story and photos by Susanna Starr
In case all you’ve ever heard about the city of Oaxaca in the south central mountains of Oaxaca is in relation to their incredible variety of indigenous crafts, here’s another view.
The city is a vibrant center not only for amazing contemporary art, a wide variety of handmade crafts, tantalizing food and wonderful people, but is also known for it’s beautifully restored pre-Colombian architecture and it’s many museums. Here’s a brief introduction to three of those museums. The shows change, but I think these accompanying words and photos will give the reader a glimpse of some of the quality exhibits that have appeared there.
The Rufino Tamayo Museum is a must see if, for nothing else, that it has been established by one of Mexico’s most favorite painters of this past century, a native of Oaxaca and friend as well as mentor to many of its artists. He became interested in pre-Colombian art and identified with its indigenous images at an early age. The museum houses in its various rooms, displays ranging from his collection of pre-Colombian art to modern art. Housed in a 17th century stone building, it is built around the traditional Spanish style courtyard, making it an easy place to walk around and see the various exhibits in an intimate environment.
A small museum called Museo Belber Jimenez is close by and because its owner is frequently there, you might be able to strike up a conversation with him and learn more about his fascinating collection. It reflects his wide ranging interest in paintings, sculpture, carvings, jewelry and other items of artistic expression.
The Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu is also known as the Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo. It was opened in 2011 in the restored Ex-Convento de San Pablo, a 16th century Dominican Monastery and is quite impressive. A narrow outdoor corridor opens to a smart little cafe serving coffee with the nicest invitation I’ve ever encountered anywhere…..”En esto lugar de fe y de paz espiritual, Toma el bendito cafe y le cura todo mal”…..Gilberto Gutierrez. For those who don’t read Spanish, this translates as “in this place of faith and spiritual peace, drink a cup of blessed coffee and cure everything bad.” You might wonder what the coffee actually tasted like – it was superb!
After you’ve indulged in a delightful cappuccino and pastry (or whatever else on the menu that strikes your fancy), you can walk across the narrow pavement and visit the various chapels which house important art and relics from so many centuries ago. Just to give you an idea of how holy a place this is and how seriously people respect it, here’s a little anecdote. Just before visiting this lovely edificio (building), we had stopped at a nearby shop where I purchased a very pretty silver chain. It was handed to me in a small plastic bag which I carefully placed in the purse I was carrying.
Somehow, when I was drinking my cappuccino, I noticed that it was gone. I quickly ran over to some of the small chapels on the other side of the corridor where I had just been and asked some of the people working there if they had possibly seen it. No one had, and no wonder – it was a really small bag and there was construction going on! However, a few minutes later, while we were still at the cafe, a young woman appeared with the tiny bag containing my newly purchased necklace! In digging around, one of the workmen found it and turned it in. Then, she found me! That’s a lovely example of all that’s beautiful about Mexico and its people.
The museum has several stories and generally houses different shows at the same time, with an emphasis on indigenous art. While we were there, we saw a stunning array of both photos and mannequins representing the famous stilt dancers in full and extravagant costumes on both the first and second floors. On the third floor was a contemporary art show with the theme of the prostitute as a woman (not just to be identified in her role), done with sensitivity and compassion as well as being beautifully rendered artistically. It was very moving.
This is but an introduction to the many museums in Oaxaca. For anyone visiting this vibrant and important Mexican city, there are many more to research and explore. Hopefully, though, this introduction will serve to stimulate your curiosity about the variety of ongoing shows and exhibits always being offered.
IF YOU GO
There are direct flights from Houston Texas, USA to Oaxaca, Mexico on United
Tourism Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
More of Susanna Starr’s work can be found at SusannaStarr.com