Mexico, a nation celebrated not only for the opulence and eccentricity of its culture, tradition and a myriad of diverse customs and ethnicity, but the flamboyant and variegated art form that stations the country a level beyond the others. The unparalleled artwork flaunts the Mexican lifestyle without the obligation of any words. As the years sailed from the Mesoamerican era, through the colonial, towards the post revolutionized epoch, the expression of the Mexican art witnessed the metamorphosis that manifested the characteristic idiosyncrasy of each era.

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Painting cave in Yucatan

Pre-colonial period

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Bedecked in an exemplary artistic splendor the Mesoamerican arts were swathed in vivid and radiant colors. Religion and the ruling class burgeoned the roots of the art germinating in the pre- Hispanic era. The aeon in the Mexican history embodied an indigenous style that bore no real distinction between the arts, architecture and writing that was witnessed from the very beginning in the European culture. The art form of the timeline chiefly incorporated cave paintings and rock etchings, murals and codices alongside stonework that had a fixated aim of portraying the religious as well as political diegesis of the community. Unlike the contemporary art where the every stroke sports a significance and expression of the inner mind the indigenous natives devoted themselves by expressing their prowess on mediums such as ceramics, pottery and the architectural structures. The stylized artistry attested to the customs of sacrifice, wars, Gods and Goddesses prevalent in the society.

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Female figurines from the Tlatilco culture 1250 to 800 BCE

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A Maya mural at Bonampak, 8th century AD

Colonial period

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The colonization of Mexico by the Spanish brought with it a myriad of reforms in the art style. The blend of the prevalent native art forms with the traditional European theme spruced a style that became an unparalleled coalition. The fusion of the two cultures was manifestly illustrated in the church’s edifice where the Spanish architects and the indigenous craftsmen collaborated to raise the structure that harbored the intricate traditional Mexican stonework garnished with European motifs. The monasteries on the slopes of Popocatepetl are the prime specimen of the masterpiece of the colonial era that fosters renaissance, gothic as well as Moorish elements. Alongside limning religious sentiments through stone works the colonial era cemented the foundation of feather work that was a highly valued skill in the pre- Hispanic epoch. In addition to all other art form the indigenous writing and painting garnered eminent glory.

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Juan Rodriguez Juarez, self portrait

The colonial era featured the style of Baroque painting that harbored a realistic directness and a clarity over the colored scheme that characterized the distinctness of the traditional Mexican style form the European culture. Juan Correa, Juan Rodriguez Juarez and Peter Paul Rubens are some of the celebrated painters of the baroque era. As the years progressed the seventeenth and eighteenth century Mexico saw the bloom of portraiture. The portraits ranged from the depicting the religious and moral virtues to those of viceroys, ecclesiastics and local elite adorned in rich silk and embellished dresses.

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Mural in which Cortes appears greeting the first 12 Franciscans of Mexico

Post-independence period:  the post-colonial era witnessed a burgeoning of artwork that even though heavily European in style refuged the nationalistic sentiments. Over the years the indigeneity that had went adrift with the assimilation of the European cultures highlighted itself into the paintings and sculptures of the liberal Mexico. A cardinal example would be the Tlahuicol by Manuel Vilar in 1851 that depicted the classic blend of indigeneity in the neoclassical style.

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From the romantic style adopted in the early nineteenth century, the late nineteenth century’s version of the artwork revamped to academic realism which fostered simplified and detail centric body of work. Portraits of the upper class, biblical scenes and battles of the independence era were the subjects of idealization. Though not lost the art in the nineteenth century had underwent immense hardship and misery. This distress spell graduated to demise and the Mexican artists geared in perusal of robust artistic nationalism. The 1920s witnessed a domination of the muralists in Mexico. The Mexicans splurged into murals with a characteristic folkloric style alongside forging monuments that tribute historical events. The monument of Christophe Columbus was one of the firsts. The murals depicted to the mass of people political and social messages that were easily deciphered. The artists indulged in socialism and nationalism.

