When we published our first international arts roundup for Venice’s Biennale, we predicted events might once again draw our attention beyond the USA. No special occasion was necessary to inspire a roundup about Mexico, our neighbor geographically and culturally.
American and Mexican cultures have become parts of one another, so it is difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. For instance, does fiesta count as a loanword that still needs italicization? Should we write México? And for fuck’s sake, before we spin out, could someone reach that top-shelf tequila?
We’ll let scholars worry over linguistic boundaries. Meanwhile, we’ll forge ahead because we’ve found eight Mexican artists whose work you’ll definitely want to see.
As a young man working in a bookstore, Fernando Romero dreamed of becoming a writer. Unfortunately, his poetry was atrocious, but after an unexpected education in architecture, Romero’s artistic soul found expression through buildings. To house the 70,000-piece art collection of his telecom magnate father-in-law Carlos Slim Helu, Romero designed the soaring, hexagonally plated arches of Mexico City’s Museo Soumaya. Subsequently, Romero’s architectural firm worked on plans for the Mexico City New International Airport. His awe-inspiring, untraditional designs both complement and enhance the attractions of the world’s sixth-largest city.
Mexico’s most famous filmmaker is Guillermo del Toro, who recently won his third Oscar®. A promising new talent is Fernando Frías de la Parra, who directed Los Espookys in 2019. Meanwhile, Frías was completing Ya No Estoy Aquí (I’m No Longer Here), a 7-year project that competed for Best International Film in the 2021 Academy Awards®. As the film tells the story of protagonist Ulises’ flight from gang violence, it commemorates a subculture of Colombian street dance that thrived in Monterrey around 2010. Since del Toro endorsed Ya No Estoy Aquí as “one of the most memorable debuts on film and Mexican film in the last couple of decades,” why not watch it today?
Elisa Carillo, who is from Texcoco, studied ballet at Mexico City’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literature (National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature) before achieving international fame. In 2019, she became the first Mexican woman to win ballet’s most prestigious prize, the Prix Benois de la Danse. Currently, Carillo is a principal dancer for Berlin’s Staatsballett (State Ballet), but she continues to champion the arts in Mexico. Since 2012, her self-named foundation has funded ballet scholarships, and since 2018, her international dance festival Danzatlán has taken place annually in Mexico City. Believing that “a child who holds a violin or a paintbrush will never hold a weapon,” Carillo hopes arts education will foster peace.
Another Mexican artist who lives abroad but remains invested in her native country is Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Although she made a new home in Vancouver, Moreno-Garcia was born in Baja California. Her novels continue to feature Mexican settings and history. In Velvet Was the Night, a detective improbably named Elvis searches for a missing woman in a 1970s milieu replete with corruption and espionage. In The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Moreno-Garcia transplants H. G. Wells’ classic tale of mad science and hybrid monsters to the Yucatán Peninsula. As a final example, Mexican Gothic follows Noemí as she explores the mysteries of a fearsome country estate. Since Mexican Gothic is being adapted for Hulu, we’ll soon be able to relish Moreno-Garcia’s work both in print and on the screen.
We already understood that Sofía Niño de Rivera was hilarious, but this energetic comedian motivated us to improve our Spanish. Besides stand-up shows like Expuesta (Exposed), Niño de Rivera has starred in television series including Sobreviví (I Survived), where her character copes with “la nada glamorosa vida (the nothing-glamourous life).” In 2016, Niño de Rivera was honored as “Woman of the Year” by the entertainment magazine Chilango. Since chilango is a spicy term for a native of Mexico City, it is probably not fit for the mouths of gringos. Comedians, however, are heroes for refusing to mince words, so after listening to Niño de Rivera, we aren’t afraid to admit – we’re delighted with her cojones.
Ana Segovia is one of Mexico City’s many ground-breaking visual artists. On her largest canvases, Segovia continues the tradition of Mexican muralists, who profoundly influenced American artists. Whereas Diego Rivera painted scenes of war or collective labor, Segovia’s idyllic works Huapango Torrero and Paisajes show enchanting Mexican landscapes. In portraits, Segovia depicts flamboyantly dressed matadors or charros (cowboys). As Segovia explained during an interview with the Denver Art Museum, her work responds to ideas of Mexican identity promoted by early cinema. As she re-envisions the Mexican past, Segovia illuminates roads to another, less stereotypically masculine future.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, lucha libre (freestyle wrestling) is not so much a sport as “a popular arm of theatre” or, perhaps more accurately, a type of television. We can’t fuss over academic distinctions – we’ve already become wild-eyed, screaming fans of Bandido, a 27-year-old luchador (fighter) from Coahuila. Typically, a lucha libre match is a choreographed battle between masked wrestlers called técnicos and rudos, which mean experts and ruffians. Our Bandido is, of course, a noble técnico – and, we might add, a total guapo (hottie). To see for yourself, watch the interview Bandido gave after the 2021 Ring of Honor competition, where his artistry, athleticism, and abs were on full display.
Since discovering Brianda, an up-and-coming star from Sinaloa, we can’t stop watching her music videos. In “Shot de Tequila,” Brianda and her posse of water gun-armed women in bikinis and neon ski masks arrive at a pool party, where too much tequila makes them “las más diablas del party (the fiesta’s baddest bitches).” In “MONEY,” Brianda and collaborator Mont Pantoja rebuff desperate, pathetic, and – is it redundant to say? – male admirers. As Brianda sings, she doesn’t need their money – “Ya yo tengo lo mío (I already have my own).” We’re sure it is true – Brianda is a huge success!
That’s our Mexican artists roundup! We hope it motivates you to learn even more because Mexico is a diverse country with incredible talent distributed across 31 states, plus the federal district.
We’ll be back soon with another artists roundup – as soon, that is, as we’re done bingeing Mexican Gothic while sipping mezcal on a Mexican beach.
Until next time, find some creativity wherever you can. Stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative