MEXICO CITY — On the heels of Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair, the Mexican capital now has its own celebration of arts publications. Inaugurated for the first time last month, the PaperWorks festival was lodged within the enormous Gallery Weekend Mexico, for which several dozen galleries staged simultaneous openings that were conceptually disparate but connected by vans shuttling viewers between exhibitions around the city.
Although the fair was small, hosted in the lobby of the Museo Tamayo, there were treasures to be found, and accessible prices encouraged casual collectors to buy. The fair highlighted a community of makers who are blurring the boundaries between fine art objects and books, while bringing previously obscure literature to a Spanish-speaking audience. Here are some of my favorite finds from PaperWorks.
Black Panther: The revolutionary art of Emory Douglas, from Alias Editorial in Mexico City
This is the first Spanish-language translation of Emory Douglas’s comprehensive visual survey and firsthand history of the Black Panther Party, originally published in 2007. The significance of the book, which cost 100 pesos (about $6) at PaperWorks, lies in the fact of the translation itself. There is a notable lack of understanding and knowledge about African American culture or the civil rights movement in Mexico. This oversight is especially glaring given that the Black Panther Party had notable similaritys to Mexican revolutionary movements like the Zapatistas and armed self-defense groups, both conceptually and aesthetically.
The publication offers rare insight into an organization that helped to define the civil rights movement, through The Black Panther newspaper, food programs, self-defense workshops, and protest. Emory served as the group’s “revolutionary artist” during the course of the newspaper’s existence and is credited with popularizing the depiction of police as pigs. The book traces the evolution of the Black Panther Party, Emory’s work, and the newspaper, which at its peak boasted a weekly readership of some 400,000.
One of the most interesting revelations is the fact that the Black Panther Party was in contact with other revolutionary groups in Cuba, Columbia, and even Vietnam during the height of the Vietnam War. The movement’s fraternizations with the US government’s sworn enemies led its members to be blacklisted as Communist sympathizers. By the time The Black Panther stopped circulating, most of the party’s leadership was either locked up or exiled in places like Cuba and Algeria. The book offers vivid firsthand accounts of FBI stings and US government undercover setups designed to undermine the Black Panthers’ efforts.
The Alias edition of Black Panther: The revolutionary art of Emory Douglas is bound in soft orange construction paper and printed in full color on natural newsprint. The book has a handmade and tactile quality; it’s less bulky than the original. The Spanish translation also offers an opportunity to have the book at a much cheaper price, which is appropriate for a Latin American audience and for accessibility outside the United States. Hundreds of Douglas’s revolutionary posters fill the pages, with explanations for each. Equal parts text and image create an aesthetic and conceptual balance, giving context to the designs and underlining the key role the artist played in the Black Panther movement. What also becomes apparent is Douglas’s relevance to the development of revolutionary imagery around the world and to contemporary popular aesthetics. Although the text in them has been translated into Spanish, the images mostly still succeed in looking like the originals.
Juan José Martín Andrés, Fear is the Message, originally presented at Espacio Trapézio in Madrid
Existing across multiple platforms, Fear is the Message is more project than publication. Originally presented as an installation in Madrid, here it takes the form of a newspaper that, as the title suggests, homes in on major media’s overwhelming message of fear.
The publication is printed on pale beige newsprint, mimicking the medium it seeks to critique. The color of the newsprint gives the eight-page publication the look of a faded newspaper. The text is presented in both English and Spanish, and the centerfold offers a removable poster version of the original installation.
For the project, Martín Andrés used real news headlines from the most important publications in Spain and Mexico to create a timeline of financial crises from 1992 to the 2008 crash. By simply organizing these titles chronologically, he demonstrates a repeated history of catastrophes that are exploited and promoted by the media. Fear is the Message illustrates a looping doomsday narrative and reveals a global economy constantly in conflict. The headlines vary only slightly to refer to specific crises, connecting far away countries through a shared story of impending doom. The message is consistent: everything is broken.
All of the headlines lumped together suggest that we have been in financial crisis since at least 1992. If they’re to be believed, they clearly demonstrate the failure of capitalism. On the other hand, the apocalyptic tendencies of the mass media reveal a profit to be made from such catastrophe. As the title states, the headlines are engineered to overwhelm and pacify citizens through the threat of poverty. The system controls citizens with fear.
The publication cleverly refers to Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous words: “The story is a series of agreed lies … Four hostile newspapers are more terrifying than a thousand bayonets.” This quote takes the project well beyond the last 20 years to illustrate a commonality across 200. Bonaparte was an excellent manipulator of information, as can be seen in Jacques-Louis David’s masterful renditions of falsified events. The connection between Napoleon and the capitalist machine is not lost in translation.
Jaime Martínez, THANK YOU INTERNET, from Taller de Ediciones Economicas in Mexico City
THANK YOU INTERNET is an homage to the weird and wonderful World Wide Web — a curated selection of some of the most bizarre images to be found in the cyber void. The beautifully minimal white publication includes 156 pictures sourced from deep within the internet’s bowels; the sources are undisclosed. One of the strangest and most unexplainable series of images shows women’s pubic hair incorporated into elaborate paintings of koi fish and eagles. One vaginal adornment, in which an eagle that looks more like a vulture is painted on the inner thighs and pelvis of an unidentified woman, in order to incorporate her spread labia into the scene, is presented opposite an image that depicts Jesus descending from the clouds. Another picture shows three young girls brandishing pistols, mixed in with what appear to be stills from slasher films. A bloody hand emerges from a bathtub, and a young girl’s lifeless body is seen inside a clear garbage bag. The images speak for themselves, and their organization creates mini narratives. They’ve all been manipulated to a single color with very little contrast, presumably to avoid copyright infringement. The changes make the content indiscernible at times.
With a heavy emphasis on strange sexual and alien imagery, the book doesn’t demand much introspection from the reader — it’s probably ideal for bathroom reading. At the same time, it carries a message about the poetic ridiculousness of humankind. The images don’t call for words or explanation because they suggest moments when the space-time continuum has been torn. Martínez proves to have an eye for curating and an aptitude for picking through the weeds. Thank You Internet is a reminder to not take life too seriously.
PaperWorks took place as part of Gallery Weekend Mexico on September 19–20 at Museo Tamayo (Paseo de la Reforma 51, Bosque de Chapultepec, Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City).