introduC tion
Nation Formation, Popular Art, and
the Search for a Mexican Aesthetic
If you know in advance that the African or Iranian or Chinese or Jewish or
German experience is fundamentally integral, coherent, [and] separate . . .
you first of all posit as essential something which . . . is both historically cre-
ated and the result of interpretation—namely the existence of Africanness,
Jewishness, or Germanness. . . . And second, you are likely as a consequence
to defend the essence of experience itself rather than promote full knowl-
edge of it and its entanglements and dependencies on other knowledges.
edward said, Culture and ImperIalIsm
An oversized lacquered dowry chest, or baúl, identified as “the Baúl
of the Future,” sits in the atrium of El Papalote, the Mexico City chil-
dren’s museum (plate 1). In 1998 El Papalote invited children from
across the nation to fill the trunk with letters, drawings, photographs,
paintings, and videos. In 2050 children from a new generation will
reopen the sealed chest to commune with their predecessors from
1998. But this baúl is no mere time capsule. Exquisitely lacquered
by the artisans of Olinalá in the rayado (etched) style for which the
community is famous, the container itself is part of the dowry. The
meter- and-a-half-tall lacquered chest and the distinctive aroma of
chia oil that will infuse the objects within stand as a cultural legacy
in their own right. Through them the children of 2050 might situ-
ate themselves as inheritors of a cultural nation that traces from the
preconquest era when the artisans of Olinalá high in the Montaña de
Guerrero lacquered gourds for the Aztec lords of Tenochtitlán to our
Previous Page Next Page