El Chopo, Mexico City’s punk market

El Chopo is a weekly flea market in Mexico City, where an alternative culture reigns. Wikipedia explains its name “Tianguis Cultural del Chopo,” Tianguis meaning flea market, and cultural because it deals in memorabilia, books, magazines, LPs and other cultural artifacts. You can find it at Sol y Luna and Col. Guerrero Streets, at the Buenavista Terminal, where suburban trains, buses and Metro Line B arrive. Every Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Click the link for a report in English on AJ+


Where Mexico City’s Punks Are WelcomeWelcome to Mexico City’s Punk Flea Market:

Posted by AJ+ on Sunday, June 7, 2015

Dan Delaney is a frequent visitor. Here is a video he shot there:



Mexico City: the Combos of the Metro

Yeah, looks bad. But maybe not as bad as all that.

Yeah, looks bad. But maybe not as bad as all that.

It is amazing how people organize themselves into groups, ethnicities, nations, gangs, whatever. As populations grow they split, cleave, unite and fight like organisms. In a massive place like Mexico, D.F., it should come as no surprise that these organic associations take on dynamics that can be frighteningly powerful. For better or for worse, wherever there are people, there are people who can lead, and in this case, there are some who can lead for good, and thus "subway gangs" begins to sound a bit less ominous. Check out the video on Vice, reported by Bernardo Loyola


The 15 Essential Films Set in Indigenous Cultures of Mexico

The Conquest of Mexico City – It has all the spectacle, drama and historic implications to be one of the defining moments of Western civilization, but the story of Cortés and his assault on the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan has not figured very prominently in the filmography of Mexico, or of Hollywood for that matter.

In fact, the confrontation and eventual blending of the indigenous culture of Mexico and that of Spain is not a favored theme of Mexican cinema in general. It must have something to do with the complex emotions that this epic encounter provokes in the Mexican spirit, at once something horrid and regretable, but at the same time so inherent to the national character that it must inevitably be embraced and, if not celebrated, at least cultivated and nurtured. No one can really give an exact expression of how they feel about this, it is too close to be seen with any kind of sweeping, judgemental vision. For that reason, I suppose, screenwriters and directors have been loathe to try to represent it with any success in a simple 90 minute film.

In 2009, the beautiful and rich museum of anthropology in Paris, the Musée du Quai Branly, held an exhibition  of artifacts from Teotihuacan. In conjunction with the exhibition, a series of lectures were given in October, 2009 entitled, “The Imaginary Pre-Hispanic in Mexican Cinema.” The lectures were conducted by Professor Angel Miguel, Faculty of Arts of the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos (Mexico).

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Mexican art at Quai Branly

Professor Angel Miguel gave an idea of the difficulty of discussing the issue of native culture during much of Mexico’s recent history. He spoke of milestone events such as the archeological work of Manuel Gamio at Teotihuacan in 1917, the Mexican pariticipation in early World’s Fairs, such as that of 1922 in Rio de Janeiro, and the 1922 beauty competition “La India Bonita,” held by the newspaper El Universal, and culminating in the publication in 1992 of Los Grandes Momentos del Indigenismo en México, by the philosopher Luis Villoro.

And then he spoke about films. Here is a chronological list of the films that he considered significant in the slow development of a body of work depicting the indigenous history and struggles of Mexico.

Tabaré, by Luis Lezama, 1918. Based on the romantic poem about the son of an Indian chief who falls in love with a beautiful española.

Cuauhtémoc, Manuel de la Bandera, 1919. This was the last Aztec emperor, nephew of Moctezuma II.

Zitari, by Miguel Contreras Torres, 1931. One of the last silent films, about an Aztec princess in Teotihuacan.

Tribú, also by Miguel Contreras Torres, 1935. About conflicts arising in Southern Mexico between Spanish gold miners and an unsubdued tribe. Part of the dialog is in Zapoteco.

In 1931, Sergei Eisenstein shot up to 50 hours of footage for his project “Qué Viva Mexico.” Even in its raw version, the film had a great impact, by bringing to the screen a new attitude of respect for indigenous traditions and aesthetics. At that point, the project was halted by the Mexican Film Trust. The very restrictive contract that

Eisenstein had signed with the Film Trust called for an apolitical film that in no way cast post-revolutionary Mexico in a bad light. The footage has been used for a half dozen films in the 1930s and 40s, as well as a Russian adaptation created in 1979 by Eisenstein collaborator, Grigori Alexandrov. Nowadays, a 1998 version, compiled by Oleg Kovalov and known as Meksikanskaya Fantasiya, (Mexican Fantasy) is the most accessible version.

