Politics, history, and the arts through murals

Visiting Mexico City means taking in the larger-than-life murals of Diego Rivera. We visited three locations featuring these exquisite frescoes.

The Palacio Nacional (National Palace), which houses the office of the President and other cabinet departments, contains a historical timeline of Mexico as depicted by Rivera. It is difficult to capture the grandeur of these detailed murals of the Mexican civilization. I will share only two murals with you, one showing the indigenous cultures that flourished before the Spanish conquest, and one after.

After the Mexican Revolution Rivera was concerned with two issues, and these determined his artistic themes: the need to offset the contempt with which the conquistadors had viewed the ancient Indian civilizations, and the need to offset the anti-mestizo and anti-Indian attitudes of the European-oriented ruling classes during the porfiriato (the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz).

The role of the arts was to restore understanding of and pride in the heritage and cultures that the concept of Spanish superiority had subverted . . . early indigenistas [like Rivera] tended to glorify the Indian heritage and vilify that of the Spaniards as a means of rectifying a historical imbalance and advancing certain political ideas” (103). (Source: http://bit.ly/2sBTjbn)

Totonac Civilization

Ruins of the structures depicted can be found at El Tajín, Veracruz. At the Museum of Anthropology, we saw the rings and balls used in the ball courts in the upper left corner of the mural.

The Arrival of Cortés

… he depicts in dramatic fashion the violence and exploitation of the Spanish conquerors. Natives hanging in the background, the branding of the native in the foreground, and the reduction of the indians to slaves and pack horses show the cruelty and savagery of the Conquest.

In the center is La Malinche (Doña Marina), a native woman who became Cortés’ mistress and mother of his child Martín. Malinche knew both the (Aztec) Nahuatl language and Maya, thus enabling Hernán Cortés to communicate in both. She became a very valuable interpreter and counselor. The blue-eyed child staring outward at us represents the mixture of the races. (Source: http://bit.ly/2tubi3n)

At the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a magnificent art deco building that hosts visual and performing artists, is the famous mural, “Man, Controller of the Universe.” This is the recreation of the mural that Rivera painted at the Rockefeller Center and which was destroyed in 1934. It is almost impossible to capture the entire mural given its size and frequent visitors, so I show you the panel that caused the controversy.

Man at the Crossroads

Man at the Crossroads … is a whodunit tale that also illustrates the tensions between art and politics.

… the piece would have been stunning had it survived. He had this vision of the importance of technology in the future and the hope that there would be a coming together of workers and industrialists and businessmen to further mankind in general, … It was a very hopeful mural. (Source: Destroyed by Rockefellers, Mural Trespassed On Political Vision, NPR. http://n.pr/1G1R5Rj)


If you are ever in CDMX and want to get unobstructed views of Rivera’s murals, go to the Ministry of Public Education, a few blocks away from the National Palace. We had the entire grounds practically to ourselves. The building has two large courtyards with Rivera’s murals covering several floors in each.

Attempting to sum up his 235 panel cycle, Rivera later writes that his goal was “to reflect the social life of Mexico as I saw it, and through my vision of the truth to show the masses the outline of the future.” (Source: http://mo.ma/2sBNvia)

While all of the frescoes have their own story, these were my favorite. They depict the daily arts of dyeing and weaving.

Los Tintoreros (The Dyers)


Los Tintoreros 3

Los Tejedores (The Weavers)

The one mural I have not seen is Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park) located at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. Therefore, I must return to CDMX one day!

More Mexico City Highlights

Our trip to CDMX (Ciudad de México or Mexico City) was packed with visits to historic archaeological sites, museums, street festivals, and restaurants serving the most delicious food. These photos do not do justice to the sights, sounds, and smells of the city but they will give you a glimpse of the amazing CDMX.

Templo Mayor

The Great Temple was the Mexica sacred space par excellence. The most important rituals were enacted here, including those dedicated to their gods, the naming of their leaders, and the funerals of the nobility. The Mexica architects designed the Great Temple as the center for their model of the universe, where the horizontal plane converged with the vertical plane. (Source: Site placard).

Coatepantli aka
Serpents and Frogs at the Great Temple. Different species of serpents were represented in architecture; their bodies were decorated with symbolic elements, such as feathers, rings, or spirals. Two enormous serpents, each measuring 6 m (20 ft) long and with an undulating body, flank the access to the platform. (Source: Site placard).
Chac mool at Tlaloc Shrine
Tlaloc, the rain god … was responsible for bringing rain, which enabled crops to grow. Outside the entrance, we can see the polychrome sculpture of a chac mool, bearing the attributes of Tlaloc and still retaining its original color. (Source: Site placard).
The House of the Eagles
Bas reliefs of eagle warriors and serpents.

