The Museum of Popular Art is an institution dedicated to promoting and preserving Mexican folk art.It is located in the Historic Center of Mexico City on a site that belonged to an old fire station, the museum contains a collection that includes rugs, ceramics, glasses, piñatas, alebrijes, furniture, toys, kitchen utensils, among other objects. However, the museum is known primarily as a sponsor of the annual Alebrijes Night parade in which fantastic creatures are built on a monumental scale and then parade from the Zocalo to theIndependence Monument, competing for prizes.
Since its opening to the public, in March 2006, the MAP has proposed to be an indisputable reference of Mexican popular art, promoting it through its permanent, temporary and itinerant exhibitions; as well as workshops for children, artisans and the general public; contests, seminars and extra wall activities.
Today it is a magnificent showcase of our roots, traditions and artistic abilities, which seeks to revalue its wealth and the work of about eight million people involved in artisan processes, for the knowledge and enjoyment of current and future generations.
The public finds in the MAP a unique space of its kind; that when you visit it, it is as if you were taking a tour of the different regions of Mexico, possessing natural, social, customs, traditions and own aesthetic environments. It allows us to discover the close relationship that the work of artisans and artists keeps, with respect to the lush biodiversity located in our territory. In addition to raising awareness in society about the complexity of supplies and the manufacture of handmade pieces.
Mexican Popular Art
Mexican handcrafts and folk art is a complex collection of items made with various materials and intended for utilitarian, decorative or other purposes. Some of the items produced by hand in this country include ceramics, wall hangings, vases, furniture, textiles and much more. In Mexico, both crafts created for utilitarian purposes and folk art are collectively known as “artesanía” as both have a similar history and both are a valued part of Mexico’s national identity.
Mexico’s artesanía tradition is a blend of indigenous and European techniques and designs. This blending, called “mestizo” was particularly emphasized by Mexico’s political, intellectual and artistic elite in the early 20th century after the Mexican Revolution toppled Porfirio Díaz’s French-style and modernization-focused presidency. Today, Mexican artesanía is exported and is one of the reasons why tourists are attracted to the country. However, competition from manufactured products and imitations from countries like China have caused problems for Mexico’s artisans.
Mexican handcrafts and folk art is a complex collection of items made with various materials and fashioned for utilitarian, decorative or other purposes, such as wall hangings, vases, toys and items created for celebrations, festivities and religious rites. These arts and crafts are collectively called “artesanía” in Mexican Spanish. This term was invented in Spanish during the 20th century to distinguish merchandise made by traditional methods versus those made by industrial/assembly line methods. The word is also used to promote traditional products to tourists and as a source of Mexican national identity. Mexican artesanía has its foundations in the crafts of the many pre-Hispanic cultures within the country, but 500 years of European influence has transformed it into a mixture of the two and unique to Mexico. Most artesanía produced here shows both European and native influences in the crafting, the design or both.
Artesanía can be defined as those items created by common people, using traditional methods which are well-founded in the past. Most artisans do not have school-based training in their craft, but rather learn it through formal or informal apprenticeship. The term “common people” for Mexico generally applies to people native to rural areas and those outside the upper and middle classes.
For Mexico, artesanía is heavily tied to national identity as well as indigenous identities, and this idea is often played out in movies and television in the country. From the early 20th century to the present day, Mexican folk art has inspired famous artists such as Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, José Clemente Orozco, Fernández Ledezma, Luis Nishizawa and many others. Miguel Covarrubias and Salvador Novo defined true Mexican artesanía as a blending of European and indigenous traditions, with items produced for domestic consumption, mostly for the Mexican middle class. This definition best applies to the production of pottery, leatherwork, textiles and toys.
This definition is founded in the early post-Mexican Revolution era when artists and intellectuals were concerned with creating a native identity for Mexico, which revolved around the concept of “mestizo” or the blend of European and indigenous races. It was even thought by some of its proponents, such as Dr. Atl, that any change in the artesanía of Mexico would lead to its degradation and of the identity they represent.
Most of the artesanía produced in Mexico is ordinary things made for daily use, but they are still considered artistic because most contain decorative details and/or are painted in bright colors for aesthetic purposes. The bold use of colors in crafts and other constructions extends back into pre-Hispanic times. Pyramids, temples, murals, textiles and religious objects were painted or colored ochre red, bright green, burnt orange, various yellows and turquoise. These would be joined by other colors introduced by European and Asian contact, but always in bold tones. Even the production of colors ties into the history of craft making. Red pigment since pre-Hispanic times has made from the cochineal bug, which is crushed, dried and ground to a powder to mix into a liquid base.
Design motifs can vary from purely indigenous to mostly European with some other elements thrown in. Geometric designs are prevalent and the most directly connected to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past and/or items made by the country’s remaining purely indigenous communities. Motifs from nature are as popular, if not more so, than geometric patterns in both pre-Hispanic and European-influenced designs. They are especially prevalent in wall-hangings and ceramics. Mexican artesanía also shows influence from cultures other than European. Puebla’s famous Talavera pottery is a mix of Chinese, Arab, Spanish and indigenous design influences. Lacquered furniture was unknown in Mexico until the Manila galleons brought lacquered wood products here, which local craftsmen copied.
Many Mexican crafts are considered to be of “Baroque” style, with the definition of such as “a decorative style characterized by the use, and the occasional abuse, of ornaments in which the curved line predominates.” This is a result of Spanish Plateresque and Churrigueresque styles being used during the colonial periods and possibly from some highly ornate pre-Hispanic traditions as well.
Handcrafts in Mexico vary widely from materials used, techniques and employ and styles preferred. The most prevalent of Mexico’s crafts is ceramics/pottery. Ceramics was considered one of the highest art forms during the Aztec Empire, with the knowledge of making pottery said to have come from the god Quetzalcoatl himself. Pre-Hispanic pottery was made by coiling the clay into a circle then up the sides, then scraping and molding the coiled work until the coils could no longer be detected. The Spanish introduced the potters’ wheel and new glazing techniques. Majolica glazed pottery was introduced by the Spanish.
Puebla in particular is renowned for its variety of Majolica, which is called Talavera. One distinctive feature of this city is that many kitchens and buildings are decorated with intricately detailed Talavera tiles. Tiles are a subset of ceramic pottery and were used extensively in colonial-era Mexico. These tiles were first fired at a low temperature, then hand-painted with intricate designs, then fired at a high temperature to set the glaze. These are still made, but most decorative tiles used in Mexico are factory-made. Unglazed pottery is still made, but generally it is for decorative purposes only, and copies the designs of pre-Hispanic cultures.
Metalworking in Mesoamerica, especially of silver, gold and copper, was highly advanced when the Spanish arrived. Gold was inlaid into copper and metals were hammered to paper thinness and cast using the lost wax method. Some copper and iron tools where produced, but pre-Hispanic metal craft was dominated by jewelry and ornaments. The Spanish introduced new techniques such as filigree work, where tiny threads of metal are strung together to make jewelry. During the colonial period, indigenous peoples were forbidden to work with precious metals. Today, ancient designs have been revived with Taxco being the center of silversmithing. Silverwork is now one of Mexico’s major exports. Copper work is particularly abundant in Michoacán. A traditional hammered copper object is a large vessel in which pork fat is rendered or sugar caramelized for making candies. Every year during the month of August Santa Clara del Cobre holds a copper festival.
Many different fibers are twisted, knotted and woven into textiles and objects. Materials include rushes, reeds, thread, plastic string and rope as well as many more. Historically, fibers were dyed using pigments created from plants and animals. Synthetic dyes have replaced natural ones for many craftspeople, but there still are some, especially in Oaxaca state that still use traditional dyes. Woven materials in Mexico started with basketry and mat-making. The agave plant was an important source of fibers and thread and is still used to day for thread and paper. Cotton was also used, spun into thread by itself or combined with feathers or animal fur to provide warmth.
