Repainting the walls of Palmitas in Pachuca leads to reduced crime

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Jul 302015
 

Palmitas is a small, densely-populated neighborhood in the city of Pachuca, the capital of the state of Hidalgo in central Mexico. It has a reputation for higher than average levels of deprivation, crime and violence.

An innovative social development project, based on artistic transformation, has turned Palmitas over the past few months into a rainbow-hued, quasi-kaleidoscopic, example of urban renewal.

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Palmitas, 2015. Photo credit: Jorge González / UNIÓN Hidalgo

The project involved four main players: an art collective (“Germen Crew”), the city government, Comex (a major national paint manufacturer) and a youth organization that was previously better known for its graffiti art.

The youths joined “Germen Crew” and painted 209 houses, some 20,000 square meters of facade in total, into a single rainbow mural. The specialized materials used, supplied by Comex, have provided maximum long-term protection for the dwellings while turning the streets into ribbons of color. The greatest challenge was that many of the exterior walls were in a very rough shape, and some had never been properly finished or protected.

The “macro mural” has been called the “world’s largest” in some news reports. This title is hotly disputed; other contenders include a mural in Berlin and the Pueblo Levee Project in Colorado.

According to streetartnews, the community involvement in this project from start to finish, led to positive effects on 452 families (1808 people), and a dramatic fall in youth violence, to the point of almost eradicating it.

All the homes were first painted white to symbolize the unity of the community, that all community members are equal, and that all members of the community would benefit from the urban renewal. This pair of photos shows before and after images of Palmitas:

crew-germen-graffiti-town-mural-palmitas

Alongside the months of paintings, numerous community events were held to foment participation and a sense of local ownership of the project.

This short video on Youtube (Spanish) describes the project:

The colorful Palmitas project is an unusual and interesting example of urban improvement, urban renewal or urban regeneration.

Comex has said that it will support similar urban renewal projects elsewhere in Mexico that beautify the local settings and help improve people’s lives, so please report back if you find a similar project happening in your neighborhood.

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Mexican artist-geographer helped put Bali on the tourist map…

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Jul 062015
 

In an earlier post – Mexico in the USA: Pacific fauna and flora mural in San Francisco – we looked at the beautiful (and very geographic!) mural by Mexican artist José Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957).

Covarrubias had a lengthy commercial art career as an illustrator of books, designer of theater sets and costumes, and as a caricaturist for magazines including Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, but at heart, he was very much a geographer, with a healthy side-interest in ethnology.

In the mid-1920s, he moved to New York, where he fell in love with a young dancer and choreographer Rosa (Rosemonde) Cowan. The couple traveled together to Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. In Mexico, Rosa met Miguel’s friends, including Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, and was introduced to photography by Edward Weston.

Miguel’s illustrations for advertisers, especially the one he painted for Steinway & Sons pianos, helped speed up the inclusion of Bali, Indonesia, on the world tourist map. Miguel’s piano artwork won the 1929 National Art Directors’ Medal for color painting. After Miguel and Rosa married in 1930, they used the prize money to take an extended honeymoon to Bali.

Miguel Covarrubias: "Offering of Fruits for the Temple", Bali, 1932

Miguel Covarrubias: “Offering of Fruits for the Temple”, Bali, 1932

The couple loved Bali and quickly became interested in the local language and culture. Three years later, in 1933, Miguel was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the couple returned to Bali, also visiting Java, India and Vietnam. Miguel’s art and Rosa’s photographs were key ingredients in the success of Island of Bali (1937).

The book was released in New York at a particularly propitious time, just as interest in far-flung tourism was being fired up by travel firms. The book coincided with, and refueled, a craze among well-to-do New Yorkers to visit the island. The rest of the world soon followed, and Bali’s tourist future was guaranteed.

Island of Bali is “still regarded by many as the most authoritative text on Bali and its fascinating people. Included is a wealth of information on the daily life, art, customs and religion of this magical ‘Island of the Gods.'” For more about the book, see Miguel Covarrubias: Island of Bali. on Chris Morrison’s blog Thirty-Two Minutes.

Miguel Covarrubias’s later books included Mexico South (1946); The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent – Indian Art of the Americas; North America: Alaska, Canada, the United States (1954); and Indian Art of Mexico and Central America (1957).