Coyoacán

Frida Kahlo’s blue house is located in the neighborhood of Coyoacán. The word means roughly “place of the coyotes” in náhuatl, an Aztec language still spoken today. The neighborhood is vibrant. Walking along the shady streets, we came across this brightly decorated altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe.

Our destination was La Casa Azul, the home that Frida Kahlo was born and died in. A hand painted sign tells visitors that Frida y Diego vivieron en esta casa 1929-1954 (Frida and Diego lived in this house 1929-1954).

Frida’s studio still has her collection of paint bottles and brushes.

A special exhibit called Los Vestidos de Frida Kahlo (The Dresses of Frida Kahlo) displayed the artist’s clothing, jewelry and footwear. Also on display were the tight corsets she wore as a result of a childhood accident that left her with a lifetime of pain.

IMG_1611

“My painting carries with it the message of pain.” – Frida Kahlo.

The exhibition takes its title from an artwork by Frida Kahlo of the same title – Las Apariencias Engañan (Appearances can be Deceiving) – where Kahlo portrays herself in manner of an X-Ray, revealing her dramatic disabilities concealed beneath the layers. (Source: http://bit.ly/2s0j0lC)

Giant paper mâché figures are located throughout the house and courtyards.

Vogue Mexico has a slide show of many of the items from the exhibit plus selected photos of the Blue House. To learn more about the Blue House, go to the Museo Frida Kahlo site.

Trotsky’s House

Leon Trotsky’s house is a ten minute walk from La Casa Azul. The home is simple and the grounds peaceful although the guard towers and bullet holes in the walls tell another story.

Leon Trotsky House

Trotsky’s desk still has the items he used on a daily basis – his spectacles, papers and ink bottles.

Items on Leon Trostky's desk.

Yarn Sightings

The Mercado de Coyoacán is a typical Mexican market with all kinds of touristy items on sale including pottery, traditional dresses, puppets, t-shirts and the like. The market also carries an abundance of fresh fruit, meats and spices. Walking along all the circuitous aisles I finally spotted yarn. I didn’t buy any but it was nice to see and touch.

Yarn Sighting 1 at Mercado de Coyoacan

Yarn Sighting 2 at Mercado de Coyoacan

City of Teotihuacán

The holy city of Teotihuacan (‘the place where the gods were created’) is situated some 50 km north-east of Mexico City. Built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D., it is characterized by the vast size of its monuments – in particular, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, laid out on geometric and symbolic principles.

Human occupation of the valley of Teotihuacan began before the Christian era, but it was only between the 1st and the 7th centuries A.D. that the settlement developed into one of the largest ancient cities in the Americas, with at least 25,000 inhabitants.

(Source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/414).

A full-day excursion took us to the City of Teotihuacán where my son and I climbed to the tops of the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world rising to 75 meters (246 feet) high. The 248 steps to the top are high and narrow. I won’t show you a photo of what I looked like once I got to the top, but trust me, I did it. We also climbed the Pyramid of the Moon which is 43 meters (140 feet) high.

Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Sun: The pyramid’s base is 222 meters long on each side, and it’s now just over 70 meters high. The pyramid was cobbled together around AD 100 from three million tonnes of stone, without the use of metal tools, pack animals or the wheel. (Source: http://bit.ly/2r8Zr9p).

Temple of the Feathered Serpent

The structure known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl or the “Plumed serpent,” was built between 150 and 200 a.d. It consists of seven stepped bodies, with “slope and panel” designed walls on all four sides, decorated with plumed serpents, carved in stone, which move among seashells. (Source: Site placard).

Temple of the Feathered Serpent - Wall

Temple of the Feathered Serpent - Close up

As we walked down one of the pyramids, we saw these stones jutting out of the slanted wall. There wasn’t a sign telling us what they were but we surmised they are there to break someone’s fall should they have the misfortune of tumbling down the pyramid.

Side of a pyramid.

El Bazaar Sábado

Early Saturday morning, we made our way to the neighborhood of San Ángel for the Bazaar Sábado. We walked along cobble-stoned streets into beautiful colonial buildings and around the periphery of San Jacinto Square overflowing with artists. Artisans in many crafts gather every Saturday morning featuring artwork in leather, glass, pottery, jewelry, and textiles. The Androna textiles were magnificent in their multi-colored hues.