Very traditional Mexican women still spin their own thread, which are made from cotton or wool and can be very fine or very coarse. Textiles have long history of tradition. Brightly colored embroidered designs on female garments can identify tribe, age, and marital status of the wearer. Woven textiles were known to pre-Hispanic cultures for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish, using a back-strap loom fastened between a tree and the weaver’s back. The Spanish introduced the treadle loom, which can make larger pieces of cloth.
Weaving is a craft practiced by men, women and children in Mexico and just about every fiber available is crafted into utilitarian objects such as placemats, baskets, hats and bags. Many of the materials used are left in their natural color but some can be dyed vivid colors. In addition, plastic fibers are beginning to be used.
Paper is both made and used to make crafts in Mexico. Paper-making is a skill that goes back to pre-Hispanic times. The bark of two trees are primarily used, that of the morus or mulberry family for white paper and that of the ficus or fig family for darker varieties. Traditionally, the bark was cut and scraped by men, but the making the paper itself was done by women. The process begins by washing the bark, then boiling it with ashes. It is then rinsed and beaten until the fibers knit together, then dried in the sun. Banderolas, or cut-paper banners, are hung in the streets for special occasions.
Leatherwork in Mexico is closely tied to the charro/vaquero, or cowboy tradition, focusing on the creation of saddles, belts and boots. However, leatherwork can also be seen in seat covers, such as those on equipale chairs and as lampshades. Leatherwork is traditionally decorated with flowing patterns using the labor-intensive punch and tool method and colored with dye or varnish.
The palaces and noble home of the Aztecs had ornate furniture. Entire pieces of hardwoods would be carved into benches and tables, and other items. Furniture was inlaid with gold and some covered in animal skins. A kind of shellac or lacquer existed in pre-Hispanic Mexico and was used in many ceramics. The Mendocino Codex mentions it as a kind of waterproof oil extracted from a worm called “axe” and mixed with oil from the prickly poppy seed or Mexican sage seed and pigments, which resulted in a paint. After the Conquest, the Spanish demanded European style furniture, which was usually made by indigenous craftsmen. As colonial Mexico was Spain’s gateway to Asia, oriental techniques such as parquetry and other types of inlay became common as well. The state of Michoacán is a major producer of handcrafted furniture, which can be simply varnished or stained or painted in bright colors.
Ceremonial objects are produced in every region of the country in all different shapes, sizes and colors, whose sole purpose is to celebrate saints and holidays and honor the dead. One of the major holidays for artesanía is Day of the Dead. Objects are created to decorate houses and create “ofrendas” (altars to the deceased) such as candy skulls, decorated skeletons, many of which are dressed to imitate professions such as doctors. Large quantities of flowers and other plant matter to create decorations for ofrendas and for graves. There is also a special burnished black pottery which is used for objects related to the Day of the Dead.
Another major holiday for crafts is the Christmas season, where sales of piñatas peak and ornate nativity scenes are constructed in homes. For Palm Sunday, intricate crosses are woven from palm fronds. In some places in Mexico during Holy Week, large papier-mâché effigies of Judas Iscariot are ritually burned. For the feast days of patron saints, cut paper banners are strung over roads and hung in windows.
Mexican handcrafted toys are mostly miniature representations of things in life, such as birds, furniture, mermaids, bullfighting scenes, carts and much more, made with materials on hand such as bulrush, wood, cloth, clay and lead. They were mostly made for children of the Mexican underclasses. They are considered artistic not because of originality but rather the ingenuity of creating something special from practically nothing. These toys, most of which that survive are from the 19th and early 20th century are increasingly valued by collectors but are in disdain among the general Mexican populace. Since the 1950s, with the influence of movies and television, most children stopped wanting these types of toys for mass products produced abroad and based on what they see in media. Most toys sold to tourists now are cheaply made imitations of what used to be common.
The Museo de Arte Popular opened in March 2006. Its purpose is to serve as a reference for Mexican crafts as well as promoting them through workshops, and other events to both Mexico and foreign tourism. and dignify Mexican crafts though restoration of older works and the promotion of their creation both inside and outside the museum itself.
