The show Panaramico de la Plastica Yucatanese at the Center for Visual Arts in Merida, with its focus on contemporary Yucatan artists, caught me by surprise by including many pieces of women, specifically in traditional Mayan costumes.
Having been in Merida about a month now, I would no longer make the mistake of thinking the artist is idealizing the past–rather it expresses an opinion about a changing present. Acereto’s painting features young girls in traditional Mayan dress, white embroidered around the square neckline. Even today in Merida women wear the traditional white shift dress to go about their lives, as do Mayan women who come into Merida for the markets. Surprisingly, perhaps, I also see younger women wearing a top in the same style with jeans–is traditional Mayan dress as in vogue as a t-shirt?
Sandra Nikolai’s women you might see at any market, which is as frenetic as the scene above suggests, and the colors remind me of the brightly-painted buildings. The florid palette and bustling brush strokes make sense to me after walking through the sensory cacophony of the markets.
A tortilla maker? Whatever little street food is being made, the artist treats the subject with dignity and I love the strong lines of the hand. It seems like the Mayan heritage is being explored, and valued positively, in these works. As a middle-aged man on the street told me yesterday, Spanish was his second language–Mayan his first, and his village an hour outside of Merida continues to make hammocks as its industry.
On the other hand, he spoke fluent English and worked as a waiter at a restaurant called Main St. It’s a changing world. A homage to one of my favorite painters hung in the show as well, which overall testified to a variety of influences and interests among contemporary Yucatan painters.