I recently took a trip to Mexico to see some close friends who are currently living in the city of Guanajuato (Gto). My image gallery is below but kindly indulge me while I sing Guanajuato’s praises! It is a wonderful city rich in history and culture. This capital of the State of Guanajuato, is situated roughly between Guadalajara and Mexico City (or about 3 hours Northwest of Mexico City), just about in the center of the country. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and is the birthplace of two cultural signifiers: the Mexican Revolution (for Independence from Spain) and the painter, Diego Rivera.
I have been to Gto in the past and it was a delight to return. This time, I was based again in the neighborhood known as San Javier and specifically timed my visit to coincide with the annual Festival Internacional Cervantino (dedicated to the city’s adopted philosophical and literary muse, Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote). Mexico has a quite admirable, serious and extensive appreciation of world art and culture, and this is affirmed by the care with which the Cervantino is organized and presented each year. A full spectrum of international arts (visual, music, theater, and dance) is represented during the festival, which comes to an end right before celebrations centered around El Dia de los Muertos.
I spent much of my short visit this time enjoying the visual arts in the “centro” or old center of the city. The centro of la ciudad Guanajuato is peppered with glorious, weathered Spanish colonial cathedrals and churches, and other architectural monuments, including the cavernous central market (Mercado Hidalgo), which was designed by Ernesto Brunel in 1910. In conjunction with the Cervantino, galleries throughout this small but dense city are replete with painting, sculpture, photographic and other visual art exhibitions, many directly relating to the theme of this year’s festival “the science of art/the art of science.”
By foot, car and bus, my energetic friends led me all over the City during my visit. Between meals and afternoon coffees, my legs and feet began to become accustomed to the hard and irregular surfaces of the myriad calles and callejóns (alleys) linking the city’s plazas and landmarks. One day we visited the Museo Diego Rivera, which is part monument and part art gallery. There one finds the Mexican master’s earlier works, some studies for later murals, his exquisite Popol Vuh renderings, as well as adjunct galleries showing varied works from contemporary artists. I also toured the Museo de Historia Natural, a monument to the career of Alfredo Dugès. Dugès was a French émigré who settled in Guanajuato at the turn of the 20th century. He was a serious amateur naturalist and spent his life cataloging Mexican flora and fauna, as well as documenting these findings through detailed renderings. Think: Mexico’s Audubon. The extensive taxidermy collection housed at the museum (now under the auspices of the University of Guanajuato), languished for years in storage before it was “rediscovered” and properly archived.
Perhaps one of my favorite visits was to the University of Guanajauto’s main art gallery where I was delighted to find 2 concurrent fiber art shows. In one gallery recent fiber works by Trine Ellitsgaard are currently on display. Ellitsgaard is Danish by birth but lives in Oaxaca. In the adjacent gallery hang felted tapestries and mixed-media handwovens. This collection pays homage to the many facets of the corn (maíz) plant, its value to Mexican culture, and its vulnerability in the wake of continued proliferation of genetically modified corn seed (the cultivation of which goes hand-in-hand with the burden of chemical (and thus financial) inputs not part of traditional agricultural practices); for a society deriving much of its sustenance (both literal and metaphorical) from corn, this is a serious issue. The pieces in this exhibition were designed by the painter Francisco Toledo (who is married to Ellitsgaard), and were produced by a felting workshop situated in Oaxaca, at the Centro de las Artes de San Agustin.
Finally, I cannot fail to mention another highlight of this particular trip – As it turns out, in conjunction with the Cervantino, the City-centro is also temporary host to a collection of fantastic large bronze sculptures marking entrances to important alleys and terminuses along the city’s labyrinthine layout. These pieces are based on original small-scale wax models created by the British surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. Carrington, primarily a painter, made Mexico her home for a most of her adult life. What good fortune to see these pieces (and window into Carrington’s vision) at such a scale!
Guanajuato is a riot of color and texture, teeming with a beautiful, bustling population moving here and there along crowded streets and alley-ways. Even absent the tourists now pouring into the city for the Festival, this city is dense and compact and it does not sleep for long…automobiles, busses, and pedestrians do an amazing and complex dance on the busy avenues. To that vibrancy add the host of colorful rectilinear dwellings perched atop each other on the surrounding slopes, looking down on the old city below. Here in the “suburbs” (which are all walking distance from the centro), you might run into a wandering cow or burro as these newer neighborhoods quickly give way to country here in the high desert.
I could go on…so much…of everything. Did I mention my trip was excellent? I am deeply grateful to my hosts and new friends for making my stay such an inspiring and stimulating experience. I hope to return soon!