Connie joined us for our first week in Mexico City, flying down in the afternoon the day after our own arrival. A bright “I made it!” grin on her face and that of her taxi driver, a common side effect of successfully navigating a new destination without a common language other than smiling and waving.
In the months before our trip, she had become fascinated by the life and art of Leonora Carrington, a surrealist artist who called Mexico City home for most of her adult life. Connie shared with us how much she loved the story of a strong woman artist, the sacrifices she’d made to remain independent and creative, and the range of powerful mythological and indigenous imagery present in Leonora’s work. This excitement infected us too in anticipation of our visit to this magical metropolis, and we quickly made plans to share our time and lodgings in order to experience Leonora’s city with Connie.
A great bronze sculpture by Leonora sits prominently along the Paseo de la Reforma in the center of Mexico City. Originally installed in a fountain of Chapultepec park, it now sits in the pedestrian boulevard at Havre. Apparently Lewis Caroll’s whimsy was a recurring source of inspiration for Leonora, this piece is often referred to as “Cocodrilo” but the full title is “How Doth The Little Crocodile…”. We walked up from the metro stop Insurgentes, sunshine warming the pedestrian mall of Zona Rosa and dappling the Paseo’s wide walkway. As we neared the statue, the roadway was closed and filled with a long line of riot cops stretching to the ongoing protests for the now-nine-months-missing Ayotzinapa 43, beneath a banner declaring “Government and Education should not Assassinate.”. The crocodiles of the statue are frozen above our heads rowing away from this memorial and back towards the Angel and forest of Chapultepec.
Leonora’s former home in Mexico City is a reasonable twenty minute walk from the Paseo, south of the Insurgentes station on the small side street Chihuahua. Nearby a delicious-smelling bakery’s delivery fleet of bicycles were just heading out with baskets. Much of the neighborhood is rebuilt following the ’85 earthquake, but it is possible to imagine Leonora living behind the remaining simple facade here until her death in 2011. After a further walk among the figs and hibiscus flowers of Avenida Amsterdam’s garden-like path, we enjoyed a favorite lunch of tacos al pastor at El Califa and returned home to discuss Leonora’s surrealist influences from alchemy to mythology.
One of our favorite educational stops here is the National Anthropology Museum, an overwhelmingly massive building featuring indigenous pre-conquest and modern-day artifacts from all regions of Mexico. In 1963 Leonora was commissioned to paint a mural for the Mayan exhibit, and she traveled to the state of Chiapas for inspiration and folklore research, resulting in “The Magical World of the Mayans”. Luck was on our side in finding this complexly surreal mural in the museum as it recently left Mexico for the first time to be exhibited at London’s Tate Liverpool, but it was waiting unmistakably for us on the second floor. The detail and energy of the piece absorbed us for thirty minutes at the end of our anthropological tour, so many strange faces, animals, and mystery blended in her interpretation of heaven, earth, and the underworld.
Two other museum experiences anchored Connie’s visit to the time and place of Leonora’s Mexico City. The Museum of Modern Art, though it did not have any of Leonora’s work on display, presented two fitting exhibits: A large collection of Giséle Freund’s documentary photography featuring Mexican artists, studio spaces, and exhibitions; and an assortment of films about artists featured Remedios Varos and David Alfaro Siqueiros alongside several of their works.
On Connie’s last day with us, we returned to Frida Kahlo’s home and museum (La Casa Azul), a short walk from our apartment. Every time I’ve been inside is so peaceful despite its popularity, it must have been a marvelous place to live and create through the pain; a wonderful light-filled studio and kitchen, and a garden courtyard filled with greenery, running water, and the omnipresent dark volcanic stone of Mexico City.