Janitzio, directed by Carlos Navarro in1934, and inspired by Eisenstein. Emilio Fernandez plays Zirahuén,  a fisherman, resists the speculators who would destroy his livelihood (and steal his girlfriend, for good measure!). Janitzio is the island location in a lake.

Fernandez is known for his great talent as an actor and director and for his cultural nationalism known as “antimalinchismo” after Maliche, the Aztec woman who gave birth to the child of Cortes. In 1948 Fernández revisited this locale and this type of story as a director, in the film Maclovia, starring Maria Felix. Same Janitzio locale in Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacan, and a similar story about ill-fated lovers suffering the arrival of outsiders. It stars the famous actress María Félix as Maclovia.

Tizoc, by Ismael Rodriguez, 1957 with the most famous Mexican actor of that period, Pedro Infante and María Félix.

Tarahumara, (Cada Vez Más Lejos) English title Always Further On,  directed by Luis Alcoriza, 1965.

Raíces, directed by Benito Alazraki, 1955. Filmed in the style of Italian neo-realism and French nouvelle vague, breaks with the falseness of the past. It is made up of four short pieces each about the brutal clash between European and indigenous cultures.

Cascabel, English title: The Rattlesnake, 1977, directed by Raúl Araiza. A white documentary maker investigates the indigenous of Chiapas.

Return to Aztlán, directed by Juan Mora Catlett, 1991. This film takes place in Mexico before the Spanish conquest and tells of a group of priests who travel on pilgrimage to a holy site. It is filmed in the Aztec language, Nahuatl.

Bajo California, El Límite del Tiempo, 1998, directed by Carlos Bolado. Yes, that’s bajo with an “o.” The story of an emigrant’s search for his routes in Baja California. the film highlights the ancient rock art which had just recently been discovered there in 1994.

Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson, 2006. Gibson strives for authenticity in this Mayan story by Persian screenwriter Farhad Safinia. It uses the Mayan language and incorporates many authentic cultural practices. It was a big box office success at the Mexican box office, but it failed to impress Professor Angel Miguel.

The chronology ended here, which surprises me a bit, as it excludes the great 2007 film, The Other Conquest, directed by Salvador Carrasco, in Spanish and Nahuatl. But perhaps that will be for another time.

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At Quai Branly by Dominic Ambrose is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

The point is the point! Pointy boots from Mexico

Botas Picudas! Pointy pointy, did I say pointy? boots that the club kids of Northern Mexico have bestowed on the world. Maybe you have seen these boots around town in your travels, or gracing the feet of the Leningrad Cowboys or you saw them on the recent Glee segment with guest star Ricky Martin (unfortunately, he didn’t wear them). The interface between Mexican mestizo culture , Tex-Mex and North American, the wide open freedom of the Californias, both Alta and Baja, have always been fertile places for creative energy. And the pachuco and vato traditions of northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S. are well known for their outrageous styles – just think of the zoot suit. But this has got to be one of the strangest ideas to come out of that gloriously transgressive crowd in a long time. Botas Picudas. What do they go with? Skinny jeans, of course… you can’t wear baggies with such things – and tribal music. Which tribe? None in particular, tribal music is what they are calling a cumbia with a mix of African and electro-fusion sounds. Musica Tribal!

Watch this great little documentary (with English subtitles) about the boots on Youtube. You get a good idea about how they are made and what they mean to the people who wear them.

now the people in this video made their own boots, or at least pimped up the normal ones they bought in the store, but for today’s pachuco-about-town who has no time to do that, you can order some beautifully crafted leather botas picudas online, naturally!

How about el vaquero imports?

or Leon boots… but please avoid wearing endangered species on your feet – it’s not cool.