The building is considered to be the second most important Art Deco building in Mexico City, with the first being the main offices of the Secretariat of Health in Chapultepec. It was donated to the museum project by the government of Mexico City. The building was constructed in 1927 by architect Vicente Mendiola as part of the government’s efforts to modernize the city’s infrastructure at the time. The building has a central patio in which the fire trucks were parked, and three floors for offices and quarters. In its exterior, it has tower on the corner facing the intersection with a light at the top to be used to signal an emergency. Another feature of the building is the relieves with pre-Hispanic motifs that decorate the facade in stone. The inner courtyard is covered by a modern glass cupola.
By the 1980s the growth of the city had rendered the station inadequate and it was abandoned. It deteriorated afterwards because of the 1985 earthquake and the general deterioration of the historic center. In the 1990s, the city government decided to rescue the building and use it to collect and store a major collection of Mexican crafts. This project was given to Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon, who restored the building updating its interior.
The permanent collection contains both older and newer craft pieces from the various traditions that make up Mexican culture. The collection was gathered through the generosity of individual donors. Some of the principal private donors include Alfonso Romo of Grupo Savia, who had promoted crafts for a number of years. He donated 1,400 pieces towards the opening of the museum. The second donor was Carlota Mapeli, who came to Mexico from Italy in the 1970s and dedicated herself to collecting embroidered garments and other textiles. She donated 400 pieces, many of which were weaved on backstrap looms.
The collection is organized into five permanent halls divided by theme, and two dedicated to “grand masters” each of which contains various kinds of crafts. The five themed halls are called “Las raices del arte mexicano” (Roots of Mexican art), “Las raices del arte popular” (Roots of crafts or popular art), “Lo cotidiano” (Everyday things), “Lo religioso” (Religious items) and “Lo fantasmagico” (Fantastic and magical things). The collection fills three of the four levels of the building, for a total of 7,000 square meters. There is also a temporary exhibit hall and an “interpretation” room which has pieces from all 32 federal entities (states and Distrito Federal) of Mexico. Crafts displayed here are of many different types including pottery, basketry, wood carving, precious metal working, glasswork, textiles, papier-mâché and others. The museum also has a research center with a library and a periodical archive.
Popular art and everyday life
The visit continues in this second room, where it is possible to observe how the art of the people is present in the daily life of Mexicans, because much of the manifestations of popular art are usually present, through objects with utilitarian functions and Decorative
These pieces, emerged from the hands of Mexican artisans, allow them to self-portray, as well as represent their society, their environment and the characters that play essential roles or that are part of their daily lives.
Popular and sacred art
Here it is discovered that despite the arrival of the Catholic religion, with the Spanish, indigenous artists found a way to manifest themselves within the new syncretic order. The sacred rites of today’s indigenous communities contain important doses of fervor and magical elements. The objects of popular art are part of them, concentrate the symbology and express the concepts of transcendence, magic, life and death, and the mystery of the divinities.
The worldview and ideological signifiers are constantly represented by popular artists, who manifest in their objects the deep relationship that is established with the sacred as opposed to the profane, as the fundamental principle of religion and myth; extracting from the acts and beings, the essential and transcendent as matter of its creation. Fire, air, water and earth become the basis of both earthly and spiritual representations.
Popular art and the fantastic
The tour of the permanent exhibition of the MAP ends in this room, where the overflow of the imagination and the plastic potential of the artisan and the artist, reflected in the originality of his pieces. The objects that they elaborate go beyond being simply fanciful, since they have a great historical load. Its elaboration process is closely linked to the collective imaginary; they are pieces that implicitly carry the notion that the magical remains alive within tradition.
Artisans and artists have used techniques such as embroidery, carving, sculpture, embossing or metal and paperwork to express their identification with their beliefs, materializing the ideology of the communities to which they belong.
Stylized representations of nature scenes are for them a source of inspiration and are sometimes related to ritual uses. They are also a consequence of the need that arises to appropriate their environment and reproduce it, using the materials they obtain from their natural habitat.
Expressive disinhibition, dreamlike aesthetics and the charm of naivety; The vibrant colors of the pieces and the intention of their authors to astonish are just some of the characteristic aspects of these pieces.
