States of the Arts



by Daniela Rossell

View the artwork →

A group of women lounge about on rugs and pillows, draped in gaudy silk sheets. Their backdrop is a mural of similar, albeit more sexually suggestive, subjects. The effect is that of a distorted funfair mirror, life knowingly arranged to reflect art. This is one in Daniela Rossell’s Ricas y Famosas series of untitled photographs, which documents the lavish lifestyles of Mexico’s richest women. The extravagant collection of images sparked a backlash, as Rossell, herself a member of the minority elite depicted, was accused by some of glorifying corruption.

Words by Elizabeth Brown


directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Feature film

View a still from the film →

The final entry to Iñárritu’s ‘Death Trilogy’ thematises the impossibility of communication, be it within relationships, with authorities, or across language barriers. Counting among its many characters are a Moroccan goat-herder, a deaf Japanese teenager, and a Mexican nanny, united by their common global latitude. In each strand of the narrative, tragedies that arise from misunderstanding are exacerbated by distrust. During the film’s most harrowing moments, explanations are not even offered, aware that any attempt is likely to be fruitless amid the babel.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

The Death of Artemio Cruz

by Carlos Fuentes

View the book cover →

Artemio Cruz, a plutocrat, lies dying in a hospital ward. His feverish mind wanders between disgust at his physical state – emaciated, immobile, incontinent – and memories of past actions. Through a series of flashbacks, we witness how his youthful aspirations were gradually corrupted by a thirst for wealth and power. Carlos Fuentes uses this as a dual metaphor, both for the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution and as commentary on the human condition. But this is not a purely pessimistic tale. As Cruz’s mind slips into darkness, we catch glimpses of redemption.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

Tree of Life

by Lila Downs

View an image of the musician →

Lila Downs’ ongoing project is to explore the diverse musical heritage of Mexico, fusing old and new in a celebration of multiplicity. She sings in a mixture of Spanish and pre-Columbian languages, while her music blends folk dances and ballads, jazz and Latin rhythms, and elements of contemporary pop. Tree of Life, her fourth album, draws most of its lyrical content from Zapotec religious codices, setting them to samba and mariachi. In doing so, Downs, an anthropology graduate, provides a novel perspective on these ceremonial texts.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

More to discover

Ricas y Famosas: View images of the series on the Greene Naftali gallery website. Watch a video about the series here. Alyssa Coppelman has written about the controversy surrounding the images for Slate.

Babel: Watch the trailer here. Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell have written about the film here, as have Marina Hassapopoulou for Jump Cut, Maggie Gee for openDemocracy, and Manuel Betancourt for PopMatters.

The Death of Artemio Cruz: Read an interview with Carlos Fuentes by Alfred Mac Adam & Charles E. Ruas for The Paris Review, the author's obituary in The New York Times, and an article by Jon Beasley-Murray for Posthegemony.

Tree of Life: Listen to 'Arbol de la Vida' here. Visit Lila Downs' official website here. Read an interview with the musician by Joel Whitney for Guernica Magazine.

Question of the day

Which Mexican artworks would you recommend, and why? Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

Él, a film directed by Luis Buñuel. An exploration of a jealous husband’s escalating paranoia and grandeur of delirium through an absorbing narrative and tight direction. (→)

– Cristina Álvarez López, film critic (via The Brief →)

The Exterminating Angel by Luis Buñuel. I admire the way that Buñuel exposes the bourgeoisie – a theme he uses in a lot of his films. I like the way he plays with bourgeois values, confronting and breaking them into pieces. (→)

– Angela de la Cruz, visual artist (via The Brief →)

Read more: States of the Arts