More than a museum; a non-traditional place of learning

Located in the heart of Pilsen, a Mexican community in Chicago, the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) has been a vibrant representation of the diversity and richness of the Mexican culture through its community driven programs, its permanent gallery and ever-changing expositions– from local Chicago artists to world-renowned painters such as Frida Kahlo and Jackson Pollock.

The museum began due to an initial need for Mexican education in the local school system. Teacher and social activists joined together to host events that incorporated art and history, since approximately 24 percent of students in their classrooms were of Mexican heritage.

Wishing to empower the Mexican community, the NMMA displays majestic art from both sides of the border. “It’s important to show that history and culture really have no boundaries, no borders,” says Cesáreo Moreno, Visual Arts Director and Chief Curator at the museum.

The museum’s existing exhibition, El Alma de la Fiesta, open through August 19th, was inspired by the more than 5,000 annual celebrations that comprise the Mexican calendar. The exhibit presents a variety of holidays including: Day of the Dead, Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Holy Week, Carnival, Three Kings Day, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, etc.

Fusing both indigenous and religious iconography, Mexican artist Alejandro García Nelo creates impressive representations using wheat paste, paper and cardboard. His art piece, tilted A la Familia or “For the Family”, was inspired by the Día de los Muertos altars and features a skeleton couple surrounded by indigenous and religious designs.

This art piece also formed part of the museum’s highly anticipated Día de los Muertos exhibit. Celebrating their 27th year of exhibition, the altars, typically shown during October and November, attract families from all over Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.

lifestyle_detail_media_filename_8_museoForming part of the museum’s permanent gallery is Nelo’s Retablo, an architectural term that refers to the altars commonly found in Catholic churches in Mexico. This intricate altarpiece covered in gold, Moreno explains, depicts a variety of indigenous imagery along with religious iconography to represent the fusion between indigenous spirituality and European Catholicism.

The NMMA has embraced the Latino community by creating a place for residents to learn about the Mexican identity through its exhibits, events, programs and various outreach channels, demonstrating that “A museum is so much more than a collecting institution,” continues Moreno, “Museums are now seen as institutions of higher education and representative of a community.”

This model, adopted in the 80’s, has been the driving force behind the NMMA and has allowed it to cross ethnic, racial and even geographical boundaries across the city and country.

Moreno hopes that after visiting the museum audiences can not only connect with Mexican art, but can also see how cultural inspiration truly goes beyond borders.


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