WHEN me and my bf decided to visit Oaxaca during our travels through Mexico in July, we hit the bloody jackpot by getting there just as the Guelaguetza festival was kicking off. The Guelaguetza is a celebration of the indigenous groups from the Oaxaca state region (about 16 different groups) and is an extravaganza of traditional dance, markets and una fiesta gigante! Oaxaca City has to be one of the best cities in Mexico (that I’ve been to!) – it was so welcoming and fun – but the excitement didn’t seem to be reserved only for the festival. There was defo a sense that people in the city were always looking for something to do, and so the options were many and varied.

One of my fave non-festival things we did was visit the textile museum, Museo Textil de Oaxaca, on a particularly balmy day. As I mentioned, Oaxaca is a diverse region with many indigenous influences and so the textiles are honestly unreal in their detail and so beautiful with their bright colours. Mexico's embroidery is distinctive and joyful, and the envy of many in the West - to the point of blatant cultural appropriation in some cases. In fact, many of the outfits Frida Kahlo is so famous for wearing are the traditional clothes of Oaxacan indigenous groups, as her mother’s family originated in Oaxaca. The exhibition on at the museum (which was free! I love Mexico so much take me back *sobs*) was Bordando Otros Males (embroidering other evils) by Miguel Hernàndez, and it was powerful and inspiring. I’ve mentioned before in a piece on Faith Ringold my recent obsession with embroidered art as political protest, and this exhibition was that first spark that was enflamed by Ringold’s retrospective. Hernàndez’s original use of embroidery – including 3 plain white tees with embroidered hearts that attached to one another – held a political message in every thread. And one that was entirely Mexican, as well as radical.

In their exhibition, Hernàndez addresses contemporary political issues of drug trafficking, and its commodification by a Western global imperialism that finds profit in every human catastrophe and disaster – in this case through the idealising of drug culture via popular culture, such as Netflix’s Narcos. Because the fear that many people in Mexico feel every day is born from an inhuman(e) greed, and feeds right back into another. That fear – that pricks the skin of ordinary people afraid of being caught up in crime, typically from working class or otherwise deprived backgrounds – is in every thread that Hernàndez sews, and each one asks: at what point is there enough human suffering to make us think twice about how we consume and view other cultures? At one point do we stop seeing people as people and instead cover them with our own Westernised and colonial ideas of Otherness, that erases them and gives us the instant gratification and entertainment we seem to so desperately need? In this system, who is pulling the strings?


Hernàndez weaves new life into traditional Mexican art forms, and through this they comment on the changing nature of culture, and the danger to it represented by globalisation and consumerism. 


Embroidering other evils, Miguel Hernandez | Photos by Millie