Designing Modern Mexico

Between 1930 and 1970 Mexico was the place to be for international artists and designers seeking new experiences. At the end of the Mexican Revolution, the government of the time created a project intended to unite a divided country around a new national identity. It was hoped that this identity would be a new meeting point for Mexico’s citizens. The pre-Columbian past, indigenous culture, artisans and artists were all recruited to create this new Mexican national identity. The interplay between past and present was to become central to the foundation of a modern Mexican movement, where tradition and the handmade were in a constant dialogue with the technological advances and the social discussions of the time.

It was in this atmosphere that Clara Porset, a Cuban-born furniture and interior designer, arrived in Mexico City. She came as a substitute teacher, covering a summer school art history class at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico. Once in Mexico, Porset realised that this was the ideal environment for both her artistic development and political activity, and she quickly became friends with artists, architects and Cubans in exile. Xavier Guerrero, a pioneer of the Mexican muralism movement, was part of the group she mixed with and the two, with their shared interest in design and politics, clicked immediately. In 1938 they married, and began their professional collaboration.

Guerrero was a painter and collector, and as a fan of Mexican folk art, he introduced Porset to the world of the handmade, the vernacular and essence of tradition. This was to be a source of inspiration in her designs for the rest of her life. Porset did not limit herself to designing, she also carried out research, curated exhibitions, and spent time writing and teaching. Between 1940 and 1959 she collaborated with the great Mexican architects on residential projects, hotels and other spaces for private clients and public buildings. Luis Barragán, Mario Pani, Juan Sordo Madaleno, Max Cetto and Enrique de la Mora, among others, were part of the long list of architects with whom she collaborated.

Extract from the Latin issue. Words by Ana Elena Mallet. Subscribe to Selvedge here.

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