A new generation of bold visual artists is coming of age in the country that gave us the iconic Frida Kahlo.
Meet Mexican artists Aline Herrera and Natasha Kroupensky. They’re young, opinionated, and most importantly, full of ideas. They’re using their voices, and creativity, to bring attention to indigenous communities in Mexico.
Both find inspiration in Mexico’s pre-colonial heritage, and celebrate indigenous women in their vibrant paintings. Their artists’ collective, founded by 23-year-old Herrera, is called Tlatoa. It’s a word in the Nahuatl Aztec language that translates to “the one who carries the word,” or “orator.”
“We’re telling the history and culture of our people by making art,” says Herrera. “We have a lot to say.”
Herrera’s painting of an elderly indigenous woman, titled “Nunca más un México sin nosotros” (which translates to “Never again a México without us”), honors those ousted from their land as Mexico developed. The title is a famous slogan by Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, who fought for land reform.
“The ones who originated the culture [of Mexico] were left behind,” says Herrera. “We want to represent the people,” she says. “Indigenous people were marginalized, starving, they didn’t have rights.”
Kroupensky, 25, is a member of the collective, and has used art to shine a light on human rights injustices. Her Master’s thesis project memorializes the hundreds of women who have been murdered in Juarez, Mexico over the past two decades.
She hopes this art can bring change. “We are trying to open the door to a healthier, more enlightened future,” says Kroupensky, who studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Kroupensky’s brightly decorated bronze, iron and Styrofoam skull surrounded by sacred rocks is titled “Ofrenda 13,” or Offering 13. It’s a memorial to the missing students of Guererro. “’Ofrenda 13′ is keeping their spirit alive and not forgetting them,” she says.
Both find inspiration in strong Mexican women artists of generations past, including Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo.
Herrera says Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits exhibit a raw, powerful beauty that defied cultural standards, especially norms surrounding women. She stood up to “a system that tells us everyday what is correct and beautiful and what is not,” Herrera says.
Like Kahlo, these young artists are challenging attitudes toward women, who they say are often put in their place in Mexico because of, in their words, a “macho culture.” Both of them say they’ve defied roles usually ascribed to women in Mexico, and want to make a point by creating relevant art.
So, how did they get their start? As a child, Herrera had trouble sleeping, so she started painting her dreams. Many of her pieces depict surrealist visions from those dreams. She came up with the idea of forming a collective after art school, which she funded herself through scholarships.
Kroupensky started dabbling in art as a teen, when she met a medicine man who taught her the art of yarn painting. Her father descends from a line of Russians who fled the Bolshevic Revolution in the early 1900’s and settled in Mexico.
“I know I have this other blood in me, but Mexico has been my inspiration,” she says. “I feel really proud of the country I grew up in and the diversity in the culture.”
Kroupensky carries with her a notebook full of sketches she’s drawn of Mexico’s ancient archaeological wonders. This will guide her work on the collective’s next big project: a large installation at Mexican painter Diego Rivera’s old house and museum.
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In the meantime, the Tlatoa collective is bringing life back into abandoned spaces around Mexico City by painting colorful, eclectic murals. They invite the public to watch and be a part of these mural-painting events at old music studios, rooftops and other dilapidated spaces.
“Art is not just behind a glass, you can be part of an experience, you can feel the art, you can listen to the art,” Herrera says. “It’s very interactive.”
From PRI’s The World ©2015 Public Radio International