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“Hablar de corrupcion es tocar a Mexico en el corazón,” my mentor said. “Be careful.”
Tocar. Transitive verb meaning: to touch, to feel, to play, to have to do something, to ring, to sound, to touch on, to strike, to be one’s turn, and in some sense it has no direct translation.
I recently began writing reviews of exhibitions in Mexico City for an English-speaking audience. Quickly I started feeling like a remedial parakeet raised on a 24-hour news cycle. Almost every article I write seems to invoke questions of corruption, impunity, violence, or insecurity. Whether talking about a performance artist visiting from Spain, an established Mexican video-art pioneer, emerging artists, or even Michelangelo and Da Vinci retrospectives, there always seems to be a salient reason to somewhere reference rampant political corruption as context.
Every week another story breaks: the President’s house, the Finance Minister’s house, the former Mayor of Mexico City’s house, a friend-of-a-friend disappeared, the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students, more mass graves, the Tlatlaya massacre, Chapo’s escape, the Navarte murders, another friend-of-a-friend murdered, the guards with AK-47’s play-fighting with machetes next door – all this within the last year.
Fordlandia: Melanie Smith
August 8 – September 13, 2015
Bajio 231, Colonia Roma, Cuauhtemoc 06760 DF, Mexico
Descriptions of Fordlandia—Henry Ford’s ill-fated urban development and rubber plantation of the same name, built in 1928 in Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest—sound alternately surreal, hilarious, and completely miserable.
Willed into existence by sheer force of industrialist conviction, and funded by US greenbacks, Fordlandia was a disaster to the tune of $20 million dollars. This speculative venture was representative of a man obsessed with imposing his philosophies on his employees, even in their homes. Unsurprising for a man who employed a secret moral police to investigate his employees’ personal habits, he tried to control his Brazilian workforce by forbidding drink, tobacco, and women in Fordlandia. He made the Brazilian workers eat unfamiliar American foods, enforced an American 9-to-5 factory work schedule incompatible with a tropical climate, provided English romantic poetry readings, and built Midwestern-suburban style homes for the Amazonian workers. They even installed front lawns and a golf course in the Amazon!