BootsnAll Travel Network

Guanajuato More and More

Ansie and Gallo have been taking some incredible photographs which I hope to link to the blog in a week or so. Words will never do this place justice. It’s color, movement, texture, sound, smells, energy, a quality of LIFE that transcends words. Today was especially miraculous. Today was ART day. We found exhibitions of the work of a turn-of-the-century studio photographer named Romualdo Garcia and then two phenomenal Mexican women artists: Elva Garma and Lucia Castaneda (sorry, I’m in San Miguel de Allende tonight, and it’s a US keyboard, no proper accents). [I’ll save San Miguel for tomorrow.] First, about Garcia, Garma, and Castaneda.

Elva Garma first. She’s is doing everything an artist can do: photographs, paintings, installations, assemblages, collages, shadow boxes, and it just goes on. She has an ENORMOUS show. I lost track of how many pieces, more than 60, all created between 2000 and now, all wonderful, and some spectacular. Her show is called “Mujeres y De Viaje,” women and travel, or women and the travelling. Garma must be making art in every moment of her life, except, I guess, when she’s travelling herself. When she paints, no matter how large the canvas, it’s too small for her ideas: she paints outside the frame–somehow she gets canvas stretched over curved and jagged shapes, and then what’s outside the frame carries her images beyond limits. She uses shopping bags, luggage tags, jam jars, candles, hotel soaps, souvenirs, suitcases, journals, dried flowers, and it just doesn’t stop. Some of her paintings are places being slipped into “envelopes” of canvas.

In the same vast gallery where we found Elva Garma there was an exhibit of Lucia Castaneda. Some of her photographs are of assemblages she has created, inspired by other artists–and then photographed (Man Ray’s woman with violin cuts on her back, for example). But what is most remarkable to me in Castaneda’s exhibit is a project she created that breaks, bends, and explodes all ideas of genre. She created different versions of herself for a dating website–she posed for self-portraits she put up on the site, along with self-descriptions, and she mounts large reproductions of the photos of herself next to displays of the responses she received from men who visited the site. She is, variously, a business executive, a graphic artist, a Chiapas political activist, a lush Latin-looking glamor girl, a blonde-wigged sex kitten, and it goes on. The version of herself that received the most responses was the blonde sex-kitten; the least “hits” came to the political activist. The project is theatre (all those disguises), writing (the descriptions), photography (self-portraits), and social and political commentary (the responses). Spectacular idea. Beautifully and meticulously realized.

Finally, Romualdo Garcia. Here was a guy in a studio in the late 1800s and early 1900s–his backgrounds are the same; the quality of the reproduction is exquisite; but what makes his work so astonishing is the poetry that comes through these stiff studio poses. He has rich colonial Mexicans, Indio Mexicans of various backgrounds, desperately poor Mexicans with fragile infants and torn clothing, African-Mexicans, Mexicans in a moment of dancing, sexy women Mexicans bearing their ankles and a glimpse of calf, uptight missionary Mexicans dour and stiff, and couples: couples who look like they hate each other, couples in love, couples who reveal, with just the slightest change in posture or attitude, how they feel about each other, about their lives, and about the moment of being looked at. There are innocent eyes, jaded eyes, furious eyes, tender eyes. Some of his work was in a large gallery in the vast former city granary.

Guanajuato is all this, and crowds milling in streets lined with buildings of every color and combination of colors, buildings with every imaginable texture and depth of shadow, kids chasing pigeons, dogs following anybody who will give them a kind word, vendors peddling silver and beads, internet cafes on nearly every street, and the everpresent laptops in outdoor cafes, parks, stairways, bars, and restaurants. We barely had time to find one place, one exhibit, and we were stumbling into the next.

Late in the afternoon we boarded a second-class bus for San Miguel de Allende and drove through scrub, desolation, dust, and cactus in a ride that only lasted an hour and a half but seemed endless. Again, we have a feeling that poverty is all around us, but we don’t see it. Where is it? What’s going on? What can we make of this? We arrived hungry and found restaurants serving hamburgers and avocado stuffed with crab salad–what? Where are we? We ended up in a place that’s a shrine to a Playboy Bunny who must have some relation to the owner (framed pictures of her–an Anna Nicole look-alike–on two walls). We ate third-rate mole and paid twice the price for everything that we paid in Guanajuato. We’re in a freshly painted and refurbished, polished and pruned San Miguel de Allende, swarming with English speakers, questioning ourselves, wondering if we want to go back to Guanajuato, if we should go on to Queretaro, or if this place so full of gringos has enough to hold us for a day or two. I think I’m a little dazed by the sun, overwhelmed by all the art I saw this morning, and dumbstruck by so much sensory overload. What will we do now? To be decided….

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-1 responses to “Guanajuato More and More”

  1. stephenbrody says:

    Enjoying here, from your ‘diary’, some armchair travelling to places I suppose I shall never see. And that after looking again at your Portuguese entries, which reveal a perspective quite different from my own, and therefore very interesting. ….

  2. admin says:

    Thank you, Stephen! I wish you could come drench your eyes in these colors. I wonder what they would do to your eyes and how you would represent this profusion.

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