Tag Archives: Mexican

Mascaras Mexicanas: Mexican Masks — Dances, Dieties, Identity

A new temporary special exhibition at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) on the Zocalo in Mexico City features hundreds of hand-made masks from towns and villages throughout Mexico.

This is the same building that houses Diego Rivera murals, so if you go there soon, don’t miss this. Enter on side street through security, go to second floor.

 

I returned on my last day in the Federal District and spent about an hour-and-a-half learning more about Mexican art and culture. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In ancient civilizations one of the main functions of ritual masks was to represent gods to worship them in religious celebrations. This was designed to support natural and social equilibrium.

 

In pre-Hispanic Mexico, masks served as elements of transformation that allowed rulers and priests to assume the identity of their gods during ritual ceremonies.  This helped bridge communication between the spiritual and natural world.

 The gold mask, above right, was found in a Monte Alban, Oaxaca tomb.

Sculptures, reliefs, murals and figurines from throughout Mesoamerica show ancient members of the elite personifying deities with the masks and attire that empowered them.

If you come with us on Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Study Tour in February or March, you can drop in to see this show.

According to the exhibition curators, since the time of the Spanish conquest in 1521, the invaders prevented pre-Hispanic civilizations from freely practicing their religious customs. The conquistadores imposed their will by force. The Catholic religious friars sought to supplant native ancestral traditions by incorporating Christian ideas into native rituals.

 

Despite these efforts, pre-Hispanic symbols survived and indigenous people continue to observe their ancient religion under the veil of Catholicism.  New masks arose from this cultural mixing (mestizaje) with an original combination of symbols that continue to the present in many regions throughout Mexico.

 

This provides continuity for ceremonial and celebratory traditions.  Many communities throughout Mexico, such as Teotitlan del Valle, where I live, practice rites and dances like Dance of the Feather (Danza de la Pluma) from viceregal times in which costumes and masks play a central role in the celebrations.

        La Malinche mask, left, called Maringuilla bonita, is from the Purepecha Danza de los Viejitos, Michoacan. Here she appears as a sweet, modest young woman.  To the right is Moor Mask from the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca, with eyelashes and red cheeks depicting cultural exoticism.

 

The masks are handmade from gold, precious stones such as jade, turquoise, malachite and coral, wood, paper, straw, textiles and other materials. All the indigenous people of Mexico, including Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs, Purepechas and others used them.

 

Sacred dances in pre-Hispanic Mexico were ceremonies of invocation that found resonance in Catholicism as indigenous people were folded into the Spanish concept of small towns or barrios under the sponsorship of patron saints.

  Right, Huichol mask from the Sierra Madre of Jalisco. The Huichol people do intricate beadwork.

Indigenous people adopted and venerated these saint along with their own ancestors and pre-Hispanic deities. Friars promoted village feast days during the liturgical calendar and introduced morality plays. These were dramas based on sacred history and events that focused on the struggle between good and evil.

 

Often featured in these dances are masks representing Judas, Jews, Moors and the devil. The purpose of this was to instill fear and respect in the local population along with the message that they were defeated and obliged to strictly obey the new religion. I have no personal evidence today of any anti-Semitism in Mexico, that continues to welcome dissidents and disenfranchised.

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We see in the Hall of Festivals at the Secretary of Public Education Building in Mexico City, many of these celebrations painted by Diego Rivera in his murals. Masks in this exhibit depict the Deer Dance from Sinaloa, also featured by Rivera.

  La mascara posee un extraño poder de sugestiøn sobre la imaginaciøn … es la sintesis, la               esencia de la deidad, del demonio, muerto o héroe qu se trata de representar.                           — Miguel Covarrubias

           The mask has a strange power of suggestion on the imagination … it is the                                    synthesis, and represents the essence of deity, demon, death or hero.                                           — Miguel Covarrubias

The exhibition takes a step beyond the traditional to include the work of Mexican contemporary artists who work in various media. This painting (below) by Frida Kahlo, My Nanny and Me, is on loan for this exhibition from its home at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Evoking Frida Kahlo: Making Altars and Shrines Art Workshop

The painting is part of this exhibition because of the masked wet-nurse representing indigenous culture that provides sustenance.

 

Also included are the work of artists Francisco Toledo (paper mask) and Germån Cueto (wood mask), and painters and printmakers whose names I didn’t record (sorry).

   

Today, we often hide behind the mask we present to the world as a way of self-protection, self-preservation. In the days before the popularity of mask-wearing for Halloween, the mask was a symbol for deception, hypocrisy, and lies.

Instead, we can hide behind a straight face, make-up, choice of clothing to present who we are — to project “our face” outward. It is interesting to think that an exhibition of this type can cause each of us to ask the question, Who am I?How do I present myself and how am I “seen” in the world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peacocks and Xoloitzcuintle: Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum Garden

It’s not very common to get up close and personal with a peacock. Nor is it usual to come within a foot or two of the pre-Hispanic indigenous, Mexican hairless dog the Aztecs called xoloitzcuintle.