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Jun 152015
 

Visitors to the De Young Museum in San Francisco can admire a wonderful mural showing the fauna and flora of the Pacific, painted by Mexican artist José Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957) for the city’s 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

Covarrubias Mural of the Pacific

Covarrubias Mural of the Pacific (Click image to enlarge)

Following conservation work performed by experts in Mexico, the mural is currently on loan to the De Young Museum from its owners, San Francisco’s Treasure Island Development Authority.

While the De Young Museum website continues to describe this mural as “one of a six-part series of fanciful, larger-than-life-size maps created by noted Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias”, we sincerely doubt that these murals were ever really “larger-than-life-size”!

The mural is one of the five remaining murals painted by José Miguel Covarrubias for the exposition. The whereabouts of a sixth mural, which completed the series known as “Pageant of the Pacific”, are unknown.

The details are exquisitely painted, and the mural is as beautiful as it is educational.

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Covarrubias: Mural of the Pacific (detail)

As ever-erudite Jon Haeber writes in his blog post about this mural, painted “at a critical juncture in America’s history”, its artist “was a confidante of Mexican greats Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. As a caricaturist for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, it could easily be assumed that Covarrubias is largely ignored by fine art historians, but he was an anthropologist and geographer as much as he was an artist, which gave him a unique respect among art aficionados… Not only are they an informative lesson in Geography, but they are also a great piece of history – to say nothing about their creator.”

Covarrubias was indeed a geographer and ethnologist. Among other works, he authored Island of Bali (1937); Mexico South (1946); The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent – Indian Art of the Americas; North America: Alaska, Canada, the United States (1954); and Indian Art of Mexico and Central America (1957).

The temporary structures on Treasure Island were subsequently demolished and Covarrubias’ six murals sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. When they were brought back to California in the late 1950s, the series was missing the mural entitled “Art Forms of the Pacific Area”. The titles of the five surviving murals are The Fauna and Flora of the Pacific, Peoples, Economy, Native Dwellings, and Native Means of Transportation.

May 042015
 

The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, by Paul Alexander Bartlett, first published in 1990 and now available as a free Gutenburg pdf or Epub, is a great starting point for anyone interested in the history, economics, art and architecture of the hundreds of colonial haciendas which still grace Mexico’s rural areas. Bartlett made one of the earliest artistic records of more than 350 of these haciendas, dragging his family around the country for years as he obsessively explored lesser-known places. The photographs and pen and ink illustrations in his outstanding book were made on site from 1943 to 1985.

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Pen-and-ink drawing of Hacienda de Teya, Yucatán, by Paul Bartlett.

Bartlett’s hacienda art work has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the New York City Public Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City, and at the Bancroft Library, among other places.

Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona, before studying art at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and in Guadalajara. He was an instructor in creative writing at Georgia State College, Editor of Publications at the University of California Santa Barbara (1964-70) and wrote dozens of short stories and poems. His books include the short novel Adios, mi México (1983), and the novel When the Owl Cries (1960).

Writing must run in the family. Bartlett’s wife was the well-known poet and writer Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994). The couple met in Guadalajara in 1941 and married two years later in Sayula. Their son Steven James Bartlett is a widely published author in the fields of psychology and philosophy.

In the foreward to The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, novelist James Michener writes that:

I first became aware of the high artistic merit of Paul Bartlett’s work on the classic haciendas of Old Mexico when I came upon an exhibition in Texas in 1968. His drawings, sketches, and photographs evoked so effectively the historic buildings I had known when working in Mexico that I wrote to the architect-artist to inform him of my pleasure.”

Gisela von Wobeser observes, in her introduction, that,

When Bartlett began his hacienda visits in the 1940s, he found many of the hacienda buildings in ruins, exposed to the ravages of time and vandalism. Buildings had been converted into chicken coops, pigsties, public apartments, and machine shops. Others served as sources for construction materials, from which were scavenged rocks, bricks, beams, and tiles for the habitations of the local population. In some cases the destruction was total: All the hacienda’s structures were removed, and only the name of the place alluded to the fact that a hacienda had ever existed there.

At other haciendas, buildings were adapted to new uses. They were transformed into hotels, resorts, government buildings, barracks, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. The exterior of the buildings were generally left intact; interiors were completely changed.

