The series of talks explores the cultural and artistic foundations of modern art in Mexico and provides context to the phenomenon of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and their artistic circle. Hear from New Zealand-based Mexican academics, along with a leading expert on expatriatism, and deepen your appreciation of the political and artistic environment in post-Revolution Mexico.
The first talk by Dr Priscila Pilatowsky Goni will track the effects of the Mexican Revolution and the construction of mexicanidad – ‘an identity born of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic Indigenous cultures and its colonial past, mixed up with a post-revolutionary, modern, visionary future’. Next, Dr Leonard Bell will reveal the innovative and artistically productive relationships between Mexicans and European and North American refugees fleeing conflicts. Finally, turning to Frida herself, Dr Diana Albarrán González will explore how Kahlo used her clothing as a symbol of political and cultural identity. Going beyond Kahlo’s style, Albarrán González sheds light on the richness of Indigenous artisans and Mexican textile traditions.
This series comprises three illustrated talks presented in person at the Gallery. Tickets cover admission to three lectures and a light morning tea upon arrival. Lunch can be purchased as an add-on.
Lecture I: Art, power and a cosmic race: The cultural revolution of Modern Mexico (1917–1950)
Presenter: Dr Priscila Pilatowsky Goni
In 1951, Mexican philosopher Emilio Uranga wrote, ‘Mexicans are melancholic creatures.’ This temperamental remark reveals the spirit of his time, one characterised by a search for Mexican identity (also known as mexicanidad or Mexicanness) through arts, literature, politics and history.
More than a military upheaval, the Mexican revolution (1910–17) broke the old regime’s political and cultural remnants to build a new nation. Emerging post-revolutionary governments launched programmes to improve life, modernise the country and establish a Mexican identity. Although this cultural revolution served as state propaganda, it instilled a sense of belonging and pride in Mexicans. Moreover, it created a self-reflective atmosphere where intellectuals developed what is known as the filosofía de lo mexicano (philosophy of the Mexican).
This lecture explains the political and social environments that framed the cultural revolution. It will refer, with emphasis, to the group of painters and plastic artists who launched the muralismo movement, including Diego Rivera, converging popular arts and modernism to shape the Mexican identity’s visual imagery.
Lecture II: Photography in mid-20th century Mexico: émigrés, refugees and Mexican modernism
Presenter: Leonard Bell
From the late 1930s, Mexico offered a haven for thousands of refugees from Fascism and Nazism in World War II-ravaged Europe. These displaced peoples comprised an extraordinary group of artists, including photographers, whose interactions with native-born peoples reshaped the arts in Mexico.
Photography figures prominently in Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Art and Life in Modern Mexico with works by artists who either took refuge in or migrated to Mexico, such as Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Lucienne Bloch and Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo. Most of the works in the exhibition come from the collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman, both of whom were émigrés from Europe.
This lecture will explore the experiences and impacts of migrant and native artists in mid-20th century Mexico, when, perhaps paradoxically, political and social conflicts generated creative and innovative encounters between peoples from diverse social, national, and ethnic backgrounds.
Lecture III: Beyond Frida Kahlo's style: Textile identities in Mexico
Presenter: Dr Diana Albarrán González
Frida Kahlo has been described as a fashion icon, inspiring artists, designers, and creatives worldwide. Kahlo's choice of garments went beyond styling and signalled political and cultural identity during Mexican modernism. However, the Indigenous textile artisans who created those garments have often been an unacknowledged source of this significant aspect of her style.
Mexico has a rich textile tradition rooted in Mesoamerican civilisations, extending from southern North America to most of Central America, before the colonisation of those territories. It is still present and evolving among different pueblos originarios (Indigenous peoples), whose identity is strongly linked to artisanal textile creation. Historically, artisanal garments have served as marks of identity, reflecting the wearer’s social, economic, geographical, political, and cultural positioning. These textiles have influenced the perception of Mexican identity, both within the country itself and globally.
This lecture explores the traditional garments in Frida Kahlo’s work while linking them back to their original sources. Going beyond her style, we seek to understand the depth and richness of Mexican textile traditions and honour the Indigenous artisans who continue to enrich the diversity of Mexican culture.
Dr Priscila Pilatowsky Goni is passioned about the intersection of avant-gardes and Mexican popular arts and specialises in Mexican propaganda (populism and authoritarianism) from 1930-1950. Her PhD thesis was on the contributions of Mexican intellectuals and artists in the building of post-revolutionary Mexico. She is a tutor at Massey University and the vice chair of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Palmerston North Branch.
Dr Leonard (Len) Bell is an independent art and cultural historian. He previously taught art history at the University of Auckland. His writing on cross-cultural interactions and representations and the work of travelling, migrant and refugee artists and photographers has been published worldwide. Recent books include Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists (2020), Strangers Arrive: Émigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930–1980 (2017) and Jewish Lives in New Zealand: A History (2012, co-editor).
Dr Diana Albarrán González is a Native Latin American design researcher from Mexico and a lecturer at the University of Auckland with 18 years of international experience. Her PhD research focused on the decolonisation of design in collaboration with Mayan weavers from her birthplace, Chiapas, Mexico. She proposes a Buen Vivir-Centric Design model that embraces collective well-being, textiles, crafts-design-arts, embodiment and creativity. She is a craftivist, a mother and an active member of the Latin American community in Aotearoa, seeking to support community well-being and connections between Moana-nui-a-Kiwa and Abya Yala.
The exhibition is organised by the Vergel Foundation and MondoMostre in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura. It is proudly supported by Craigs, AUT, as well as Omnigraphics, with special thanks to the Auckland Art Gallery Foundation.
Open to AAG Members. Includes admission to all three lectures, alongside access to recordings of each. Members with a valid guest pass can purchase an extra ticket for this price.
With valid student ID. Includes admission to all three lectures, alongside access to recordings of each.
Includes a one-year membership, admission to all three lectures and access to recordings of each.
Add-on: Lunch $20
This event is part of our membership programme. Members receive free unlimited entry to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Art and Life in Modern Mexico. Join us for $80 per year (discounts available for students and seniors).
Image credit: Imogen Cunningham, Frida Kahlo Photograph, 1931. © 2022 Imogen Cunningham Trust / www.imogencunningham.com
- Members $73, Students $48, Non-members $150 (includes a membership)
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Art and Life in Modern Mexico
Adults $24.50, Concessions $19.50, Members and children 12 & under FREE
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