UPDATE: the museum was closed temporarily due to earthquake damage at the neighboring building, but as of July 23, 2018, it is again open to the public.
Cuernavaca’s cultural life just received a momentous boost. A sensational new museum opened to the pubic on Avenida Morelos 275, next door to the church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. The Museo de Arte Indígena Contemporáneo is a project of the Patronato Universitario of the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, UAEM for its initials in Spanish. Both the building and its contents are magnificent.
(Photos are by the author unless otherwise noted. Click on them to enlarge).
The exhibitions feature the best works of contemporary artists representing 13 Mexican native cultures, eventually expanding to include works from 68 indigenous groups. The displays are not permanent but rather Nomad. After six months some pieces will be shipped to other Nomad exhibitions and new works will arrive to replace them. The concept of Nomad exhibitions is relatively recent and allows smaller museums to host cultural attractions they might not otherwise afford and provide temporary exhibits attractive to local communities.
The eclectic collection includes ceramics, textiles, musical instruments, wood work, silver, and other metal work, displayed in well-lit galleries on the lower floor. Many of these pieces are truly exquisite, well beyond anything one sees in a handicraft market. Visitors will follow a circuit of galleries displaying artistic creations whose themes progress from representations of sunrise, birth, daily life, and agriculture, to those representing death and the afterlife, following indigenous religious traditions. While the museum’s pieces are not for sale, there will be a small shop off the lobby.
The second floor houses offices, class rooms, an auditorium, and workshops where master artisans will teach groups of ten to fifteen participants. A lovely terrace in back will host a coffee shop with light snacks and provide a venue for special events. At night the terrace and surrounding building are illuminated by a brilliant panorama of colored lights. A small alcove once opened to the Guadalupe church to allow access to 17th century Inquisitors whose offices adjoined the church and where the unfortunate accused were questioned and judged.
The upper floor also houses spacious, clean restrooms. All parts of the museum are handicapped-accessible, including ramps and an elevator. Best of all, the building is self-sustaining with solar panels for light and an elaborate system for collecting rainwater and recycling it to provide potable drinking water with an eventual surplus that can be shared with the city. It is a part of a municipal movement for sustainable development in the historic center.
The museum is actually a museum in a museum for the building is a treasure of antiquity. An ancient property list from 1549 shows the land owned privately. While it may have had earlier occupants, the first construction recorded was in 1746 for the home of a brother of José de la Borda, the famous silver baron of Taxco. Later, José’s son Manuel occupied an adjacent home on the site of today’s Jardín Borda. After José’s death in 1778, Manuel expanded and embellished the gardens including a small lake and fountains that still grace the gardens. In 1784, Manuel built the Guadalupe church whose walls adjoin and adorn the museum. In addition to a private entrance for inquisitors, a door was later added for Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota to have a private passage to the church from the Borda home during their summer residence there in the 1860s.
While not on the university’s campus in the north of the city, the building has historical links to UAEM. In 1953 the university took over the former Instituto de Estudios Superiores and it became the first home of UAEM. The second floor was added that year. The lower floor is protected by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the upper floor by the National Insitutute of Bellas Artes (INBA) while seeking an international designation under UNESCO. Professionals from INAH have unearthed nine different levels of occupation for the building and an opening on the second level displays seven of those levels. How altogether fitting that the museum is in the midst of a block that contains volumes of the city’s history, built upon the ruins of an indigenous culture whose heritage is now enshrined in the museum.
Distinguished UAEM administrator Wilifrido Ávila García is the Director responsible for carrying out the inspiration and implementing the expectations of the Patronato. The museum will host group visits and special events, public lectures, and concerts. Each change in exhibits will open with a ceremony including music or dance. In September, it will host the first World Congress of Museums. In November look forward to the first Festival of Traditional Music. What a magnificent addition to the cultural life of Cuernavaca!
After an impressive inaugural ceremony July 13, the museum opened to the public on July 14. Distinguished guests at the ribbon-cutting included Governor Graco Ramirez, Mayor Dr.Jorge Morales Barud, UAEM Rector Dr. Jesús Alejandro Vera Jiménez, State Tourist Secretary Monika Fuchs Reyes, City Tourist Secretary César Salgado, and members of the UAEM Patronato.
Hours will be Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm, closed Monday. Admission charge 25 pesos; students and faculty of UAEM free. Tel. 310 5700/ 310 5701.
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