Art history is a fascinating way to learn more about Mexico and the figures who shaped the nation — political, social, cultural. Through their interpretation of characters and events, the famed muralists — Diego Rivera, David Alfara Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco — gave definition to a new nation seeking to redefine itself post-1920 Revolution. We call this Mexican Muralism.
While I’m now in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I’m reflecting back to last weekend in Mexico City, where, in collaboration with my art historian friend Valeria, we led a group of nine participants from the USA through the historic center. Here is where a turbulent history is interpreted through art. We started on Thursday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon, packing it in, walking miles each day, absorbing a fascinating evolution.
Mexico is defined by many internal and external forces, mostly her on-going desire to reconcile the Spanish conquest with her indigenous origins. Embracing Mestizaje — blending indigenous roots with conquerors, occupiers and immigrants, is what makes Mexico unique among nations, and very different from her northern neighbors.
Rivera, who sat out the 1910-1920 Revolution, painting and making a name for himself in Europe, returned to Mexico City in 1921. Jose Vasconcelos, the first minister of education, recruited Rivera to paint the murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica (SEP), his first commission.
The murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros are commentaries on national identity, statehood, oppression and power. The Rivera murals at SEP in particular were part of a national communication plan (aka propaganda) to embrace native culture and arts. Critics say Rivera’s murals are romantic and idealistic. His contemporaries, survivors of the Revolution, painted a more hopeless, violent vision, expressing their belief that the past must be destroyed in order to create a new order.
By Sunday, we move more deeply into the life and times of Frida Kahlo with a visit to Casa Azul, a stark contrast to the muralists.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, the year Rivera went to Europe as a young man. During her lifetime she was dwarfed literally and figuratively by her imposing husband. It wasn’t until after her death in 1954 at age 47, that she became the iconic figure she is today — representing women’s strength, pain, fortitude, perseverance, endurance.
We revere her because her art is self-expression. She painted emotion and the internal life. She was a participant, not an observer. She hid her deformities under extraordinary handmade Mexican clothing — popularizing the style, corseted beneath to hold her injured spine erect. Andre Breton called her surrealist. We call her survivor.
Our art history tour weaves the relationship between Diego and Frida with the times in which they lived and worked. We also examine the politics of Socialism and Communism in Mexico, how the Rivera’s gave sanctuary to Leon Trotsky, the idealism of young American artists like Pablo O’Higgins, Isamu Noguchi, and the Greenwood sisters — Marion and Grace, who were drawn to the movement. We see their deteriorating murals in an obscure market blocks from the city center.
We understand Mexico more now, how the creative stream of artistic energy here continues to express social and political inequalities, injustices, and discontent.
Here in Oaxaca, our beloved Maestro Francisco Toledo, carried the mantle of social justice art until he died in September 2019. Young graphic artists follow in the footsteps of the masters, use wood, linoleum block and metal plates to carve out images of truth to power. Mexico offers creative opportunity to any and all who choose to express themselves.
Note: If you put together a group of 5-6 people, I am happy to organize this experience over a long weekend in Mexico City.
Mexican Folk Art for Sale: Vintage and Reproduction Ex-Votos
Ex-votos came to Mexico from Spain with the 1521 conquest. They are devotional prayer plaques applied to shrines in thanksgiving for a miracle received from a particular saint. These small votive offerings are hand-painted on tin and naive folk art. Usually the supplicant, the person giving thanks for the miracle, hired a local untrained artist who could also write to express gratitude.
Often, though, you find misspelled and illegible words, which reflects the lack of sophistication and charm of the piece. The painting often includes the name of the town or province and the date of the offering. They were usually nailed to an altar or shrine.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had one of the largest collections of Ex-votos, many of which are on display at Casa Azul in Mexico City.
Vintage Ex-Votos for Sale: 1930’s-1940’s
#1. San Martin Caballero. This first one, below, is a naive vintage painting on tin, surrounded by the original tin frame, of Saint Martin on Horseback. Saint Martin (San Martin) of Tours is usually depicted giving a piece of his cloak to the poor. My art collector friend says this is from the 1930’s to 1940’s, though it is undated. Size: approx. 6″ wide x 8″ high. $345 USD plus shipping and insurance.
San Martin Caballero ex-voto in original tin frame, vintage, primitive. $345
Back of San Martin Caballero frame
Giving thanks for a miraculous recovery from typhoid fever. $345 USD.
#2. XXX Garcia La Pez, my son (first name partly illegible), has recovered from typhoid and is now healthy because of this miracle. Created by Fresnillo. Zacatecaz, in memory of my father Lupercio Garcia B. Size: 6-1/2″ x 10-3/4″
$345 USD plus shipping. Note: Colors are pure, as depicted in photo. Small tear at bottom of the tin border. 1930’s-1940’s.
Back side of Fresnillo, Zacatecaz, ex-voto
Thanks for a prodigious miracle.
#3. Lupema Lora Rosales from Zacatecas gives thanks for a prodigious miracle. We don’t know what it is, but we see her photo affixed to the ex-voto in the lower left corner — an unusual application! The saint is surrounded by flowers, a burning skull, a naively painted Jesus, and children. $345 plus shipping. Size is 6-3/4″ high x 9-3/4″ wide (approx.).
photo of back of A Prodigious Miracle ex-voto
Condition of Vintage Pieces: These are between 70 and 80 years old. There will be some surface scratches, rust and imperfections due to age.
Ex-Voto Reproductions for Sale: New
These two ex-votos (below) are painted and signed by contemporary Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez, noted for his whimsical ex-voto depictions. They are reproductions based on the artist’s knowledge of the genre. I acquired them. from a well-known collector in Mexico City. It is offered to you for sale. Size: 9-1/2″ high x 12″ wide, at $95 each, plus shipping.
Wild turkey guajolote did not devour the boy Jose Luis Arreola. Give thanks. New. $95.
# 1. The wild turkey, Mr. Guajolote, was about to gobble me up!
Ruperto Chaves offers thanks for being saved from the giant octopus. New. $95.
#2. Imagine being strangled by a giant octopus that suddenly appears from a cave.
Terms of Purchase: Please contact me you are interested in purchasing and refer to the subject of the ex-voto or the number. Payment is requested in full with PayPal. I will calculate shipping and insurance based on your mailing address and send you a link for payment. There are no returns or refunds. Thank you.
Posted in Cultural Commentary
Tagged collectibles, ex voto, folk art, for sale, Frida Kahlo, Mexico, milagro, naive painting, primitive, retablo, shrine