Saturday, August 02, 2014

dancing in the dark

What could be more Mexican than ending a Friday night in Guadalajara by watching couples salsa dance in a neighborhood square?

One of the nice things about Guadalajara is taking the time to walk through its neighborhoods.  From the trendy restaurants to the historical center.  We probably racked up 4 or 5 frequent walker miles on Friday.

But the spot where we spent most our day is Hospicio Cabañas -- one of the largest colonial complex in the Americas.  Certainly, the largest charitable complex.  It spent its last official days housing up to 3,000 orphans.

The orphans are gone, but the oddly eclectic neoclassical building is still there.  Tucked in between some rather non-descript modern buildings.  (That tends to be the Guadalajara style.)

It is now a mecca for the arts with an ever-rotating series of exhibits.  When we were there, most of the rooms were dedicated to the works of Eduardo Sarabia, an American-born artist now working in Guadalajara.

Sarabia has a wry wit -- especially, when dealing with Mexico's relationship with narco-trafficers.  Take this vase, for instance.

It is based on the blue and white Chinese pottery style that Mexico stole from the Chinese during the era of the Manila galleon.  He takes this traditional style and changes the motif to marijuana, pistols, and dice.  The talavera people will never look at their pottery in the same way.

But we were at the complex to see one of Guadalajara's masterpieces: a series of frescoes and murals painted by José Clemente Orozco in the 1930s.

Orozco's commission was to represent the history of Mexico within the odd spaces of the main building.  As we learned yesterday, Orozco had a very eccentric view of both the Independence movement and the Mexican Revolution.

And you can see the eccentricity on the walls and ceiling of the main building.  He believed that the human spirit was strong, but that it was constantly under attack by evil forces in the world.

No one escapes the bite of his satirical brush.  Starting with the Indians, who he portrays as cannibal beasts.  In this scene, they are enjoying pozole -- made from human flesh.

Nor do the Spanish escape unscathed.  Cortés, the great conqueror, looks like a killing machine with dismembered Indians at his feet.  While being protected by an angel, possibly La Malinche.

But Orozco's best piece is painted on he dome of the cupola.  He entitled it "Man of Fire" to celebrate the human spirit.  A human figure afire rises in the heavens -- with the promise of resurrection.  Just like a phoenix.


There is much more.  Kim and I stood and sat there for hours discovering and discussing new details that raised even more questions about Orozco's symbolism.

I told Kim the same thing I tell you now.  Being able to discuss works of art in depth is one of the joys of this trip. 

Sitting underneath Orozco's work, I almost felt that we are all dancing in the dark.  Trying to find just a bit of meaning in a complicated and confusing world.

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