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Mexico is home to one of the most extensive and diverse indigenous communities in Latin America. While recognising the indigenous peoples’ contribution to the country’s development, it wasn’t until the 1992 Constitution that Mexico officially declared itself to be a pluri-cultural nation. The indigenous population makes up approximately 13% of the country’s total population and speaks over 60 different recognised languages.
Arising from this is a vast wealth of indigenous art – both historic and modern. This art spans many mediums including weaving, stone and wood carvings, bead work, decorated clay, and painting on various surfaces.
Mexico’s Art Museums
Mexico has an abundance of museums dedicated to showcasing the works of its famous artists – such as Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and Francisco Toledo.
However, it wasn’t until 1983 that the country saw the opening of a national museum that specifically focused on cultura popular (popular culture) – the art and culture of Mexico’s indigenous groups. The Museo Nacional de las Culturas Populares (National Museum of Popular Cultures) was founded that year by anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Balla. It’s located in the Coyoacán suburb of Mexico City, just half a block from Plaza Hidalgo on Avenida Hidalgo.
The museum complex is made up of several buildings, most of which date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It boasts five main exhibition rooms and three patios, where conferences, workshops, and concerts are held. I highly recommend a visit to this museum!
One of the museum’s most imposing permanent works is a 4 metre high (13 feet) clay arbol de la vida (tree of life) situated near the entrance. The tree contains numerous figures, including Spanish soldiers, Mexican independence hero Miguel Hidalgo, the Mexica leader Cuauhtémoc, plus various Catholic and indigenous religious icons. It’s well worth taking the time to explore the intricate details of this sculpture.
Nearby is a second permanent work, the enormous Tejedores de Sueños (Dream Weavers) mural. It was painted in 2010 by Mexican street artists Sego and Saner to commemorate the bicentennial of the Mexican War of Independence. This brilliantly coloured mural features insects, masked figures, and fantastic animals.
In addition to its small permanent collection, it also hosts several temporary exhibits each year. At the time of writing this, the museum is featuring an exhibition called “Espejo de Identidades” (Mirror of Identities), which showcases a variety of art. This ranges from embroidered hats, dresses, and blankets, to cardboard and clay figures painted in vibrant colours. All of these represent different pueblos from across Mexico.
Most of the art in the museum’s temporary exhibits is created by artisans who have developed their trade by studying with a community leader or a family member – rather than attending an art school. Their art not only articulates their own vision, but is also imbued with their pueblo’s history – preserving their cultural identity.
The museum is also a hub of cultural diversity, hosting concerts, conferences, and other events that celebrate Mexico’s rich heritage. On weekends, visitors can explore the stalls set up in the patios, where artisans sell a variety of goods ranging from food to jewellery to clothing.
The Museo Nacional de las Culturas Populares is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 am, and the entrance fee is $60 pesos.