Diego Rivera’s introduction of Emiliano Zapata to New York

I know it was a bad idea, MOMA on the New Years holiday weekend, and the free hours at that…. but I was right in the neigborhood, so I thought I would take the opportunity to go in and finally get a look at the Diego Rivera exhibit. I might have thought twice if I had any idea how long the line would be…  around the corner twice, as long as 50 percent of the circumference of the entire square block of Manhattan skycrapers. Then when i got inside, the people were four or five deep wherever I stood. But I’m glad I didn’t think twice, because it was all worth it to see a few of those Rivera pieces. The pneumatic drillers in Manhattan, done in pencil and paper, the Soviets on parade in quick watercolor sketches on a small notepad, the anti-Capitalist mural Frozen Assets which inexplicably caused a bidding fresno among fat-cat New York one-percenters upon its completion at the height of the Depression. It was especially rewarding to see the face of Emiliano Zapata in the great mural Agrarian Leader Zapata, that is the central focus of the exhibit. Just to see that image “live” was alone worth the hours of fuss. Diego poured emotion and intense humanity in that face, as no reproduction could hope to show.

 Here is a link to MoMA’s Frozen Assets page.

MoMA’s multimedia link to Frozen Assets.

Then I realized that the Zapata work is in MoMA’s permanent collection. In fact, it was one of the murals specially created for MoMA by the artist for his solo show of 1931, one of the first in the museum’s history. What s fascinating about this story is that the museum set up a workspace for Rivera to work in for several months before the show. There he was able to produce six original portable murals for the exhibit. It was an ingenious solution for the difficult logistical problem of exhibiting a muralist’s art, and it was a wonderful opportunity to make the faces of his own Mexico known to the world, as far as a New York museum could ever present it. As the MoMA official description says, this is not the usual Emiliano Zapata image which had been propagated with the historic rebel’s tacit approval: usually on horseback and definitely in charro outfit. Here is a peasant leader presenting his most genuine face. We have seen the warrior elsewhere, here Rivera wanted to introduce the human being. There is a softness to his hairline, complicated lines on his face and a mole. His eyes are bloodshot and knowing. He has matured. He has fine feature that could be both male and female in their delicacy somehow communicating the nobility of the peasant leader.

Rivera had already worked on this image before in a mural in Guernavaca, and in various sketches, some of them on display in this exhibit. It was interesting to see how much the face had matured from the earlier manifestations. The faces of his closest compadres around him are also drawn with fascinating depth of expression and together they are a compelling presence immortalized on a stone wall.

MoMA’s Agrarian Leader Zapata multimedia page. 

The exhibition runs through May 14, 2012, but even after that you can always see the face of Emiliano Zapata, normally on display in the Museum’s permanent collection.

Fernando Gamboa, an innovator and curator of Mexico’s Artistic Heritage

Fernando Gamboa was a primary shaper of the image of Mexican Art that we have today, both in Mexico and without. There is an interesting picture in the New York Public Library image archive that first brought him to my attention: Fernando Gamboa standing next to an enormous Olmec Head at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. In a way, it is symbolic of his position in Mexican art, an enormously important thinker and creator at one end of Mexican history, next to a symbol of Mexican creativity from the other end (more than two thousand years ago).

Olmec Head, NY World's Fair

Fernando Gamboa and Charles Poletti at arrival of Olmec Head, NY World's Fair

Upon researching the life of Fernando Gamboa, I was astounded to find out how prolific and indefatigable he was during his long career. Here is a short synopsis of what was truly an epic life. I took much of this information from the paginet biography (in Spanish, link below).

Born in 1909 he belongs to that revolutionary generation of Mexican artists that looked toward socialist ideals and indigenes roots for their inspiration. He was a visual artist, a writer, a filmmaker and an agitator for change. In his early career he collaborated with other movement artists on murals and founded the journal Frente a Frente for the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists.

His greatest talent, however, was in mounting exhibitions and bring art and contemporary society together in meaningful ways. In this he was fearless. During the Spanish Civil War he became active in the Republican cause in Spain. He mounted an exhibit in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia on the theme of Mexican political art and in Mexico he installed a high profile exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts entitled “Spain in Flames.” Then he returned to Spain at the invitation of the Spanish Republic and with the support of the Mexican presidency to take charge of artistic propaganda in Latin American in favor of the Spanish Republic. At the end of 1939 he fled to France along with the Mexican ambassador, considered the last Mexicans to leave that country at the Republic’s defeat. In France he worked with the Mexican embassy in sending thousands of refugees to Mexico, including many Spanish intellectuals who found it necessary to flee Franco’s dictatorship.