Androna Textiles 1

Textile techniques and designs are a living heritage passed from mothers to daughters throughout generations in regions like Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Guerrero, Hidalgo and Yucatán. With materials such as cotton, silk, wool and linen, Androna Linartas curates traditional textiles made with different techniques like back strap loom, foot loom, embroidery and hook among others. Her goal is to preserve the essential Mexican textile culture. (Source: http://bit.ly/2suKWAI).

Androna Textiles 3

This is already a long post so I will stop here. Luckily, the flight to CDMX is only two and a half hours from Houston. I see another trip on the horizon. Hasta la próxima.

 

 

From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions

Working full-time and pursuing an MBA do not leave very much free time. Immediately after the new year, there was a gap of about a week before major assignments were due. We took advantage of this opportunity for a trip to México City, only a two-hour flight from Houston. There was the added benefit that Cornell has a board room of students in México City and I was able to join them for class.

The purpose of the trip was to show our son some of the many treasures of México. We went on a whirlwind tour of murals, pyramids, cathedrals, archaeological ruins, culture and gastronomy. Along the way, my husband and son appeased me by allowing me to look for interesting textile arts.

We could have spent days walking through the vast National Museum of Anthropology. The museum features grand salons for every major period of Mexican history. We made a beeline toward the magnificent Piedra del Sol (Stone of the Sun), which is often incorrectly called the Aztec calendar. The Stone of the Sun is 3 feet deep, almost 12 feet wide and weighs almost 25 tons.

IMG_1546

The stone “depicts the five consecutive worlds of the sun from Aztec mythology. …it is an elaborately carved solar disk, which for the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures represented rulership. At the top of the stone is a date glyph (13 reed) which represents both the beginning of the present sun, the 5th and final one according to mythology, and the actual date 1427 CE, thereby legitimizing the rule of Itzcoatl (who took power in that year) and creating a bond between the divine and mankind.

(Source: http://www.ancient.eu/Sun_Stone/)

Textiles

After staring at awe at the massive stone, we wandered through various halls and came across these ancient textiles of the indigenous Nahua.

“Clothing distinguishes the indigenous groups of México and even within one group. Among the Nahuas each subgroup, each region and even each village has its own way of dressing. Each pattern conserves a tradition, each design speaks of knowledge maintained over the centuries, each form represents a way of seeing the world.”

(Source: Museum placard)

Basketry

We saw woven bags and baskets made from hard fibers such as junco, bejuco, palm and carrizo.

Weaving

This is a reproduction of a typical home in the village of Contla in the state of Tlaxcala. According to the museum placard, rustic pedaled looms were installed in any available space.

Crafts

A day at the Saturday Bazaar in San Ángel yielded a wonderful surprise. Since we were there right after Christmas, we saw all the winning entries for the Primer Concurso Nacional, “De Principio a Fin, Tradiciones Populares Mexicanas” (First National Competition, “From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions”). Themes revolved around the Day of the Dead and Christmas.

Las piezas que se elaboran con motivo de estas festividades, dan cuenta de la compleja concepción de la vida humana y de la constante interacción entre la vida y la muerte dentro de la cultura popular mexicana.

The pieces that are created for these festivities tell the story of the complex idea of life and the constant interaction between life and death within popular mexican culture.

(Source: Event signage. Translations are mine.)

Nacimiento tejido en palma natural maciza y tierna, elaborada con técnica de esfera. 38 piezas.

Nativity woven from natural strong and tender palm constructed with a spherical technique. 38 pieces.

Carro alegórico con ofenda tradicional del Día de muertos, elaborado con fibra de trigo. Tiempo de elaboración: 1 semana

Allegorical vehicle with a traditional offering of the day of the dead, constructed with wheat fibers. Time to produce: 1 week.

“Los animales van a ver el nacimiento”
Tira bordada con hilo de algodón mercerizado con punto fino. Tiempo de elaboración: 4 meses

“The animals go to see the nativity.” Embroidered strip with mercerized cotton thread with a fine point. Time to produce: 4 months.

Nacimiento con bordado fino mazahaua en manta de algodón.

Finely embroidered nativity on cotton cloth in the style of the Mazahaua people.

“La tradición de mi pueblo”
Servilleta elaborada en telar de cintura, con técnica de brocado, tenida con tintes naturales: caracol púrpura y algodón coyuchi verde.

“The tradition of my village.” Napkin woven on a backstrap loom with brocade technique and tinted with natural dyes: purple snails and organic green cotton.”

