Destinations

Is Mexico City Our Next Great Cultural Capital?

A recent festival makes the case for revisiting art below the border.
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It’s no accident that when you think about Mexico City, the artists who first come to mind are Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Not only did the pair call the city home, but their legacies—from artworks to houses and pretty much every piece of memorabilia you can slap an image on—are a large part of Mexico City’s tourism machine. But if you look a little bit closer (OK, look after you hit the Museo Frida Kahlo) there’s not only a stunning history of artwork in Mexico City beyond that dynamic—and still very profitable—duo, but it’s also a place that’s serving as something of a home base for creative types from around the world to try out new ideas.

There are seemingly new restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques around every corner, but if attendees from a recent cultural festival are to be believed, Mexico City isn’t just a refuge for artistic types looking for the next Shangri La—the destination is itself what’s inspiring some of the world’s most compelling creations.

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Ballet dancer Isaac Hernández at Liberatum in Mexico City.

In March of this year, Liberatum, a 16-year-old international festival of cultural ideas, set up shop in venues around town to bring its trademark programming—a mix of high-level panel discussions, film screenings, interviews, and artistic events—to the city. It was no accident that Liberatum, which has held previous iterations in India, Italy, Papua New Guinea, Turkey and beyond, landed in Mexico.

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“The goal here was to break that old-world thinking about Mexico, which is perhaps today more important than ever before,” says festival founder Pablo Ganguli. “People who do know Mexico might only know Tulum or might not normally come to Mexico City, and we really wanted to change that mindset and show them how creatively vibrant and culturally radiant it is.”


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Liberatum founder Pablo Ganguli interviews Hilary Swank.

The festival drew on internationally known talent like photographer Nan Goldin, designer Angela Missoni, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Alejandro Aravena, actress Hilary Swank, and Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Tawakkol Karman and paired them with some of Mexico’s brightest stars, like dancer Isaac Hernández, architect Fernando Romeo, actress Fernanda Castillo, and even composer Michael Nyman—a British expat—to discuss their work, get to know one another, and draw attention to the important developments happening in the host country.

“For me, it was important as a ballet dancer to have a platform like this, to speak to an audience I might not reach otherwise,” Hernández says. “And it makes me proud to have a festival like this in Mexico, where great minds can come to create opportunities for critical thinking.”


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Tawakkol Karmanin Mexico City for Liberatum.

For director Julie Taymor, who made the Kahlo biopic Frida in Mexico and will be filming her next project, Juan Derian, there, it was a chance to revisit a place that has been important her work but also to the work of the people she admires. “In the 1920s, Mexico City was a mecca for artists,” she says. "It was a real draw, and intellectual discussion, politics, and art were all happening at the highest level. Now it’s happening again: there are great poets, writers, dancers, and artists. When I heard Liberatum was in Mexico City, I said absolutely.”

Indeed, Mexico City feels like an important enough partner to Ganguli that he says the festival is hoping to come back next year and make Liberatum an annual event. “I’ve seen so much abuse of Mexico—people can have a very backward view of the country—but I find young Mexico to be so progressive and modern, maybe even more than some places in America,” he says. “Tulum is great for a holiday, but for me, Mexico City is far more appealing.”

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Cleo Wade in conversation with Alice Walker and Rebecca Walker at Liberatum Mexico City.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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