Arturo Meade, born in Mexico City and now based in Brooklyn, NY, has produced an important body of work examining aspects of Mexican culture that uses both visual and aural means. Meade works with the material platforms of music, using old record albums (often, old DJ cast offs found in used record stores), collaged images, and music itself, to create multi-layered dialogues between the complex layers of Mexican history from the pre-Hispanic to the modern era. The visual and auditory installation Discos Paisa, first exhibited in the exhibition Art into Music at BRIC House in Brooklyn, includes a grid of some fifty second-hand record album covers that he has collaged with imagery drawn from the entire arc of Mexican history. We see an image of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god, collaged over a classical record, and another album covered with images of a pre-Hispanic figurine and romanticized images of rancheros, Mexican cowboys. With such arrangements of imagery, Meade aims to express the complexity of cultural identity in a nation where even ancient history remains visible on the landscape, and where everyday life is shaped by both pop culture and proudly-held traditions.
Each album in the Discos Paisa series includes a playlist authored by Meade; he uploads the lists to a public website that can be accessed in the gallery space. The playlists document a broad range of Mexican music from the stereotypical and expected mariachi to the lesser known (son huasteco, narco corridos). The work titled Noche en El Savoy – illustrated with an example of the kind of brutalist concrete architecture typical to institutional building projects in Mexico in the 1960s – is accompanied by a playlist featuring popular dance music of the era – mambo, danzón, and rumba.
In Meade’s project, music and visual art history work together to connote a multifaceted history of indigenous forms, foreign influence, and new cultural forms. Discos paisa suggests that Mexican culture (and identity) defy categorization or a simple, linear narrative. Monumental stone architecture, for example, is a manifestation of both pre-Hispanic temples and 20th-century architecture. Musical forms also cross mutate and are reimagined; at times they remain stubbornly provincial. In giving form to this historic landscape, Meade suggests the critical role of art and music in offering a nuanced sense of cultural identity that is plural and ever morphing.
Brooklyn, New York, 2014