During the Second World War, Mexico was allied with the Western powers, but played a secondary, supporting role in the war effort. During this period of international chaos, Gamboa began to establish himself as the preeminent curator of Mexican art and culture. He was the creator of numerous exhibits at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Museum of Anthropology, the National Historical Museum, and was the director of several such institutions. He still had a flare for dramatic political gestures: in 1948 during a political rebellion taking place in the center of Bogotá, Colombia, he entered the Palace of Communications, which was in flames at that point, in order to rescue a Mexican artwork on exhibit there.

In those postwar years, he worked tirelessly mounting important exhibits at the Palace of Fine Arts, creating educational programs and new art galleries and founding the Workshop Museum dedicated to the painter José Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara. Besides all of this, he managed to head the first expedition to Bonampak, the site of extensive Mayan ruins, in order to evaluate and catalog the treasures there.

From 1950 onward for a period of two decades, he directed the Mexican exhibits at various high profile international fairs. He was director of the Mexican pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 1950, and then at the world’s fairs at Brussels, New York, Montreal, Osaka and elsewhere. With his cosmopolitan understanding, he had an unfailing ability to present what was unique and important about Mexican art to the world. His pavilions invariably won praises and honors at these venues. But these were not enough: he also mounted retrospectives of Mexican art and Panoramas of Mexican artistic culture at museums worldwide: The Tate in London, the Petit Palais in Paris, the Guggenheim in New York, the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museums in Russia, as well as others in Buenos Aires, Rome, Los Angeles, Stockholm, etc., etc.!

During a short period, 1954-56, he managed to create cinematic works to support his curatorial endeavors. As the artistic director of Teleproducciones, S.A., he presented the film “Raíces” (Roots) at the Venice Biennale, directed the documentary, “Mexican mural painting” which received honorary mention at Cannes, and also directed a short film, “Carnaval at Huejotzingo.”

Gamboa’s knack for being at the eye of the storm was still working: in early September, 1973 he installed a show of Mexican paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago de Chile, with President Salvador Allende inaugurating the exhibit. Within a few days, on September 11, Allende was dead and General Pinochet had installed a reign of terror. Gamboa remained in Santiago until the 27th of September, managing to leave the country with his Mexican art.

His activities continued after this. As director of the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico and guest director of other artistic institutions, he continued to enrich the national museums with new acquisitions. He was directly or indirectly responsible for 3,897 works of art being transferred to the national museums. He created the journal “Artes Visuales” for the Museum of Modern Art and created more new museums: Carmen y Alvar Carrillo Gil Museum and the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-hispanic Art in Oaxaca.

In later years he was the director of Fomento Cultural Banamex. Banamex is the National Bank of Mexico and despite the odd corporate sponsorship, it takes a leading role in art education and publication in Mexico. During Gamboa’s time there this institution published twenty books on Mexican art. He also surpassed his one thousandth art exhibition while there.

Fernando Gamboa died on May 7, 1990. It was fitting that he would die in a period of renewed political upheaval in the world with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Gamboa was always able to find the artistic beauty among the ashes of every political clash, as well as celebrate the artistic heritage that sustains us through difficult times. In this he made a magnificent contribution to Mexican art, guiding a great part of the national art agenda in such a way to finally bring a greater appreciation for what is unique and valuable about Mexico.

For more information, see the Fernando Gamboa biography page at paginet. This is where I took much of the information for this post. If you cannot read the Spanish text, it is worthwhile to look at the website just for the beautiful photographs, which I could not, unfortunately, reproduce here because of copyright restrictions.


Schools For Chiapas Education is a prerequisite

It is a delicate balancing act becoming involved in the struggle of people in other countries who are fighting for their rights. On the one hand, it feels wrong to stay silent but on the other one runs the risk of encouraging chaos and demagoguery that others will feel the effects of. That’s why it is important to find the organizations of solidarity that are truly working to find solutions and build understanding, and one of the basic prerequisites for solutions and understanding is education. So here is a link to Schools for Chiapas, an active group out of San Diego, California.

Schools For Chiapas | Educating for a New and Better World.