Today, I visited the Museum of Popular Arts (frequently called the MAP) with tour guide, Lynda Martinez of Understand Mexico. She’s one part tour guide, one part cultural anthropologist. We saw so many things, and I learned so much, that I am going to divide my photos and reporting across several posts.
The Museum of Popular Arts opened in 2006 to preserve and foster Mexican handcrafts and folk art. As the economy continues to evolve, many of the traditional handcrafts are being lost to immigration, assimilation and of course, technology.
The museum is located in El Centro, the most historical part of town. It sets a few blocks from China Town and the Zocalo. The museum is arranged across five permanent halls:
1. Environment and History
2. The home
3. The sacred
5. Rotating Temporary exhibit
Throughout time, handcrafts have served as a low cost, simple way to supplement existing income. Generally, handcrafts are frequently made by lower income people or farmers to supplement their income. Farmers often made handcrafts to pass the time after crops were harvested and they were waiting to plant the next crop.
Handcrafts vary by region and can generally be associated with a certain geography, depending upon what material is being used. Because they are generally made by the masses to augment their income, they’re created with found materials. So, if you live in an area where there are reeds you’d most likely be an expert at basketmaking. Areas with with rich clay, would tend to have pottery or clay art, and cotton rich areas would specialize in clothing and embroidery, generally. Unlike art, they’re also usually not signed by the artist.
The artwork I have been featuring in this post are called, “Alebrijes”. Appropriately located in the “fantasy” section of the museum, these brightly colored pieces of folk art come from Oaxaca and are generally carved from the wood of a Copal tree.
Alebrije’s are interesting as they were literally dreamt up by a Mexico City artist in the 1930’s. The artist was sick in bed with a high fever. During his feverish dreaming, he dreamt about mythological creatures. The creatures were mis-shapen and had wings, horns, tails and other exaggerated features. In his dream the creatures were called,“Alebrijes.” Once he became well he began to produce them in his studio, along with other papier-mâché items, including pinatas (which he made before coming down with a fever). One thing led to another and Frida and Diego discovered his work. They loved it, and with their endorsement, it became popular art. Now, the city of Oaxaca is famous for the pieces.
Alebrije’s are very much a part of the museum’s identity. Each year, the museum partners with the City of Mexico and sponsors a parade called, La Noche de los Alebrijes (Night of the Alebrijes). Individuals and businesses are invited to create a colorful float featuring a fantastical creature for inclusion in the annual parade on Reforma, the city’s largest and most important street. The floats are made of a variety of materials, and tend to return to whomever made them–thus creating and sustaining an interest and conversation on Mexican handcrafts!