Twin Cities celebrate 200 years of Mexican independence with new work by Mexican visual artists and composers


Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican Consulate in St. Paul is collaborating with Twin Cities arts organizations to making 2010 a year to re-imagine Mexico. VocalEssence presents a free concert on May 25th at the St. Mary’s Basilica, and Intermedia Arts hosts visual artists through May 28th.

“When I first had the idea of a program of Mexican composers,” said Phillip Brunelle, artistic director of VocalEssence, “I thought, what do we know about Mexico’s music and culture? Marachi bands. So I called some Mexican friends. I wanted to bring composers who are living in Mexico—not people who moved to the U.S. 20 years ago.”

¡Cantare!/”Let’s sing!” Community Concert showcases three Mexican composers. VocalEssence performs with choirs from three high schools, choirs from two elementary schools, and the Latino Children’s Choir, chosen from congregations of six primarily Catholic Churches by the Church of the Ascension. VocalEssence comprises 32 professional singers with 100 additional volunteers.

Diverse works are featured, some composed for this event.

Diana Syrse, specializing in choral works, draws on diverse sources: lyrics from Mexican poet Andrés López Díaz, beloved Mexican folksongs, and Mayans’ pre-Hispanic music in Tierra de Maiz/Land of Corn. Co-created with Washburn High’s choir, Syrse’s Alma Libre/Free Soul integrates hip-hop, rap, dance, and Latin rhythms. The text explores youth’s hopes in the troubled world they will inherit.

Jesus Lopez is principal organist at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico. His pieces for elementary school choirs delight in children’s games. Lopez also wrote Religious Suite for the Latino Children’s Choir, setting the Liturgy of the Hours—Catholics’ daily prayers—to music.

Jorge Cordoba, a Mexico City native, is an internationally renowned composer and conductor. He has created an original piece for VocalEssence.

The concert is free, but reservations are required; reservations may be made at any of several locations including Orchestra Hall, the Consulate of Mexico, Neighborhood House, and Latino Communications Network. For more information, see

Intermedia Arts hosts Independence and Revolution: 1810/1910/2010, a marvelous show of six contemporary Mexican artists working in folk art, digital photography, abstract painting, and portraiture. The exhibit’s subtitle’s dates represent Mexico’s 1810 freedom from Spain and the 1910 revolution that ended a thirty-year dictatorship, birthing the beginnings of Mexico’s democracy.

“There’s some nostalgia from childhood and history. We wanted to celebrate and express ideas, too—a way to think about the 1910 revolution and where Mexico is today,” said co-curator Tina Tavera, whose tooled leather work is included in the show, in a May 6 interview on KFAI’s Art Matters. (The interview is archived at

Her finely made work details scenes of women during the Mexican revolution, scenes that Tavera said come from her artistic family’s generations of working with traditional crafts.

“Tooling leather has been done for at least 500 years,” she said. “Women’s role in the revolution was not only cooking and healing the wounded, but taking up arms. It’s sometimes forgotten that we helped.”

Xavier Tavera, a photographer, has two wonderful re-created “portraits” of a man and a woman of the 1910 revolution, to which he’s added ironic elements. Both wear traditional dress, including bandoliers across their chests, with the man astride a life-sized toy horse and the woman in high heels, flirting with the camera.

“When you see my pictures there’s only some information,” observed Tavera. “You have to meet me halfway and make a story. I’m trying to view the modern Mexican and how we portray the revolution, what we’ve done with it today.”

Veronica Jata’s abstract paintings should be viewed both close up for their textures and further away for their 3-D effects. Bright colors ripple heat: warm yellows, burnt orange, fiery reds, and hot pinks. Step back and implied landscapes emerge: narrow city streets, distant smoky hills, a open window brimming with light. In contrast, her Viva Zapata is like a child’s black scratch-board picture of a shrine to the Mexican revolutionary hero, with the Virgin Mary and lit candles.

Martha Driessen’s digital photographs of Mexico City’s “Angel of Freedom” atop a famous monument express universal sentiments with a dreamy timelessness. Sandra Felemovictus works in mixed media collages, depicting histories both family and national, incorporating diary-like writings on her canvases.

Gustavo Lira’s giant portrait of Emilia Zapata evokes the mural art Mexico is famous for. Inscribed on the portrait is a recurring phrase in the exhibit: “Zapata vive…a luche siguel” (“Viva Zapata! The struggle continues!”

“From the 1910 revolution all the way to this year’s May Day rallies, we’re chanting that. We all know the icons of Latin America: Cher Guevara, Jose Marti, Salvador Allende, Simon Bolivar. Che and Zapata are loved across the world,” noted Xavier Tavera. “Zapata’s words ‘Tierra y Libertad’ [Land and Freedom] are still said. All these people struggled to bring us freedom and the nations we have now.”

We can see our neighbor to the south beyond news headlines in experiencing these vital new works by Mexican composers and artists.