Magali Lara and Carmen Boullosa at MUNAL, Mexico City (November 2022 to March 2023)

28 April 2023 - no responses

Author: Madeline Murphy Turner, Ph.D.

In January 2019, Carmen Boullosa (Mexico City, b. 1954) and Magali Lara (Mexico City, b. 1956) invited me to co-curate an exhibition about their more than forty-year collaboration. I had come to know the two creators through the research for my dissertation, “What Women Write: Artists’ Books, Postal Object, and Independent Theater in Mexico City (1979–1992).” As the title insinuates, a significant portion of the dissertation examines the artists’ books and experimental theater that Boullosa and Lara worked on together, each while defying the strict categorization of “writer,” in the case of Boullosa, and “visual artist,” in the case of Lara. Their first meeting in 1979 would lead to numerous collaborations through artists’ books such as Lealtad [Loyalty] (1980) or Los libros de la infiel [Books of the Unfaithful] (1987); the exhibition Libros y otros libros [Books and Other Books] at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City in 1983; or even the plays Trece señoritas [Thirteen Young Women] (1982–83) and Cocinar hombres [Cooking Up Men] (1984–85). These collaborations became the heart of the exhibition Artists Books and Other Collaborations: Carmen Boullosa and Magali Lara (Mexico City, 1979–1989), which opened at Macaulay Honors College in New York City in April 2019.

That exhibition centered on the first ten years of the duo’s production, a moment of immense activity that flourished across the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City. Many of Boullosa and Lara’s collaborations of this period were realized through the artist’s book, a multifaceted medium that unifies narrative and image. They began this endeavor with hand-printed books at the renowned Taller Martín Pescador, which was also publishing works by Octavio Paz, Charles Tomlinson, and Roberto Bolaño, among others. Soon after, in 1982, Carmen established a print shop in her home under the name Taller Tres Sirenas. Carmen and Magali would also work with many additional cultural figures in Mexico, inviting national and international artists and writers to engage with their work through prose, artists’ books, exhibitions, and performances.

Long a vessel for politically engaged art due to its inexpensive production costs and possibilities for wide distribution, the artist’s book has historically remained on the periphery of institutionalization, thus permitting greater autonomy of expression on the part of artists and publishers. This is indeed the case with Boullosa and Lara’s artists’ books, which interrogate patriarchal concepts of femininity and domesticity while proposing their own positions on what it means to be a woman. These ideas were further explored and circulated through performances at the experimental theaters La Capilla and El Cuervo in Coyoacán, for which Boullosa wrote scripts, directed, and staged, and Lara designed the costumes and scenography.

Fortunately, the presentation at Macaulay Honors College of these works was just the beginning of the exhibition’s many lives. In November 2022, an expanded version opened at the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City. Now titled Bajo la misma falda. Carmen Boullosa / Magali Lara. Colaboraciones [Under the Same Skirt. Carmen Boullosa / Magali Lara. Collaborations], the show incorporated an expanded cartography of archival documents, artworks by Lara, and paintings from the MUNAL’s collection. Across two galleries in the outstanding neoclassical building that houses the MUNAL, Bajo la misma falda narrates the daringly experimental endeavors initiated by Lara and Boullosa with their larger creative community across the Mexican capital.

One of the most stunning additions to this reimagined installation is a photograph titled Collar (retrato de Magali Lara) [Necklace (Portrait of Magali Lara)] by the late Mexican photographer Lourdes Grobet (1940–2022). Grobet created this work as part of Boullosa and Lara’s exhibition Libros y otros libros, which opened at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City in 1983. The idea for the project arose from Lara’s artist’s book, El libro del olvido [The Book of the Forgotten], which is also on view in the exhibition. It tells the story of a female chair who awaits the return of her lover, a male chair. The book was initially printed in a series of 100 at the Taller Tres Sirenas (which was run by Boullosa, Georgina Quintana, and Laura González Durán). Following the publication of El libro del olvido, Boullosa and Lara invited numerous artists, writers, and other creators to respond to the artist’s book in whatever way they saw fit. One of these responses came from Grobet, who photographed Lara wearing a chain necklace adorned with minuscule reproductions of pages from El libro del olvido.

Other notable insertions include Lara’s series of Frida Kahlo drawing-collages from 1979, a moment when Kahlo had not been converted into the icon of Frídomania that she is today. These works demonstrate the early fascination that several women artists in Mexico held for Kahlo. In fact, this admiration for the female figure who was then still overshadowed by her artist husband would become the driving force behind Trece señoritas. Boullosa, Lara, along with performer Jesusa Rodríguez and musician Liliana Felipe developed Trece señoritas for the La Capilla theater in Coyoacán from 1983 to 1984. Documentation and ephemera from this play and Cocinar hombres illustrate the handmade, do-it-yourself nature of their performance work.

Bajo la misma falda is a testament to the possibilities of not only women’s collaboration but also friendship across time and space. The work of Boullosa and Lara can be situated within a tendency in Mexico, and Latin America more broadly, of artists’ and writers’ who were determined to defy oppressive regimes—whether political or social—while promoting a more nuanced view of the human experience.

Additionally, to coincide with Bajo la misma falda, the MUNAL organized a series of live and virtual talks. I had the good fortune to converse with Boullosa, Lara, and MUNAL Director Carmen Gaitán Rojo via Zoom, where we discussed many of the works on view. You can watch the conversation here and read more about the exhibition here.

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