“Nacimiento tradicional de Cuetzalan del Progreso. Puebla.”
Telar de cintura de algodón azul, bordado de brocado.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

“Traditional nativity of the city of Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla.” Blue cotton on a backstrap loom embroidered in brocade. Time to produce: 1 month

Tapiz de Nacimiento Mexicano, elaborado en telar de cintura de algodón con doble alzadera y puntas de flecos.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

Tapestry of the Mexican Nativity, woven on a backstrap loom out of cotton with fringe. Time to produce: 1 month

These are only a sampling of the many handicrafts we saw during our trip. More to come.

Girl’s Weekend

Mom turned seventy-something this month and I had been contemplating a mother-daughter weekend for some time. To make it even more fun, we invited my aunt whom I had not seen in a while. Thus began our girl’s weekend.

The destination was Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg was founded by German immigrants and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia. (Source). It is located among the rolling stretch of the Texas Hill Country just a short drive from Luckenbach, Texas. Yes, the one with “Waylon and Willie and the boys.”

We took the scenic route on Farm Road 1376 to get there and made our first stop in Sisterdale, Texas (population 25). Housed in a restored cotton gin is the winery for Sister Creek Vineyards.

Sister Creek Winery

We toured the various rooms where the grapes are turned into Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Oak barrels were neatly arranged in rows fermenting the wine. A sign read, “Employees only please. Our wine is resting.” After a wine tasting, we packed up a couple of bottles and hit the road again.

Upon arriving in Fredericksburg, our first stop was the cottage which would be our home for the weekend. Words cannot describe how adorable this place is – all 440 comforting, quaint and cozy square feet. Mom said it was like staying in a life-size doll house.

The Cottage

Once settled in, the rest of the weekend was filled with one delight after another. It turns out that the monthly Fredericksburg Trade Days was during our girl’s weekend. Trade Days is a giant flea market with 7 barns and various acres of antiques and collectibles. The girls were giddy with excitement stopping at every booth, finding shabby chic and rustic decorations, and sampling Texas salsas and peach jams.

Trade Days 1

Trade Days 3

Trade Days 2

For meals, we ate hearty German food and locally-brewed lagers and ales at the biergartens and steakhouses; and creamed corn frito pies and bacon-wrapped grilled jalapeños at the food stalls at Trade Days.

On Sunday morning, after enjoying hot coffee and the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies left at the cottage by our host, we stopped at Wildseed Farms. Wildseed Farms has acres of zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias, and other wildflowers; and rows of vegetables and shrubs. Everything is labeled so that one can buy the seeds or plants from the nursery.

Wildseed Farms Nursery 2

Wildseed Farms Nursery 3

Wildseed Farms Nursery 4

Wildseed Farms 2

Wildseed Farms 1

Wildseed Farms 3

We shopped, slept, did our make-up together sitting at the cozy kitchen table, talked, laughed, and enjoyed life. Just us girls.

Wildseed Farms Nursery 1

Supper on South Street

On my trip to Philadelphia, I had a few precious hours on Sunday afternoon in which to soak up as much of the local culture as possible. After a mad dash to the Historic District to visit Independence Hall and see the Liberty Bell, I made my way to South Street. South Street is an eclectic, bohemian neighborhood which has managed to maintain a historic look through years of gentrification. Some of the building facades with their stripped paint have a decaying quality while brand new structures like the Whole Foods grocery store serve as a focal point for the funky blend of South Street residents.

As I meandered my way past tiled mosaic exteriors, bars and boutiques, I almost walked past Supper. I had not eaten except for an apple at the airport so I was famished. I took a quick glance at the menu posted on the window and instantly knew I had come to the right place. Supper is a chef-owned restaurant that “serves seasonal farm-direct American cuisine.” Through a partnership with Blue Elephant Farm, a privately owned organic farm, they cook with and serve fresh produce grown exclusively for them.

Providence was with me because it happened to be Restaurant Week and Supper was serving a four-course meal for $35.

The Beverage

River Horse Double Wit, a Belgian style wheat brew with orange peel, lemon peel and coriander. Brewed in Pennsylvania.

The Hors d’oeuvre

Sriracha deviled eggs, freshly-baked rosemary bread and sweet cream butter.

First Course

BE Farm greens and herbs salad with ben’s apples, smoked chicken cracklins, cornbread croutons and buttermilk dressing.

Entree

BE Farms farro risotto with butternut squash, caramelized apple and mint.

Dessert

Butterscotch bread pudding with poached pears and spiced whipped cream.

Location

Supper is located at 926 South Street, Philadelphia, PA, in the South Street Headhouse District.