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Mural by Diego Rivera at the national Palace

The Mexican revolution in the early twentieth century had a dramatic and pronounced effect on the direction in which the Mexican art was heading. The alignment of the governing body with the contemporary artists promoted messages through the murals on the public buildings that were swaddled in Mexican theme and reinforced political agendas and focused on glorifying the pre- Hispanic past of the nation.

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Mexican folk Baroque murals painted on ceilings and walls

The mid twentieth century stained the Mexican art grounds with a global touch, breaking away from the muralist style followed in the early half of the century integrating elements from Asia and other places Mexico stated making a global impact. Mexico bore hallmarks of a great many number of art movements and alterations in art style and still maintained its glory and vibrancy. The art defined the community and the ideology of the people in the community.

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Frida Kahlo

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Freda Kahlo

The country established itself in the art world with a plethora of artists producing works that exclaimed the flamboyant Mexican lifestyle. One such artist is Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon. The art work that splayed in her canvas spoke of her inspiration that ranged from the beauty of nature, to artifacts of Mexico, to the social division in the society. She indulged herself in works that articulated the lifestyle of Mexico, be it the portraits, the naïve folk art or the post-colonial state of the nation. Her paintings vibrated with an essence of realism fused with fantasy and carried along with it strong autobiographical elements. Described as a surrealist and magical realist Frida Kahlo belonged to the era that rippled and echoed in the waves of revolution. Part of the Mexicayolt, a movement rooting to revive the traditions and philosophy of the natives as well as the indigenous religion, Kahlo expressed her involvements with her artwork exploring a quest for the nation’s lost identity. Her paintings expresses her experience of chronic pain and although many associated those expressions with the pain she has suffered, the paintings features a deeper ambiguous meaning raising questions on the Mexican society and framing an identity in relation to the gender, social class and race. These questions can be seen through her art work exclaiming complex iconographic elements all along employing Christian symbols and mythology.

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Feeding her interest in politics and art Kahlo in 1927 joined the Mexican communist party. Her travel in different places in Mexico and America in the late 1920s and early 1930s attracted her towards the Mexican folk culture and fetching inspiration from those she indulged in small self- portraits with blended elements from the pre Columbian and catholic beliefs. Coming years gifted Frida with success one after the other as she arrayed her artworks in different exhibitions in national as well as international forums.

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An icon for the Chicanos and a symbolism of the feminism, Kahlo’s works speaks miles beyond its time. Celebrated internationally as an artist whose art works broadcasted Mexico’s national and indigenous traditions. And though her works were relatively unknown before the 1970s, by the early 1990s the arts historians and political activists rediscovered her works, bringing them to a spotlight that garnered recognition as historic figures of art.

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Even though, when Kahlo commence her career in the field of art, the muralists dominated the scene of Mexican art, she delved into painting self- portraits. Freda’s self-portraits imitated the classic bust-length portraits trending as fashion in the colonial era. Kahlo in her earlier days drew inspiration from the renaissance masters and European avant- garde who expressed an essence of radicalism and unorthodoxy. Kahlo featured elements of the Mexican folk art that highlighted naivety, fantasy, and fascination with death and violence. With her body of work depicting the genre of naïve surrealism Frida Kahlo brought to the forefront post-colonial themes and questions. Her work as describes the artist Andre Breton, lugs its own brand of surrealism and harbors the perfect balance, situated at the brink of the political and the artistic line. Kahlo had stated that she ‘detested surrealism’ and her body of work that bordered so close to the surrealist feel was more so the inner voice that for a long time writhed in pain.

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The aftermath of revolution filtered in the Mexican soil the genre of romantic nationalism and this was also depicted in the Kahlo’s painted canvases. This Mexicandad movement defied the mindset of cultural inferiority and aligned the elements of indigeneity in the arts. Before the revolution the elites of the time disparaged the concept of Mexican folk culture regarding their purely European ancestry and culture as something which the Mexicans should emulate.

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Self- portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird. Every painting reflects a sense of positivity, a sense of negativity alongside ambiguity. These depicts the inner turmoil of the artists as well as the culture and lifestyle brewing around them. The paintings are a symbolism of hope, humanity, strength, limitations, fury and so many other emotions that words fail to pronounce.

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