Dobles Vidas: Behind the Scenes

USF MA Intern, Merrill Amos (MA ’14) and Gallery Director Glori Simmons describe the challenges and pleasures in putting together Dobles Vidas: Folk Art from The Mexican Museum

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Imagine looking at a collection of seven thousand Mexican folk art objects — textiles, ceramics, toys, masks, jewelry, and figurines of all sizes and shapes — each one compelling in its own way. This is how Dobles Vidas began — as an embarrassment of riches and beautiful things. Now imagine choosing 60 of these, eliminating 6,940 others in the process. How would you narrow them down? How would you then create connections and stories that tied them together in a meaningful way?

First, we assembled our team: professionals from a nationally-recognized art museum, graduate students from USF’s museum studies program, undergraduates from throughout USF, a USF art history professor and others. Then came weeks of research and conversations about “what is folk art?” Is it craft or fine art? Is it defined by how it is made or by how it used? Should we focus on art forms? Materials? Regions? Functions? Artists? Collections? Innovations? Cultural traditions? Through these conversations, we came to understand that folk art embodies duality: function influences form. Beauty permeates utility. The individual artist creates with the community. Mexico’s various histories come together in one object. Tourists and collectors place the everyday on shelves to be admired. Value is determined by market, craftsmanship and personal connection. From formal aesthetics to family memories, the objects tell stories, often several at once. This is why we named this exhibit Dobles Vidas (double lives).

Exhibit titles are tricky things: they must arouse curiosity, maintain accuracy and make music. We hope Dobles Vidas fulfills these criteria. With it, we are not suggesting duplicity or that an object has a life (or several) of its own; rather, we are suggesting a way to look at and think about folk art. Just as we admire an object by turning it in our hands or walking around it, we ask that you consider each artworks’ many facets to discover the people, places and traditions that formed them.

In the process of learning about Mexico’s folk art, we also hope that you will be reminded of the folk art that is a part of your life. And, that you will return to it with new appreciation and curiosity. Who made that old quilt? What meals were served on that platter? Where was your nativity scene or a favorite figurine made? What stories do the handmade art objects in your life tell? Whose lives have touched them?