One of the most striking aspects of Mexican culture is its deep tradition of folk art. The custom of making things by hand is so deeply rooted that art and colour practically seep into every aspect of life.
Artistic traditions are everywhere: from market stalls to ordinary homes, in everyday cooking utensils and street murals, in restaurants and even high-end clothing. A quick walk down a street can reveal sculpted wood doors, paper mache piñatas and papel picado punched paper garlands.
While folk art is still very much a living practice in Mexico and fascinating to observe in everyday life, a great place to get an overview of this deep tradition is in the Museo de Arte Popular (or MAP) in Mexico City.
As a museum fully dedicated to preserving and promoting Mexican folk art, the MAP is filled with collections of handicrafts and explanations of their history.
Collection after colourful collection, the museum explains how folk art in Mexico is deeply linked to indigenous traditions, the country’s mixed historical roots and its vast biodiversity. Some traditions date back centuries while others, like ornately decorating wooden spirit animals called alebrijes, only date back a few decades.
A massive map of Mexico’s biodiversity painted by artist Miguel Covarrubias adorns the wall of one of the exhibits. Covarrubias, a Mexico City-born painter, caricaturist and art anthropologist, painted the mural in 1947 depicting the core relationship between folk art production and the immediate natural environment.
With more muted earthy colours in the desert-filled north and vivid colours in the lush south, the museum’s Esencia del Arte Popular Mexicano exhibit indeed shows that geography and the environment clearly play a role in the type of folk art that is produced in different parts of the country.
What makes Mexico unique is that a museum like MAP’s inventory is not frozen in time, but a reflection of the artistry still happening in the country. Most of the artistic traditions and craftwork on display are still alive and accessible to purchase, whether in markets, by traveling to the regions where specific art is made or even from the museum’s gift shop.
The museum is a beautiful ode to a country of artists and a must-see when in Mexico City.
Visit the Museo de Arte Popular in person:
Calle Revillagigedo 11
Colonia Centro, Alcaldía Cuauhtémoc
C.P. 06050, Ciudad de México
Hours and more information can be found on the museum website
Visit virtually through the Museo de Arte Popular Google Arts and Culture page (which can conveniently be translated into English by Google!)