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Mexican designers tap cultural traditions in contemporary works

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MEXICO CITY -- Contemporary Mexican design echoes traditions of the past at the Museum of Modern Art's "The Mexican Factory" exhibit, part of the city's Design Week.

MEXICO CITY -- A silver chair whose cutout back mimics the mask of famed lucha libre wrestler El Santo. Matching end tables with the swirling colors of a baleros ball-and-cup toy. A woolen wall-hanging woven with the image of revered revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

This is modern Mexican design: artisan traditions and materials re-conceived in contemporary ways.

These and other objects are on display at Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art as part of the city’s Design Week, which officially came to a close Thursday. (This exhibit, however, remains open through February 12.) The exhibit -- "The Mexican Factory: Contemporary Industrial Design” -- celebrates the country’s particular contributions to the world of design.

“The Mexican trend is in rescuing Mexico’s roots but in a very conceptual, avante-garde way,” said Marina Peniche, who writes for the Mexico City design magazine Glocal. “It’s conceptual and it’s social critique.”

The exhibit includes objects for the home, office and public spaces: everything from tables and seating, to lamps and lighting, to decorative-but-utilitarian objects in wood, ceramic, leather, recycled glass and plastics. There is also on display a Mexican developed-and-designed Mastretta sports car -- the one that prompted an uproar earlier this year after the BBC’s Top Gear host Richard Hammond made disparaging remarks about Mexicans’ ability to design a high-performing automotive.

The exhibit highlights in its text that the modernizing of local and indigenous traditions goes beyond design itself to incorporate “more just models of collective production, the creation of collaborative methodologies,” and “the use of traditional materials in tune with the environment, lowering production costs to guarantee wider access in the market.”

The curators pose the question: How does one square design with the economic forces that frame the context in which an object is imagined, produced and used? Mexican designers are answering by pushing new boundaries not just in aesthetics but in the ethics of design, too.

Photo: "Mesa Pirueta" tables made of hand-painted Ayacahuite wood on display for the exhibit. (Lauren Villagran)

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Lauren Villagran

Correspondent (Mexico City)

Lauren Villagran has written for the Associated Press, Dallas Morning News and Christian Science Monitor. She holds a degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure