Approximately 500 people pass through SoMa's Mexican consulate building each day, processing visas and civil registration, generally making it possible for themselves to live in the United States legally. The consulate's cultural affairs attache Marimar Suárez Peñalva sees these moments of bureaucracy as an opportunity. She wants expats to connect to their nationality not only through signatures and stamps, but by reacquainting themselves with its brushstrokes and creative underpinnings.
Hence, this art lesson. "The Zapotec origin is really relevant in surrealism," Peñalva tells me on the Friday afternoon that I visit her carefully-curated gallery, located on the second floor of the Folsom Street consulate.We're surrounded by canvases of floating watermelon, a reclining woman with a fish tail, vividly colored fish, and a bright red woman's skirt. Peñalva explains that the current exhibit is based around two seminal artists from the Mexican state of Oaxaca: Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo.
Francisco Toledo's aquatint etching "Self Portrait"
The two pioneered the art of mixography, a style of painting that uses molded paper and mixed media to create a textural appearance. Peñalva points to the artists' ceremonial use of animals as one sign of their pre-Colombian heritage. The Zapotec identity, she says, is one of the unifiers of the exhibit, which contains the works of not only Tamayo and Toledo but also artists who were inspired by their work like Justina Fuentes Zárate, she of the reclining mermaid and arresting red dress. Perhaps the works don't look similar, but they represent the diversity and breadth of the work to come out of the surrealist Zapotec tradition in Oaxaca.
Last year Peñalva filled this space with the work of contemporary Latina artists. Though "Numina Feminina" was critically acclaimed -- a gallery patron who perused while we chatted interrupted us to tell Peñalva how compelling he'd found the show -- she says that the Oaxacan surrealism exhibit has done a better job of enthralling the Mexicans who come to process paperwork one floor down. Since the show's opening on Thursday, she says there's been a constant stream of visitors coming upstairs to check out the gallery.
"Birth of Spring" by Jorge Lopez Garan
Maybe this work is more immediately identifiable as Mexican than that of the modern female show. But whatever the reason, she's glad that it resonates. That's the reason why the gallery is up here, after all.
"We want to make art available and show people what's happening in Mexico. Art people, they always come to shows like this, but our daily public is harder to get upstairs." The surrealist works were donated by Bay Area collecters Gina Bray and Russell Herrman.
Do you feel the magic? The consulate is screening El Informe Toledo July 26, a documentary made by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal's production companay based on the life of the mixography master.
"The Magic Surrealists of Oaxaca"
Through Aug. 9, free
Gallery open Mon.-Fri. 10am-6pm; Sat.-Sun., 10am-3pm
El Informe Toledo screening
July 26 6pm-8pm, free
Consulate General of Mexico
532 Folsom, SF
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