One of my favorite Chicago museums is the National Museum of Mexican Art, which I still think of by their previous name, the Mexican Museum of Fine Art. Whatever you prefer to call it, it is the perfect size to walk through, learn a bit of Mexican history and then end up finding yourself looking through their gift shop.
The museum was founded first as a concept in 1982, while founder Carlos Tortolero begins to develop the infrastructure of the organization. After the Harrison Park Boat Craft Shop was renovated, the Museum opened in March of 1987. Twenty two years later, it has become one of the nation’s finest museums of Mexican and Mexican American art, showcasing culture through art.
When you first walk into the main exhibit hall, Mario Castillo’s “Ancient Memories of Mayahuel People Still Breathe” may take your breath away. The brilliant colors and vivid imagery are stunning, and well, since there’s a bit of the artist in his work, he’ll be evermore.
This next piece is a retablo, or grand alter ensemble. The left row represents the spiritual aspect of the pre Cuauhtemoc, the right row the European Roman Catholic religion, and the center pulls together both world views, the result of 500 years of history.
This lady is from a Day of the Dead (Los Dias del Muertas) exhibit. During the Day of the Dead, ancestors and deceased loved ones and friends are honored. It is not uncommon to have a mariachi band at the grave of a departed one, as their life is both honored and celebrated. The Japanese also do something similar, called Obon, and in both cultures, an altar with items to honor their loved ones also stand testament that they live on in the hearts and minds of friends and family.
This bag was done in honor of one of the many women of Juarez, victims of poverty and circumstance, and testament to corruption and the powerlessness of the many women who lived and then died there under violent circumstances. NPR has a short piece on this. Reporter Theresa Rodriguez’s Daughters of Juarez is a must read for anyone who is serious about learning about these crimes against women, whose only blame seems to be that most of them were poor and women.
One of my two favorite pieces toward the end of the walk through are near opposites in their feel. One is called “Savages and Glitter” by John Valadez, which shows the Indigenous foundations of the Mexican and eventual transformation to modern day life.