Family, Work and Diversity in Eighteenth-Century Mexico

Colorful, ancient and intriguing caste paintings of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture were restored in the Museo de Arte de Ponce and are part of the exhibition Family, Work and Diversity in the Mexico of 18th century. The public enjoyed, for the first time, a set of works that respond to the social reality of the mestizaje.

After the colonization, the New Spain (today’s México) became a meeting place for different indigenous and European cultures enriched also by the exchange with China, Japan and the Philippines. In this typically Mexican atmosphere, a new type of artistic expression emerged, the series of caste paintings. Each work in these series depicts the mixture of races, illustrated with a man and a woman (Native Americans, Spanish, and slaves of Western Africa) and their offspring. The paintings aim to show the exotic details of the new lands. For this reason, in addition to representing the mestizaje, the artists include in their works details such as the food that these groups consumed, their dresses and their ways of earning a living.

The exhibition presents 15 paintings of oil on copper in small format. The copper stand allowed the artists to have a light and smooth surface, which was easy to paint and ideal for small works.  “This exhibition emerged from a conservation work and we are pleased that it has been achieved. Caste paintings are an exquisite sample and a rich source of information for teachers and students. The room will become a space that tells  a story and reflects on a past in which many will  feel identified,” said  Pablo Pérez d’Ors, Associate Curator of the Museum.

In 2016 the Museo de Arte de Ponce started  a collaboration with the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture for the restoration of these caste paintings. “The idea is to become facilitators to preserve Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage. We understand that achieving the agreement to restore these works and then presenting them to the public is our duty and part of our responsibility as museum,” said Alejandra Peña Gutiérrez, Executive Director of the Museo de Arte de Ponce.