La Serenissima

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mexico people, art and street life

There’s always a buzz in the streets here, whether you’re in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Playa del Carmen, Puebla, Taxco or Guanajuato, to name just a few places. People going to or coming from work, people whose work is as an “ambulante” – a street vendor – people delivering things, people selling things - notably food, kept warm in portable ovens, from their modified bicycles. 

Take the Tamale vendor in the Cuahtemoc neighbourhood of Mexico City near the Stock Exchange and Paseo de la Reforma. He has been peddling his bike around the streets here for years and has a “trade mark” call, now modernised with a continuous loop tape recording of his voice. Just on dinner time, when busy people are either arriving home from work or just leaving the many office buildings, he starts his rounds, calling out “Tamales Calientes” (hot tamales) and is regularly besieged by hungry customers. He works the streets until about 10pm, quelling the local hunger and appetites. Then there is the sweet potato vendor, also on a bike with a special oven on board, and his trade mark sound effect is not his voice but a steam whistle.

Many children also sell goods in the street, although this is diminishing. But you can still see young kids, for example, selling cool drinks in summer time. Then there are others who are reading or doing homework on the front steps of their house.

And of course, the balloon sellers are ubiquitous in every town! 

Sunday is a big family day in Mexico City it's home to about 25 million people and many of the main museums have free admission on that day. Consequently, most of the cultural venues have large crowds throughout the day. Chapultapec Park, and enormous public park situated on a hill at the end of Paseo de la Reforma,  a huge, wide boulevard. 

It is packed with families of a Sunday all generations out together, enjoying the environment and, it would seem, each others' company. The park contains many of the citys key museums and galleries, including the Anthological Museum, Rufino Tamayo Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the Museum of National History, Chapultapec Castle and the Natural History Museum.

There are other venues for getting people together to enjoy art. In the Jardin del Arte there is an exhibition put on by local artists that showcases various media – watercolours, oils, acrylics, photography and ceramics. The works are for sale and you get to talk with each artist as you stroll about. We bought four pieces from a lovely Mexican artist, Susana Lezama, who has exhibited work in London, Cuenca and Barcelona in Spain, Basel in Switzerland, San Francisco in the US and Havana in Cuba. We had two lively conversations with her, about Mexico and life in general. Her speciality is still life, focusing on form, texture and colour. Other artists reflected scenes from Mexican street life, landscapes and abstract art.

Of course, there are the works of world renowned Mexican artists like Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo, Rufino Tamayo  and countless others. Art galleries are well attended, especially on Sunday and people flock in their millions to the various museums, galleries and archeological sites.

It is interesting to me to see the curatorial talent evident in their galleries, from the Museo de Arte Moderno to a museum like the Franz Meyer in Mexico City. In the Franz Meyer, it is a real test to exhibit a range of art forms collected over a lifetime by Meyer, including painting, textiles, silver and gold, furniture and so on, in an historic house. But they manage to bring it off very well your curiosity peeked and interest stimulated, rather than being overwhelmed by a jumble of stuff.

Equally, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia has gradually renovated and redesigned how the various phases of Mexican history are displayed. There are different galleries for the Mayan period, the Aztec period and so on. The museum has a massive collection, but through this modernisation process, they have culled and more dramatically displayed key pieces. This curatorial approach has obviously met with the approval of people, judging by the size of the crowds.

A similar level of interest with Mexicans is shown in the performing arts, for example at Belles Artes (their opera house) which is home to the world acclaimed Ballet Folklorico . The night we went, there were some tourists, but the majority in the audience were Mexicans, some possibly holidaying from other parts of Mexico, plus locals.

But the real buzz happens on the street where normal, everyday things seem to take on qualities and scenes perfect for a TV drama. Police chatting among themselves or talking to potential suspects ...

Weddings, families dressed up for a special occasion, children selling cold drinks to help with the family budget ...

People assembling an art installation ....

People protesting, in this case against the Catholic Church ...

... or Independence Day

And the history of Mexico reflected in the faces of the different indigenous groups, whether Mayan, Olmec, Aztec ....

... and the bustle of people filling the streets and going about their business ...

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