Today, we mosied into town to attend the Audubon lecture at the Biblioteca Public on the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. Not sure who Audubon is or was but the organiser said that the Audubon Society of Mexico in San Miguel de Allende wants to be the best and foremost advocate for conservation and to preserve the fragile ecosystems in this country. As she spoke with a Californian accent we couldn't help thinking, probably with a degree of unnecessary prejudice, that this is just another form of colonialism-the yanks want to take over the local environment. However, in their literature the Society says,
'We work with local communities in order to preserve and restore habitats for birds, wildlife and plants, and to create biodiversity for the benefit of humankind.'
That's what I love about Americans they think big. Hang on we're in Mexico. Where do the Mexicans figure in this world view?
The lecturer Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, a Mexican naturalist, photographer and expert on the region's wildlife and whose parents set up the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, talked and showed slides on the scope of the reserve and its endangered species. The Reserve occupies a third of the northern part of the state of Queretaro, the city of which we visited yesterday. It contains 327 species of birds-nearly a third of all the species found in Mexico and many other forms of wildlife. As well as birds, such as the bumblebee hummingbird and parrots who mate for life- even if one of them dies, they don't 're-marry', he showed close up photos in the cloud forest of jaguars, pumas, ocelots, exotic orchids and trees you might not expect to see there: oaks, Douglas firs, willows, sweet gums. He said that bees which pollinate flowers, that produce nectar and that are key to feeding us humans, are disappearing at a frightening rate across the universe. What he didn't say, and which I only read afterwards, was that his family are involved in linking international investors to local forest owners whose trees 'soak up and store carbon dioxide'. In other words, carbon offsetting industrial production of greenhouse gases. It's highly controversial in Britain whether or not this works. I wonder what Mexicans think about it? Anyway, we salved our conscience by buying arnica to rub on my hip and some orange marmelade produced on the Reserve.
We walked onto the Institute and we sat in the Gallerie Pergola, that promotes artists living in San Miguel de Allende and contemporary Mexican artists. They have glossy coffee table books that you can browse through and we took the opportunity to read up on the arts scene. One of the artists is Daniel Leonardo, whose contemporary murals grace the walls of the Institute. I hope to put up on Picasa Web Photos some of the images from his mural of the history of San Miguel de Allende. The mural tradition that originated in Mexico has been controversial here. Is it art or is it just political narrative? What can be defined as 'art' here? If it's just political narrative, is it the instrument of government and therefore not truly a work of original individual creativity?
I'm interested in the work of Mexican female artists, such as Frida Kahlo, Izquierdo, Vaco and Carrington. Apparently, until recently it was felt that only women artists could express their private feelings through the visual arts. These women artists were famous firstly for their sexual liasons and relationships with male artists. It was only later with the advent of feminism that their work was valued in its own right. It was considered a weakness for men to express their private feelings (possibly in life too?) and their art was to be expressed by a political or public statement. It's therefore interesting that at one time Francis Bacon's 'emotional extremism' was very popular in Mexico.
As we got up off the bench from examining David Leonardo's mural in some detail, we happened by chance into another private gallery in the Institute. This had two exhibitions: one, an exhibition of historic silver jewellery and the other by Donnie Johnson, a lifer in a US prison in Pelican Bay, who had committed a murder and an attempted murder on a prison guard. It had sold very well, there were lots of red spots against the tiny pictures made from candy and grape jelly and according to the owner, like those resembling the work of Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and showing the isolation and alienation of the lifer. The exhibition had apparently been arranged through the prisoner's therapist and the owner told us he was also getting a little profit. Most of the proceeds were going to a charity for the children of prisoners at Pelican Bay. However, he told us that he'd heard that people were selling these pictures on for a considerable profit. He couldn't control that, he said, but it was clear that he didn't want to talk to us for much longer about it as we weren't going to buy anything. So, he got on with whatever he was doing on his computer. Looking for other profitable opportunities, perhaps?
I'd like to think that in Britain we wouldn't allow such an exhibition to happen but is this very different from Jeffrey Archer making a profit out of the novels he's written from his experience of being in prison for fraud?
We're not exempt from this either.
On the way back we walked behind a woman holding a large bouquet of white lillies, the sort painted by Diego Rivera and which I think are called Alcatraz Lillies. I tried to capture her photo from behind without her seeing. She criss-crossed the road, entering cafes and hotels trying to sell her wilting flowers without success. I suddenly remembered something I'd read about local people being very unhappy about having their photos taken unawares, later discovering that some Gringo had made a fortune out of a painting based on their photo. So, Rhys crossed the road and offered her a few pesos for her photo, which she accepted graciously. On reflection, we would have helped her more by buying the whole bouquet of lillies but what would we have been doing for the environment?