Essence of Mexican Popular Art
In this space, you can see how the cultural wealth of Mexico, integrated by its historical and artistic heritage, reflects the identity of its cultures and connects its past with the present and future.
Artisanal production is linked to the environment in which it takes place, since the artist observes and conceives the nature that surrounds it. Thus, making popular art the result of a dynamic triangle of interaction between nature, man and society, in which each vertex constitutes a living entity that directly influences creation. For example, the vegetable fibers that we can find in the country, are proof of the use of natural resources, which the artist borrows from nature and then return them in the form of fabulous objects.
In addition, you can see the mural painted in 1947 by Miguel Covarrubias, which is the representation of a map that shows the close relationship between artisanal production and the environment. Likewise, a video is projected where the variety of the natural environment is observed, represented through different handmade pieces.
The exhibition occupies three of the four floors of the building, in a total area of 7000 m².There is also a room for temporary exhibitions and an “interpretation” room with pieces from the 32 states (the states and the Federal District) in the country. Various types of crafts are presented here, including pottery, basketry, wood carving, metalwork, glassware, textiles, papier mache and others. There is also a research center with library and newspaper library.
The Monumental Alebrije Parade
The museum is best known for its yearly parade of “monumental alebrijes” which began as a yearly event in 2007. An alebrije is a fantastical creature, which usually include various parts of real-life or fantastic creatures. These not only include creatures such as flies with dragon tails and multi-headed lions, the works also carry fantastic names such as “La Mula de Seis” (The Six Mule), “Alebrijos” (combination of alebrije and “hijos” (sons)), “AH1N1” and “La Gárgola de la Atlántida” (The Gargoyle of Atlantis). Normal alebrijes are small sculptures made of cardboard or wood, painted in bright colors and mostly made in central Mexico and Oaxaca state. Monumental alebrejes are floats with the tallest one so far being four meters tall by three meters wide.
The event is called La Noche de los Alebrijes (Night of the Alebrijes) and organized by the Museo de Arte Popular in collaboration with the Mexico City government with the support of CONACULTA and various private institutions and individuals. The purpose of the parade is to promote the work of modern Mexican artists and artisans. The process of creating the alebrijes begins in June, with the parade taking place at the end of October. Most of the monumental alebrijes are created with cardboard except for those from Oaxaca which are partially made of wood, and wind their way from the main plaza (Zócalo), through the historic center onto the Paseo de la Reforma ending at the Angel of Independence. The alebrijes compete for first, second and third prizes of 50,000, 30,000 and 20,000 pesos. After the parade, later in the day, the winners are chosen and other events such as the Alebrije Puppet Contest and the Alebrije Short Story Contest take place.
The 2007 parade had thirty five alebrijes with 200,000 spectators filling the streets of the city center. In 2008, there were seventy five alebrijes with more than two million spectators. The 2009 parade had 120 floats registered with it, coming from Mexico City, the State of Mexico, Puebla, Oaxaca and Morelos. Marching bands such as the Navy band and the state bands of the states of Mexico and Morelos and Private bands such as El Reflejo Sinaloense, La Usurpadora, Cerro Verde and La Coqueta also participated. All of the alebrijes were newly created for the event and were designed by more than 100 artists. After the parade, the alebrijes are placed on display for about two weeks on Paseo de la Reforma between the Angel of Independence and the Diana Fountain. The director of the museum stated that each year both the number and the quality of the alebrijes have improved.
Every weekend the museum has workshops for children between six and twelve in various crafts with the aim of preserving these crafts. Workshops include those on paper cutting, amate (bark) paper and papier-mâché. For special occasions such as Dia de Muertos, workshops have included those on making Catrina figures, sugar skulls and traditional candies.
The gift shop contains a wide variety of crafts for sale from the most traditional to the most recent reinterpretations of various crafts, containing items such as furniture, textiles and toys from all parts of the republic of Mexico. The museum’s store is non-profit, designed to help artisans get better prices for their products. Many of the products come from villages in Michoacán, often populated only by women and children as the men go to places like the United States to work. Sales of their products have been good enough to entice a number of men to return home and work at the crafts.