Mexicalidad Credit: Courtesy of the Mexican Cultural Institute

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Society is consumed with material goods—hand painted, 3D created, multitudinous objects exist around us, constantly. The Mexican Cultural Institute partnered with MODO, the Museo del Objeto del Objeto in Mexico, to create Mexicalidad: Diseño Nuevas Generaciones, a visually stunning exhibition featuring a selection of 164 items throughout multiple rooms and two floors that showcase designs currently being produced in Mexico. Shoes, pottery, and colorful toys hang from the ceiling and pop from the walls, like walking through a physical internet feed. It’s an effort to give the designers of the objects credit for their creations, as mainstream marketplaces often steal their cultural expressions without attribution. In the exhibition, one story is told through a handmade dress embroidered with ancestral remnants not meant to be for sale at Urban Outfitters. Mexicalidad: Diseño Nuevas Generaciones is an education free of charge.   

Designers Las hijas del Jade contribute an updated version of a cultural tradition that has made its way into Instagramable society as a “new” trend: A name necklace featuring the word “Chingona”is fittingly showcased behind plexiglass like a precious jewel. The words are a battle cry for a new generation, the necklace’s description that “Chingona is a way of life.” This is one for the culture. 

Surrounding the necklace are shoes, clothes, and a rug, all hanging from the ceiling, and each item has the potential to become a stolen trend. These items are relevant to a cultural group, meant to call awareness to injustice but also to place value on the creators’ mark. A black t-shirt titled “F**n ‘City” with the word “Sacrifice” on the back hangs, silently speaking about the endless violence that plagues Mexico. Designer Christopher Cruz explains, “This piece reveals the sentiment of all Mexicans that have suffered the disappearing or loss of someone in the last decades.” 

In the back room of the exhibition, practical objects swing together, such as “Protecto EVA,”a prototype for a non-invasive method to screen for breast cancer. Next to it hangs “Proyecto Piesu2,” a special glove created to help children with disabilities catch balls. In the corner, there’s a beautifully simple set of three side tables, hanging in a surrealist fashion. One of the legs of each table is carved to look like a molinillo—whisk—used to prepare Mexican hot chocolate.  

There are small details throughout the showcase that reveal the stories of a country that continues to produce, create, and design objects that have an impact on artistry across lands. The curatorial statement explains: “…Their Mexican roots can be seen, one way or another in every single one of their pieces, either in the process, the concept or in the creation of the design object, offering a concept from Mexico to the world.”   

One of the best rooms is the smallest, where a mural covers the walls. “Soy Mi Centro” by Jorge Cejudo are graphic novel-like drawings of different sites in Mexico, colored in alternative camouflage that connects the different buildings and areas into one. “It establishes a close relationship between the designer, society and the city’s government to participate collectively in the creation of a more visually aesthetic and comfortable city for its inhabitants,” he writes in the artist’s statement.  

In the age of endless internet scrolling we become desensitized to what we’re looking at. In Mexicalidad, the beauty of each displayed item is heightened by the idea that design is more than what the eyes see—it’s a tool for those whose voices are constantly marginalized. 

At the Mexican Cultural Institute to Feb. 22. 2829 16th St NW. Free. (202) 728-1628.

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