México: Política y Poética

Modern and Contemporary Works on Paper and Animations

By Katie Dalla, Forum Poetry Editor

It’s not often that an art exhibit representing a country goes to the extent of actually showcasing remains of its own citizens.

No, nobody’s limbs were severed and put on a podium, but Teresa Margolles’ vibrant yet grotesque 2003 piece, Papeles, brings you bodily fluids in a surprisingly beautiful arrangement.

The piece takes up a whole wall and displays large rectangular sheets containing streaked patterns of brown and yellow hues that, juxtaposed together, bring to mind the splendor of a moth’s wings. But the beauty is met with an equal amount of repulsion: Margolles used the post- autopsy water from the victims of narcoviolencia—or those individuals that experienced the fatal repercussions of drug trafficking. The water came right from the Mexico City morgue.

Each paper represents an individual portrait of a person and their remaining traces of life. You can’t help but feel a bit tricked — your first feeling is sheer warmth from the luminosity and size of the work, but as you step in closer to read the details, you immediately get a lump in your throat and feel the need to back away slowly, frantically searching for mutual glances of horror from the other onlookers. Margolles’ bold statement effectively demands a reaction to an ongoing issue that has caused so many deaths and so much strife in Mexico. She also gives an odd vibrance to each portrait as she has, in fact, captured their final essence, and in the most direct way possible, Margolles brings a part of Mexico to you.

The remainder of the exhibit showcases an eclectic assortment of artists and mediums, both modern and contemporary.  Half of the works display a louder, cross-cultural, satirical side of contemporary Mexican culture, whereas the other half, like Papeles, communicate on a more political level, bringing to surface many critical socio-political issues.


Among the lighthearted are Dr. Lakra’s 1950’s pin-up girl images embellished with his sardonic tattoo art, mocking the generation gap and the notion between “high art” and “low art”. Skulls and demons cheekily infiltrate cheery, sunny scenes with unassuming beauty queens posing in ads. Lakra’s tattoo art is well-placed; the ink work sits craftily on the pages, so much so that one could almost claim it looks digitally arranged.  Viewers were definitely not left wanting for smirks or laughter as they passed this space.

Meanwhile, Daniel Guzmán’s 2001 collection of mixed media drawings, Fe, brightly and humorously touch on the cultural clash between tradition, faith, and the increasingly strong influence of commercial media and pop culture. Arranged in a collage-like format, Guzmán displays a variety of items ranging from pictures of Jesus to Corona plaques. It may appear, at first glance, like you are in the bedroom of an adolescent or a co-ed staring at his wall deco, but then again that is the point: the viewer is forced to delve into a Mexican youth’s projection of personal identity. When you take a minute to look at all the pieces juxtaposed together, they really communicate a restless feeling of being torn between two opposing worlds and the disillusioned search for an individual identity within the limitations of both. Guzmán cleverly titled it Fe, the Spanish word for “faith,” hinting at the struggle for Mexican youth to be faithful to opposing worlds simultaneously.


Among the more political works, and the most impactful piece to me, was Ilán Lieberman’s Niño Perdido. I was immediately curious when I walked in and saw people holding up magnifying glasses to tiny portraits of newspaper clippings. But when I looked closely at Graphite Pencil on Paper, I suddenly understood why this piece was so grandeur.

Lieberman spent years gathering 100 newspaper clippings of missing Mexican children, and reproducing each image dot by dot under a microscope with pencil and paper. Framed in black and hung in rows, Lieberman also added basic information above each drawing, such as the child’s age and date gone missing — milk carton data brought to sudden relevance by way of art. These tiny but haunting images are only 100 faces out of the 45,000 children that go missing annually in Mexico via human trafficking. It’s amazing that a work so small could have such grand implications once you take a closer look.

Elsewhere at the exhibit, Marcelaggina’s 2006 Objects recuperados also gathered a crowd of curious onlookers, The installation is composed of found articles of clothing spread around in a pile and compacted into protective plastic wrapping. As people bent down to look through the glare of the lights on the plastic, it was apparent that these articles of clothing were indeed important artifacts. Marcelaggina gathered these pieces left behind from migrants on their way north, and labeled them with their location and date found. So many Mexican and Central American migrants have to part with their most precious items daily, in hopes that they will find a better standard of living on the other side of the border, and Marcelaginna created a time capsule of so many stories untold.

The remainder of the exhibit includes more classic work by pioneer artists such as Jose Orozco and Alfredo Ramos Martinez, as well as animation, a variety of mixed media, architecture and more. And did I mention the exhibit is free!?

México: Política y Poética runs through March 24, 2011 at San Francisco State’s Fine Art Gallery.  The gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday 11am- 4pm.  After San Francisco State, the exhibit will make its way to the Nordic Watercolor Museum in Sweden and publish a catalogue. There are several other events tied to this exhibit as well all around the city. For more information, please visit http://t.co/gTNKR3U or find the gallery on Twitter @sfstatearts.

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