Saturday, July 31, 2010

The holy trinity of Oaxaca

image of watercolor by Francisco Toledo via

No, I'm not talking about The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost, although Catholicism is a very important part of Oaxacan spiritual life. It's the first Catholic place I've been where the churches are actually full all the time, for early morning mass, afternoon mass, even Saturday evening mass. It's an interesting brand of Catholicism mixed with the many and varied indigenous traditions of that part of Mexico.

The holy trinity I'm referring to are Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo and Rodolfo Morales, three 20th Century Mexican artists who have worked tirelessly to revive Oaxaca's colonial towns, their markets, churches and craft spaces. Of the three, Toledo has had the most noticeable affect in Oaxaca City itself. This is not to downplay the effect that Tamayo and Morales have had on Oaxacan life. One need only visit Ocotlan to see what a huge impact one man can have, and I'll write about Morales's work there later. But Toledo is still alive and heavily involved in projects that bring attention to Oaxaca both at home in Mexico and abroad.

In Ciudad Oaxaca, Toledo started a foundation that renovated the Casa de Cortes, a beautiful colonial building that legend says Cortes lived in. (It's been determined that the house was built too late for this to be true, but legends are nice, aren't they? Perhaps he lived in a previous structure on this spot.) The renovation resulted in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca on the pedestrian Calle Alcala smack in the middle of town. Unfortunately, it was closed for restorations during our time there, but there were huge screens set up outside so that passers-by could wish Sr. Toledo a happy birthday.

Another even more impressive project has been the restoration of an old factory that is near a water source and formerly generated electricity for the area around San Agustin Etla. The space is now a beautiful museum with a papermaking workshop close by and a store that sells the paper products, all stunningly set in the hills a taxi ride from Ciudad Oaxaca. We spent a wonderful afternoon there:

The front of the former hydroelectric plant with water elements incorporated on the sides of the steps

A textile on display (embiggen to see how magnificent the embroidery is)

Up on the 2nd floor terrace -- pottery and remnants of the former plant

A fantastic sculpture show by Gustavo Perez (again, embiggen for details)

The tienda where you can buy kites and other paper products from the workshop

These are just a few of the many projects Sr. Toledo has overseen or funded. But you don't have to travel to Oaxaca to see this wonderful artist. If you are in New York this summer, you can see an exhibit at the Cervantes Institute called The Fantastic Zoology of Francisco Toledo which is based on the book by Juan Luis Borges. I plan to visit next week when I will be in town running errands and will let you know what you can see if you visit yourself!

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