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Both are an integral part of the landscape at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Mexico City that houses the largest private collection in the world of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings.

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The collection is exhibited in an ex-hacienda that Olmedo purchased in the 1960’s, then on the outskirts of Mexico City in Xochimilco near the last remaining Aztec floating gardens, accessible via gondolas that traverse the canals.  Today, thePeacocks-33

neighborhood of La Noria has been absorbed by the city sprawl of almost 25 million people. Sunday is the best day to visit when traffic is light.

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Olmedo was a long-time friend and patroness of Rivera, and a Kahlo classmate at the National Preparatory School. An astute and independent business woman, Dolores Olmedo not only purchased many of Rivera’s paintings but also those of Frida at Diego’s request.

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Rivera asked her to be executor of his estate and to preserve the contents of Casa Azul. She agreed not to open the bathroom/closet doors for fifteen years after his death.  Today her Foundation operates both the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum and Casa Azul.

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It wasn’t until after Olmedo died in 2002 that the closet contents were revealed. There is no clear explanation for why she kept the contents secreted away. Letters, drawings and the wardrobe that is now on display in the Casa Azul Museo Frida Kahlo annex exhibit area were uncovered revising the history of the Kahlo-Rivera relationship.

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The park-like grounds of the Olmedo museum attracts families and school children most weekends. There is a small restaurant with good, reasonably priced and basic Mexican food. The outdoor stage brings musicians and dancers from all over Mexico to entertain the crowds. Last weekend a band of musicians from Veracruz and Oaxaca played jarocho music accompanied by a versatile dancer.

Peacocks-10 Mostly, it’s the peacocks and the dogs who thrill the children. It’s mating season and there is full display of plumage and a lot of tail feather shaking going on.

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Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour with a knowledgeable art historian, coming winter 2015-2016. Let me know if you are interested in joining us.

 

 

More About Mexico City: Museums

For the past week, before returning today to North Carolina for knee replacement surgery next week, I have been in Mexico City where some of the world’s best museums are found. I added on two days on my own before we started our fifth Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Study Tour this year!

Highlights to share with you:

At the Franz Mayer Museum there is a special exhibition of the collection of Ruth Lechuga’s folk art collection. A physician and photographer, Ruth Lechuga left Vienna, Austria with her family at age eighteen to escape the Holocaust. Mexican people and their creativity became her passion. (Mexico received many who sought asylum when the United States closed its doors.)

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In another exhibit hall at the Franz Mayer Museum is the art of TANE, the Mexico City silver and gold jewelry and design studio. Their bench artists have been working in precious metals since 1942.

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What is not to admire? Even Oaxaca’s great artist Francisco Toledo has worked with TANE to design this extraordinary silver fish that you see above.

2014MuseumsB-83 2014MuseumsB-86          In addition to contemporary jewelry designs, TANE creates traditional hammered and woven silver pieces, like this exceptional hammered rooster chandelier, above left.  This is an extraordinary exhibition if you love the history of silver and silversmithing in Mexico. And, if you want to shop, there’s a TANE boutique at El Palacio de Hierro, Mexico City’s great department store, just a block from the Zocalo in the historic center of town. Pay attention to the Tiffany glass ceiling there, too.

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The courtyard patio of the Franz Mayer Museum offers a lovely respite for espresso, sweets and good sandwiches, plus a perfect venue for a fashion photo shoot where amazing posters of social and political commentary from around the world hang.

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We packed it in that day. Our next stop was to see the collection at the Soumaya Museum and the Jumex Museum in the wealthy Polanco district of Mexico City. These are both private museums owned by family foundations. The collections range from classical to contemporary.

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We were blown away by the extent of the Soumaya Museum’s collection of Rodin and Dali bronze sculptures, and a floor devoted to Sophia Loren in Mexico.

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Photos above show museum architecture and the office complex backdrop. This is not far from Chapultepec Park where we returned the next day to immerse ourselves in the art at the Rufino Tamayo Museum (the BEST museum store in the city, IMHO) and where we saw the temporary exhibition of Japanese-American artist Yayoi Kusama.

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Then, on to the Museum of Modern Art that houses Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas and Diego Rivera’s portrait of his second wife Lupe Marin, plus other important works. We followed this with dinner at Chef Alejandro Rios’ Guzina Oaxaca.

How do we get around Mexico City?  If I can’t get there on foot, I call UBER.  Yes, Mexico City is served by UBER and you can usually get a private, secure car and driver to come pick you up in less than ten minutes. All cars have seat belts, most drivers provide a small bottle of water as a courtesy, and there is no exchange of money and no tipping.  It’s the best!

Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30.

Scheduling 2015 Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Study Tour. Are you interested? Send an email!