Xavier Schipani, “Remembering When We Met (2022), textured acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches (image courtesy Big Medium)

Art week in Mexico City was back in full swing as throngs of people from all over the Americas took over local art fairs, galleries, museums, and performance spaces for Zona Maco. The art fair kicked off its 19th edition at the Centro CitiBanamex, while Feria Material’s ninth edition took over the Expo Reforma for the first time. Away from all the art market buzz, alternative curatorial projects TONO, Nixxxon, and Vernacular Institute also showed new sound, digital photos, video and site-specific works, filling out smaller spaces, some of which is still on view.

On the edge of Zona Maco’s giant maze of glitzy art galleries, were two smaller gems: the Ejes and Sur sections. Ejes, curated by Direlia Lazo, set out to champion newer artists within Mexico’s robust cultural ecosystem by exploring the human body. There was a lot to choose from but Xavier Schipani’s gray figurative curved paintings of a trans body in flux at Big Medium were a serene class-act. I was also impressed with Samara Paiva’s soft nudes of calm, wispy Black bodies at HOA Galeria. This year, the Sur section was stretching the limits of “feminine” and the “global south,” curator Luiza Teixeira de Freitas told Hyperallergic. In a stellar joint booth by Quadra and Marli Matsumoto Arte Contemporânea, the clay body canvases of Carla Santana, a young Afro-Brazilian activist, were shown facing soft colorful textile sculptures by Élle de Bernardini, a transexual dancer, also from Brazil. Both sections did somewhat blur the lines of what counts as new, gender fluid, and local in the Americas today.

TONO is a new platform for video and performance art in Mexico City. Its founder, Samantha Ozer, curated the fair’s first video program at the Cine Tonalá. Héctor Zamora’s “O Abuso da Historia” (2014) captures the catharsis of large terracotta plant pots crashing down into a courtyard after being flung through the windows of an old colonial building in São Paulo.

Feria Material was even more provocative, especially in two sections: Proyectos and IMMATERIAL. Brett Schultz, the fair’s co-founder, told Hyperallergic that Proyectos is “building the next generation of artists and curators in Mexico.” Exhibitors get free booths, mentorship, and training over two years. Salon Silicon’s “Go-Go Raptor” (2022) by Romeo Gómez López was brilliant — a feathered toy dinosaur prancing on a lit stage to Reggaeton around a robust “hetero” stone while queering masculinity. Also noteworthy was marcelaygina’s “Kitty combo superstar (jumping arracheras)” (1999), an iPad screening of two young skinny Mexican women in frilly ballet outfits trampolining on a springy cot at La Cresta, and mocking the idea of performance. 

Hector Zamora, “The Abuse of History” (2014), performance (image courtesy the artist and Labor)

IMMATERIAL, the fair’s performance program, curated by Michelangelo Miccolis, featured Autumn Knight and SERAFINE 1369 using their bodies to shake up audiences. In “something flat, something cosmic, something endless,” SERAFINE 1369 gave a long, sultry show of choppy grooves paired with slow contorted movements, and a recording of them talking, in a gutted pool at PEANA gallery. For “Sanity TV,” an incredible critique of art fairs, Knight hosted an uncensored live show where the audience, which was often caught off guard, and Material’s adjacent art book fair, Todo-Mundo, turned into a sounding board for improvised banter.

Todo-Mundo featured Nixxxon, a young curatorial project that commissions works by lesser-known artists, with editorial flair, by Hernán Cortés. Operating like a gallery in Cuauhtémoc, the current solo show of hyperreal digital photographs by Carlos Lara was fleeting yet pristine. Vernacular Institute, a unique curatorial space run by Jo Ying Peng, explores the possibilities of video and performance with commissions of works from Asia and Latin America. That’s probably why “Intangible Ruins” by Ariel Schlesinger was an unusually smoky site-specific campfire in Santa Maria la Ribera that gathered people to share stories while uncovering what goes on in between thought and action. But local Mexican-American artist ektor garcia was more critical of the art scene. It’s a rich, White, male bubble that “looks up to Europe and the US,” he said, while “ignoring this country’s rich pre-colonial art history.” Since his nomadic practice relies on creating an assemblage of delicate mixed media work woven together through hybrid narratives of self and other, it can exist anywhere.

Art fairs in Mexico City, which seem relaxed and friendly, are slowly embracing fresh initiatives such as Ejes and Proyectos. But other artists and curators alike, working alternatively at TONO and via IMMATERIAL, are also pushing back, with disruptive video, performance, and sound bleeding into Zona Maco and Feria Material. Surely there are even more ways in which artists can help shape ecosystems such as Zona Maco and, on their own terms. 

Carla Santana, “Mormaço burns” (2023), clay and pigments on canvas, 39/5 x 39/5 inches (approx.) (photo by José Diaz, Quadra Arte Contemporânea)
Installation view of Samar Paiva’s work in HOA’s booth at ZONAMACO (2023) (image courtesy HOA)
Romeo Gómez López, “Go-go Raptor” (2022), animatronic, feathers, rock installation (image courtesy Salon Silicon)
marcelaygina, “Kitty combo superstar (jumping arracheras)” (1999), action, two-channel video installation, 00:8:49min, edition of 4 (image courtesy La Cresta)
Carlos Lara, “Plastic bag in puddle” (2022), inkjet on paper rag, 308 g. Ed.3 + 1 PA, 40 x 30 cm (image courtesy the artist)
Élle de Bernardini, “Oito pesos, da série Moles [Eight Weights, Soft series] ” (2019), nylon, sand, synthetic fur, and jeans jacket on a metal support, 41 inches x 31 1/2 inches x 7 1/2 inches (approx.) (photo Diego Beyro, courtesy Marli Matsumoto Arte Contemporânea)

Zona Maco took place in Mexico City from February 8 through 12 with alternative curatorial projects continuing through the end of February.

Editor’s Note, 02/14/23 10:39am EST: In an earlier version of this post, Brett Schultz’s name was misspelled. It has been corrected.

Mebrak Tareke is the founder of TiMS Creative, a global consultancy on the future of storytelling. She has written for Arnet News, Frieze, and The Brooklyn Rail on art, politics, and culture in the African...