A story yet to be written

Mexico boasts a long tradition of manufacturing everyday objects, furnishings and clothing, practices as ancient as the country’s history, perhaps even older. Nonetheless, if we speak of objects in terms of design, we can only see the recent origin of this discipline, which is still being defined.

The first university design department was inaugurated in 1959, at the Universidad Iberoamericana. A decade later, the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM) opened the doors to industrial design thanks to professors Horacio Durán, Ernesto Velasco León, Mario Lazo Villarreal, Clara Porset and Douglas Scott, just to name a few.

These early educational models, like many others in Latin America, referred to the pedagogical theories of Bauhaus, the Ulm school and Illinois Institute of Technology. Although great efforts were made to create a project culture in the first half of the twentieth century, a vaster and broader design awareness was only achieved once these educational efforts caught on in Mexico.

Despite many issues, design – in our country – is now successful thanks to the steps adopted in the 1990s. The first clear effort can probably be traced back to the Galería Mexicana de Diseño, which was founded in 1991 by the designer Carmen Cordera, who worked on exhibiting and marketing international design as well as organizing exhibitions aimed at exposing work designed in Mexico.

Simultaneously, the Franz Mayer Museum, a private museum inaugurated in 1986, focused on applied arts, began to put together exhibitions that were initially linked to international design and, later, to Mexican design. On its 30th anniversary, which was celebrated in 2016, its logo already displayed the words “Artes aplicadas y diseño” (applied arts and design). Presently, this is the only museum in Mexico that is entirely devoted to design.

Undoubtedly, a community began to form in the new millennium and, consequently, so did the national design scene. Thanks to the educational design programs of public universities, such as UNAM and UAM (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana), and of private ones, such as the Universidad Iberoamericana, the Universidad Anáhuac (North and South), as well as the Centro de Diseño, Cine y Televisión of Mexico City and the CEDIM of Monterrey (Centro de Estudios de Diseño de Monterrey), just to name a few, new generations of designers with an innovative and entrepreneurial vision were born.

For Mexico, once the designers had completed their training, the next challenge was to publicize their work through commercial and cultural networks. In those years, big department stores did not focus much on design and there were not many shops specialized in Mexican design. Therefore, a new sales model had to be developed, such as the bazaars or temporary travelling trade shows.

In 2003, Bazar Fusión was the first, followed by La Lonja in 2010, an event thanks to which two branches of international promotion were created: Caravanna Americana, an experimental international trade show that also tries to involve the Latin Americans, and Atalaya, another trade show that aims at moving local designers’ horizons more towards global markets.

From a cultural point of view, many efforts were made in the last decade to spread and promote design. In 2009, Fomento Cultural Banamex organized three important and historical exhibitions that traced the contour of the history of design – furnishing, fashion and silver – while promoting the visibility of the new generations’ creations.

ARCHIVO. Diseño y Arquitectura, a private exhibition space, has tried to create a dialog between the communities of art and design, whereas Design Week México and Abierto Mexicano de Diseño are now two consolidated yearly events.  In fact, October has now become renowned as design month in Mexico City because both events are held then.

Since 2011, Zona Maco, the city’s biggest contemporary art exhibition, has boasted a design section curated by Cecilia León de la Barra, a individual who has been able to introduce design into the imaginations of a sophisticated audience with high purchasing potential. Even though the major challenges are marketing and circulating the design, one must first understand the identity before being able to give it a voice.

Industry and design are still, undoubtedly, independent from one another. Big companies still fail to adequately focus on the culture of the project and, consequently, designers must transform themselves into entrepreneurs. Héctor Esrawe, Carla Fernández, Pirwi, Tuux, Jorge Diego Etienne and Joel Escalona are just a few of the successful designers of this category.

In our country, another design challenge is to understand the history, events and process through which this discipline was developed over the years in order to guide research towards conscious offers. To do this, we must continue writing and reviewing the history of Design in Mexico; in books, catalogs, exhibitions, private collections and museums… Starting with the academic institutions.

At the same time, today, a large number of designers have decided to focus their activity on understanding tradition: in terms of values, essence and labor. The collective practices, or honest, creative and linear collaboration between the designers and craftsmen is part of the current setting.  It is a vibrant, proactive and ongoing sector. Bi Yuu, Oax-i-fornia, Oscar Hagerman and Moisés Hernández and his Diario brand, or il Colectivo 1050, are part of this movement, which is undoubtedly doing everything to allow Mexican design to emerge worldwide.

I am not able to predict the future of design in Mexico, but I can foresee a rich, active and ever changing scene. The history, essence and tradition must become a crucial part of the contemporary debate; nevertheless, at the same time, we must seek a partnership between industries and new technologies. Mixed economies, semi-artisanal processes, constant dialogs and much experimentation must become a vital part of what is going to happen

Testo di Ana Elena Mallet