How to define Mexican art nowadays? For the rest of the world Mexico is a land full of deserts, donkeys, cactuses and mariachis. Though in some ways this is not entirely wrong, ours is a nation much more complex than it seems, for we are inherently divided between modernity and tradition. Pre-Hispanic roots are still visible in urban landscapes, even in the capital, Distrito Federal —a city ruled by the chaos, pollution and novelty of a modern metropolis, where the ruins of ancient temples can nonetheless still be visited downtown and pyramids may be found in the suburbs.
Being Mexican, as it happens, has always been a subject of debate. Octavio Paz, arguably the most acclaimed and famous of our writers, submerged himself in a philosophical quest to define what is to be Mexican, what differentiates us from other nations. Nevertheless, the very concept of “nation” is not accurate enough in the present time —we all live in a globalized world of omnipresent mass-media and seemingly limitless flow of information, where the folklore and traditional culture of countries like China, Russia and sadly Mexico is fading at the speed of light. For better or worse, we are creating a new global culture in which everybody can (and apparently must) fit in. In the field of art, this can be seen in art fairs such as Miami Art Basel, Bale Art Basel, the FIAC in Paris and many others. The kind of art hanging on the walls or laying inside the white cubes appears to be all the same. If we take a closer look at what Ai Wei Wei, Damien Hirst or Gabriel Orozco do, we realize that a certain type of uniformity dictates their artistic production while the rise of new talents coming from semi-developed countries is only a mirage and originality is not exactly applauded by the public or the critics.
Luckily for us, mere spectators, not all artists are following the globalized aesthetics, some of them are actually trying to find inspiration elsewhere, for instance in their roots and culture. Among this group of creators the Mexican painter and street artist Edgar Saner Flores excels. Born in Mexico City, he studied graphic design at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and started working in advertising, but soon discovered that it wasn’t his cup of tea. Then he decided to give art a shot and began painting and decorating Mexico City with his work. Vibrant colours and Mexican symbols —like masks, skulls and characters taken from urban legends— abound in Saner’s creations, constituting and defining part of his style. What’s more striking about this young artist is the fact that he redefines “Mexicanness” in a very unique way. Following in the footsteps of artists like Guillermo González Camarena, Saner perpetrates the tradition of muralists taking to the streets. Just like Diego Rivera’s and David Alfaro Siqueiros’, Saner’s message is quite political and depicts the struggle of a country that’s crumbling little by little. It’s not a secret, Mexico is falling apart due to a political class who’s greedy enough to sell natural and human resources to the best buyer and due to the cartels that mercilessly kill those who stand in their way. Saner is aware of the reality of his country and tries to show this in his graffiti using colours like red, purple and orange and figures of death. Mexicans have a very particular way of facing death —we always have been inclined to laugh about everything and everybody, even death itself. Saner shows all this in his artwork and celebrates with irony our cult to nothingness. But although Mexico is sinking ever deeper into a sea of blood and violence, this is not all that defines what the country is. Saner revisits episodes of Mexican history such as the conquest and the difficult relationship between Spain and Mexico —a particular form of love-hate quintessentially incarnated by La Malinche, Hernán Cortés’ indigenous interpreter who ultimately borne him a child. Saner’s paintings and works of art are full of historical and political references that contribute to the richness of his work.
To leave a part of himself in every painting or wall, to change people’s point of view, to shake them and let them be part of his work, to democratize art: that’s what Saner aims for. In a way, Saner’s art is very universal for he tries to touch people’s core by showing them that all we believe —from the importance given to material things to the inherent hypocrisy that accompanies capitalism— is just a mirror. Art, for him, is not about luxury or pure aesthetics. With Saner, art becomes an essential part of society, hence the artist too. Saner opens the eyes of his spectators and shows them the crudeness and beauty of life.