, incomplete sentences. A hammer and nail was all that was needed to attach the ex voto to the shrine in offering.
It is now difficult to find antique ex votos. Many we see are painted on distressed tin or steel to look old. Buyers can be deceived and pay a higher price than the piece is worth.
Yet, my tried and true motto is: If you like it, buy it. You may never see a piece like the one in front of you again. Meaningful mementos are important.
My other motto, that I learned a long time ago is: There will always be a sale. That is, there will always be something to fall in love with. If you pass it by, there will be something else, but it won’t be the same!
Back to ex votos.
The day after my visit to Casa Azul last week, I took the Australian group to Bazaar del Sabado in Plaza San Jacinto, San Angel. This is now my favorite place for imaginative, creative shopping in Mexico City. The bazaar, held only on Saturdays, is filled with contemporary art, jewelry, clothing, textiles and artisan designed wares.
Adjacent streets are lined with boutiques, galleries, and street artisans selling crafts from all over Mexico. Painters and print makers show their work displayed on easels in the surrounding parks. It is a lively place to meet, eat and spend the day.
My greatest discovery was the small shop operated by Karima Muyaes, whose father was an antique dealer and one of the original founders of Bazaar del Sabado. Karima is a talented painter who is in process of publishing a collection of her vast body of work.
The shop has a selection of fine contemporary ex voto reproductions and I became enamored with the idea of owning one, a la Frida and Diego. Karima is forthcoming about what is old and what is a reproduction. After I bought a blue six-headed sea monster who, ojala (god willing), did not strangle the supplicant, Karima and I talked about our mutual love for Oaxaca.
She also told me she had a few vintage ex-votos at her home and invited me to come to visit, which I happily did. The environment is a visual feast in tribute to the work of her father, his collections, and her amazing paintings.
She is in process of putting together a photo book of her life’s work. I had a chance to look at the early galleys and meet the graphic designer from Chicago who is working with her on her project.
I am thinking of purchasing a few ex votos for resale. If you are interested, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
It is likely I will meet Karima again before I leave Mexico City to return to North Carolina on this trip. We will probably visit her studio, where I will take more photos to share with you.