The best—preserved hacienda buildings were those that continued to function as country properties or vacation homes. In these, Bartlett often found furnishings and utensils from the epoch of Don Porfirio, surrounded by the old traditions of Mexican country life.”

von Wobeser makes the useful distinction between three types of hacienda: those where grains were the main output, those specializing in cattle-rearing, and those for sugar-cane cultivation and processing.

The book describes haciendas in almost every state of the Republic. A handy map and list are provided of which haciendas are located in each state. There are more than 100 pen-and-ink illustrations and photographs in total in the book, which is arranged in seven chapters:

  1. The Hacienda System
  2. Through the Eyes of Hacienda Visitors
  3. Hacienda Life
  4. Fiestas
  5. Education
  6. The Revolution
  7. Mexico Since the Revolution

The accompanying text, written from a non-specialist perspective, is always lively, informative and interesting. The style of illustrations is varied, in keeping with the immense variety of haciendas that the author explored and sketched.

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Pen-and-ink drawing by Paul Bartlett of Hacienda de Zapotitán, Jalisco

Coincidentally, the hacienda of Zapotitán in Jalisco (see illustration above), located close to Jocotepec and Lake Chapala, is the first hacienda to be featured in the on-going series of articles by modern-day hacienda explorer Jim Cook. Jim spends countless hours researching old haciendas, and regularly goes exploring with friends to see what is left on the ground today. His descriptions and photographs are easily the best contemporary accounts of the haciendas in western Mexico.

All in all, this is a really useful addition to the literature about Mexico’s haciendas, one guaranteed to answer many of the questions and doubts that visitors to Mexico often express about just how haciendas functioned and what working and living conditions were like, both for the owner’s family and the workers.

An archive of Bartlett’s original pen-and-ink illustrations and several hundred photographs is held in the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas in Austin. A second collection of hacienda photographs and other materials is maintained by the Western History Research Center of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Want to visit some haciendas?

Chapter 9 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury (2013) focuses on the “Hacienda Route” to the south and west of Guadalajara, with an itinerary that includes visiting several haciendas within easy reach of the city.

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The art of Mexican volcanoes

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Apr 162015
 

An art exhibition entitled “Mexican Volcanoes” is opening in Mexico City next week. The show opens on Tuesday 21 April, at noon, at the offices of the Mexican Society for Geography and Statistics (Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística) at Justo Sierra #19, in the Historic Center of the city. The Society is one of the world’s oldest geographic societies, having been founded 18 April 1833. (The Royal Geographical Society in the U.K. was founded in 1830; the National Geographic Society in the USA was founded in 1888).

Invitacion frente

This exhibition, which will close on 29 April, is being arranged by Lewinson Art, a Mexican art firm that specializes in promoting artists via a virtual gallery and exhibitions. Artists were invited to submit works (paintings, drawings, engravings, photographs) relating to the subject “Mexican Volcanoes”.

Detail of lithograph by Casimiro Castro of Railway near Orizaba, Veracruz

Detail of lithograph by Casimiro Castro of Railway near Orizaba, Veracruz, with Pico de Orizaba in the background

Historically, Mexico’s volcanoes have been especially fertile ground for Mexican artists, from the great landscapes of José María Velasco to Casimiro Castro and the colorful and energetic “aerial landscapes” of Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo).

dr-atl-paricutin

Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo): Paricutin Volcano

Artists represented in this interesting exhibition include:

Agustín Aldama, Mercedes Arellano, José Luis Briseño, Rosi Calderón, Argelia Castañeda, Becky Esquenazi, Gabriela Estrada, Tere Galván, Gabriela Horta, Ana Gabriela Iñiguez, Débora Lewinson, Manuel Martinez Moreno, Nadine Markova, Ausberto Morales, Francoise Noé, Merle Reivich, Fernando Reyes Varela, Homero Santamaría, Arcelia Urbieta, Ariel Valencia , Primo Vega and Lucille Wong.

The volcanoes depicted in the show include Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, Cofre de Perote and the Nevado de Toluca (Xinantecatl).

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Dec 062014
 

In the second half of the 19th century, the Mexican government undertook am ambitious railway building program that eventually connected Mexico City with the USA, as well as with ports on the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean

Since the privatization of the railway system in 1995, many lines have fallen out of use and passenger services have been all but abandoned, leaving hundreds of kilometers of disused track and isolating some rural communities from the nearest large city. Much of Mexico’s historic railway infrastructure now lies in ruins.

