Mexico has had a long and tumultuous history that has contributed to the making of it as such an iconic country. From ancient pre-hispanic people to the urban modernity of its contemporaries, the vast array of influences that have been adopted by its citizens has created a uniquely Mexican worldview and way of life. Now placed as an ‘emerging power,’ the country’s enduring recognition of its traditions, alongside a simultaneous ability to embrace the future, makes for an intriguing society.
The Fashion and Textile Museum in South London has recently opened its new exhibition Made in Mexico. Curator and artist Hilary Simon, has sought to explore and reveal elements of the narrative of Mexico’s history and culture through one of the most iconic garments worn by Mexican women – the rebozo.
The rebozo is a piece of clothing most likened to a scarf or shawl. With so many practical uses and symbolic connotations through the various ways it can be worn, it is no wonder that it continues to be a significant item for women to own. By uniting painting, photography, sculpture, video, installation art and of course examples of the garment itself; the exhibition immerses its audience in an exploration of the importance textiles have played in promoting Mexican culture worldwide from the 17th Century onwards.
There are numerous examples of the rebozo on display that have been produced at various different stages throughout history. Historic pieces from the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City, are reunited with an important loan from the British Museum (originally part of the Robert Everts collection).
Born in Belgium, Robert Evans (b.1878 – d.1942) was enlisted to the Belgium Foreign Force and travelled to Mexico where he was taken by the countries vitality and expertise in craftsmanship. This inspired an enthusiasm for collecting and he became one of the first individuals to recognise the particular importance of the Mexican rebozo. With intricate weaves and immaculate finishes in the garments he attained, we see examples of the highest quality of production; which demonstrate the demanding skill required to be able to produce them.
One of the most iconic figures in Mexico’s history of contemporary art and fashion is undoubtedly Frida Kahlo. As we approach the 60th anniversary of her death, we are given a timely reminder of her incomparable contribution to the recognition of her country’s traditions and their importance.
Having popularised the rebozo within the 20th Century; we are shown how Kahlo’s enduring image as an icon of style was used as a political statement to convey her solidarity with the labourers of her country. Alongside photography from the likes of Nickolas Murray, Marta Turok the renowned Mexican anthropologist has also curated a section in traditional dress, which strives to evoke the image Kahlo sought to portray by means of her clothing.
These historical references are also interestingly paralleled to the adoption of the rebozo within contemporary society. Lila Downs is one of the most popular singer-songwriters in Mexico who too chooses to wear this traditional form of dress, in an attempt to highlight her commitment to her Mexican identity.
Whilst the work of Remigio Mestas highlights how cooperatives have been developed to ensure the skill and techniques needed to create these iconic pieces of clothing are safely passed on to future generations. Mestas has spent much time travelling the breadth of Mexico in order to guide weavers and inspire renewed enthusiasm in these traditional working methods to their younger peers.
Photography from Graciela Iturbide, Antonio Turok and Lourdes Almeida is also particularly insightful, offering an exploration into the context of the rebozo which encompasses Mexican life, fashion and art. The exhibition closes with a powerful installation piece by artist Maricio Cervantes, Oracle of the Nymphs of Coba. This work explores the ‘aroma de luto’ – the use of the rebozo as a ‘death shroud.’
The depth of interest and influence that one garment can evoke is astounding. Amongst the various different incarnations of its use and meaning, audiences are prompted to engage in the compelling story of the rebozo, inspiring urgency for its importance to remain recognised.
Made In Mexico, until 31 August, Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF. For more information visit www.ftmlondon.org.
1. Frida, San Angel (1941), Nickolas Muray. Courtesy of Fashion and Textile Museum.
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