¡Viva México! Clothing & Culture textile feature opens at the ROM this weekend


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Co-curator Chloe Sayer captured this image of a Triqui weaver using a traditional backstrap loom in the state of Oaxaca.

Image: Chloe Sayer

Over the past few years, Hogtown has had quite the love affair with Mexico. First came the food, which has seen us graduate from taco joints (Grand Electric et al) to their more refined siblings (like Los Colibris). The AGO brought in an exhibit devoted to Frida Kahlo, oodles of Day of the Dead Tattoos now dot the flesh of the aging youth and, as of May 9th, we have ¡Viva México! Clothing & Culture at the ROM, which takes an in-depth look at the country’s dynamic textiles.


Tehuana gala ensembles boasting a wide assortment of textiles and techniques, including highly-starched cotton headdresses that are so sharp they could actually cut one’s finger. (Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

 

For those part of the club of Frida adorers, it’s hard not to conjure up an image of the artist without envisioning the traditional garb in which she wrapped herself. This connection is made from the get-go; the exhibit opens with an image of Frida in all her colourful glory. Overseen by Dr. Alexandra Palmer and guest curator Chloe Sayer, ¡Viva México! brings guests on a journey through Mexico’s history, showcasing over 150 textiles from the ROM collection (one of the world’s biggest) to great effect. 


The Spaniards introduced the blouse to Mexico after the Conquest of 1521; previously women had worn traditional huipils. This cotton one hails from 1920 and is decorated with tiny glass beads that spell out the nationalistic message ‘Libertad’ in the centre. 

 

Highlights include the women’s traditional huipils (tunics) and blouses, which were introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards. Both come embroidered in exquisite detail with the likes of satin or tiny glass beads. Rebozos (women’s shawls) and other outer-garments like men’s sarapes (aka blankets people sit on in Trinity Bellwoods) are handwoven woven in incredible patterns, boasting complex designs and a huge assortment of colours in single pieces.


These Oaxacan ladies are decked out in intricately embroidered garb for the Feast of the Assumption, a festival that sees celebrants commission new outfits every year. (image: Chloe Sayer)

 

The collection reflects Mexico’s indigenous and colonial past, housing garments from the 18th century up to a blouse commissioned for the museum last year. it took masterful embroiderer Fautista Sumano García several months to complete the magical piece. (Look for the teeny tiny figures that straddle the folds of smocked cloth!) Even accessories such as waist sashes are not to be overlooked — some come finished with string people reminiscent of ‘trouble dolls’ while others feature a parade of fingernail-sized creatures. 


This rebozo, or woman’s shawl, dates back to the 19th and is done in a warp ikat, meaning that selected threads are tie-dyed before being woven. 

 

Those looking to who are captivated by all that Mexican culture offers are bound to enjoy this exhibit which will remain at the ROM until May 2016. 

¡Viva México! Clothing & Culture opens to the public on May 9 at the Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park, 416-586-8000

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Karolyne Ellacott is senior editor at Post City Magazines. She can oft be spotted at Toronto’s most nostalgic diners wearing glittery heels and pink faux fur. Follow all of her eclectic writing interests on Twitter @kellacott and Instagram @itismekar.

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