Shaped in Mexico London exhibition David Gremard RomeroDavid Gremard Romero, Triple Portrait of Amanda as Three Manifestations of Virginia Dare, 2012

Shaped in Mexico is not what it may appear from the outside, or even on the first floor. Peeking in through the windows is a small white space herded in from all sides by posters about the 43 male students that went missing in 2014 from Ayotzinapa. White kites with young Mexican faces printed on them made by Franciso Toleda, the founder of Oaxaca Graphic Art Institute, stream from the ceiling. This new exhibition draws attention to the very real issues facing Mexico’s society (one explanatory panel tells you: “In the time it takes you to tour this exhibition one person will have statistically gone missing in Mexico”) but also allows for many more personal artistic representations of the Mexican experience.

The space is intimidatingly large. Labyrinthian even. Spread across four floors, you just have to let yourself be moved by whatever you are faced with next. Silvia P. Morton, one of the founders of the exhibition, says that the four floors are supposed to inspire more profound ideas as you rise through them. Ultimately the fourth floor is full of  vibrant and oversized abstract paintings, as well as eclectic outfits representing the seven chakras made by Irma Sofia Poeter.

The predominant theme of the exhibition is youth. While Mexican artwork has been associated with the clichés of mythical native folklore and traditional craft, Shaped in Mexico manages to  move past that, and past icons like Frida and Diego.  Silvia tells me: “There is an intricate web of things that are happening in Mexico creating the conditions for instances like the disappearance of the 43… The artists are all talking about the awakening of consciousness, the issues which should not be set aside.” This kind of youthful urgency can be seen in works like the ‘World After Humans’ series of surreal photography, or the obsession with the viscosity of painting with plastic in Pablo Cotama’s impressive works.

The exhibition does and does not answer the question of what it is like to be Mexican in 2015. Nationality is a tricky and elusive subject, and it will always seem fairly reductive to view an artist’s work in terms of their current president, their flag and their predominant religion. This is where the Shaped in Mexico idea comes into the foreground; allowing artists who may not be Mexican by birth or ancestry, but who identify with the country in one way or another, to be part of the show through an open call. As Sylvia went on to explain: “It is interesting to also see the views of outsiders, and how they view Mexico.” An open call makes sure that the show remains “a thermometer of what artists are really talking about’ and forces you to see the porous quality of defined geography”.

Encouraging debate, rather than a one-way statement, is Sylvia’s main aim. It is what makes this exhibition really stand out. You can have a conversation with the artists (sometimes with the help of a translator) who are often standing besides their work, eyeing you up for a reaction. The series of panel discussions involving the artists taking place during the exhibition also create an environment of collaboration of ideas. Sylvia tells me that the process has helped make friends of the artists involved, who would not have met each other otherwise: “I really believe in co-existing and supporting each other. Collaboration is definitely the aim. I would love to make connections here and inspire British artists to go to Mexico.”

By promoting such talented artists on an international scale, and driving up the market for their works, Sylvia is helping to build a sustainable and thriving market for collectors and investors of Mexican art. The gallery doesn’t have any government funding, yet from a grass-roots level this group is managing to effect change on both a macro and micro level. Sylvia tells me about one particularly interesting community initiative that is an offshoot of Shaped in Mexico, a project with a businessman who creates shopping malls to create museums within the malls: “People who would never normally get a chance to go to a museum can interact with their nation’s art… We just want to give more oxygen to Mexican artists.”

Is this exhibition reflective of a Mexico that has probably already changed shape by the time you’ve finished this article? The fluidity of the space, the range of media on show, and the multiplicity of the personal perspectives of the artists makes Shaped in Mexico impossible to pin down, just like the country it represents.

Shaped in Mexico runs from 3 to 12 September, free entry, all works for sale Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, SE1 9QS, London

Words by Morgan Harries

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