In the past decade, some former railway lines have been turned into walking and cycling trails. For example:

The state of Jalisco has started to recondition 120 kilometers of former railway routes as Green Route (Via Verde) trails for non-motorized traffic (hikers, cyclists, horse riders). Many of the old stations along these routes will be restored to provide essential services and exhibition space. The former train station in Ameca (on the extreme northern edge of the town) has been renovated to serve as the start of one of these routes, with exhibits focusing on the history of the railroad, local fiestas and the region’s haciendas. The lovely building, dating back more than a century, witnessed its last train in 1995.

Given that the railways played such a key role in the Revolution, enabling both sides to move troops quickly around the country, it is fitting that they are now the basis for this new revolution involving cultural tourism. (Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury, p 61).

Others lines, elsewhere in Mexico, have been explored by two intrepid Mexican artists as part of an unusual geo-art project. Artists Ivan Puig and Andres Padilla Domene built a vehicle capable of traveling on train tracks and explored some of the country’s abandoned railway lines. As they went, they photographed hundreds of ruins and recorded hours of interviews with people they met. They later did something similar in Ecuador, but that’s another story.

Their striking silver road-rail vehicle is known as SEFT-1, where SEFT stands for Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada (Manned Railway Exploration Probe).

seft-1

The artists recorded their experiences in videos, photographs and collected objects. Interviewing people they met, often from communities isolated by Mexico’s passenger railway closures, they shared their findings online, where audiences could track the probe’s trajectory, view maps and images and listen to interviews.

Their first London (UK) exhibition, SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe – Modern Ruins 1:220, was commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and presented at the Furtherfield gallery space in the heart of Finsbury Park. In the exhibit, the artists explore how the ideology of progress is imprinted onto historic landscapes and they also reflect on the two poles of the social experience of technology: use and obsolescence.

For this exhibition, the artists also invited British expert model railway constructors to create scale reproductions of specific Mexican railway ruins exactly as they had found them. One gallery became a space for the process of model ruin construction. The room’s walls displayed the pictures, documents, plans and other materials used as reference for the meticulously-elaborated models.

The Artists

Ivan Puig (born 1977, Guadalajara) has exhibited internationally in Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil and the USA. Puig, a member of the collective TRiodO (with Marcela Armas and Gilberto Esparza), lives and works in Mexico City.

Andrés Padilla Domene (born 1986, Guadalajara) has exhibited work in Mexico, the USA and Ecuador. His video work as director and producer with Camper Media includes documentaries, fiction films and TV shows.

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Cosmic botanical garden in Toluca

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Mar 152014
 

The city of Toluca (population 1.8 million), the capital of the State of México, was in the news recently as the site for the tri-national meeting between the heads of state of Mexico, the USA and Canada to mark the 20th anniversary of NAFTA.

Nestled away inside the city, away from its burgeoning factories, is the former city market. The market closed in 1975. Plans to demolish it were forestalled when renowned Mexican artist Leopoldo Flores stepped up with a plan to restore the market building, which dated back to 1909, into an artistic gem housing a botanical garden.

Cosmovitral, Toluca

Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike attribution

The market’s original windows were replaced with large glass murals, comprised of half a million pieces of glass and covering a total area of more than 3,000 square meters. The revamped building, now known as the Cosmovitral, was reopened in 1980. In 2007, the Cosmovitral narrowly missed being named one of the 13 man-made wonders of Mexico.

The centerpiece of the Cosmovitral murals is the stunning image entitled Sun Man (Hombre Sol).

Possibly the world’s best decorated glasshouse, the Cosmovitral houses over 500 different plants from around the world and has become one of the city’s single most popular tourist attractions, though rarely visited by foreign tourists.

Where? The Cosmovitral is located in downtown Toluca at the intersection of Juárez and Lerdo de Tejada streets. Guided tours are available.

When? It is normally open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission? Tickets are 10 pesos (less than a dollar) for adults, 5 pesos for children. Guided tours, mostly to explain the Cosmovitral’s stained glass, are available. Art exhibitions are hosted regularly.

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