Immerse yourself in Mexican culture and explore this rich mix of art, from Mesoamerican stone carvings to 1940s film noir
May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, the yearly anniversary of Mexico’s defeat of the French Empire in the Battle of Puebla back in 1862. While in Mexico, this day is only really recognized in Puebla, in the USA, it has morphed into a big, commercial celebration.
Why is it such a big celebration in the USA?
It began back in the 60s, when Mexican-American activists started to raise awareness of this historic event to honor their heritage, and bridge the gap between the two cultures. Cities with large Mexican-American communities subsequently started to commemorate the date with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano.
According to The New York Times, since 1989, the date has become more commercial as a result of US importers of Mexican beer brands pouring resources into its promotion. However, over time there has been some confusion around the significance of these celebrations, with people mistakenly believing May 5th to be the anniversary of Mexico gaining independence from Spain, which is actually on September 16th.
As a way to commemorate the day, we’re spotlighting five exhibitions of Mexican art currently being hosted online for free. From Mesoamerican stone carvings and 1940s film noir to paintings and illustration by Mexican-American artists, this rich mix of exhibitions invites you to immerse yourself in Mexican culture and celebrate artists from different periods of history.
This online exhibition is part of “Nuestras Historias: Stories of Mexican Identity,” from the National Museum of Mexican Art’s permanent collection. It features ancient Mesoamerican and colonial artifacts, modern Mexican art, folk art, and contemporary works from both sides of the U.S.–Mexican border. “Nuestras Historias: Mexico in the U.S.'' presents the dynamic and diverse stories of Mexican identity in North America.
In the U.S., artists of Mexican descent often grow up with a bilingual, bicultural identity and they frequently represent scenes and images from both sides of the border to express this bicultural experience. Discover works by Carmen Lomas Garza, Ester Hernández, Carlos Cortez, and many others.
Mexico’s film industry blossomed in the 1940s and 1950s, and this period became known as the “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.” Inspired by the Hollywood gangster films featuring the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, Mexican filmmakers created their own style of cine negro, weaving in Mexican folklore, cabaret, and music.
Performers such as Dolores de Rio, Pedro Armendáriz, Maria Felix, and Arturo de Cordova; world-class directors like Roberto Gavaldón, Julio Bracho, and Emilio Fernandez; and cinematographers such as Gabriel Figueroa and Alex Phillips made their mark on this genre and period of film history.
Daniel Lezama was born in Mexico City to Mexican American parents in 1968. He studied at the ENAP (National School of Art) in Mexico City from the mid to late 90s. Lezama was influenced by classical painting, which he wanted to reinvent to tell different stories.
He draws on the world he sees around him and the living conditions in his native country to create oil-on-canvas depictions of alternate realities. In this online gallery presented by The Mexican Museum in San Francisco, you can discover works produced by Lezama from 2008 up until 2018, and which are divided into four collections: The Prodigal Mother, Travelers, Germinal, and The Company.
“Bodies, Faces and People in the Ancient Mexico” transports us millennia back in time to explore Mesoamerican cultures. This online exhibition hosted by the Amparo Museum brings together a collection of stone carvings of human figures, which shed light on the clothing, adornment, body painting, gestural behavior, and the expression of emotions in these ancient cultures.
"Resisting Exclusion: Rupture & Rebellion in 20th Century Mexican Art" presents a selection of works from the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) art collection. This exhibition explores the Mexican art movements Muralism (1920s-1950s) and the subsequent Generación de la Ruptura (Breakaway Generation, 1950s-1970s).
Discover how both these key movements respectively foster and challenge the idea that art should reflect the realities of one’s socio-political context and can be transformed into a mirror that reveals national identity.