Thursday, May 23, 2024

Mexico to New York City: The wild design of Mestiz

The Mestiz adventure began almost 10 years ago, when newly-graduated architect David Varela met the Tamayo brothers, master textile artisans in his home state of Coahuila. It was during this meeting that Varela developed a deep appreciation for Mexican folklore.

Today, Mestiz has established itself as a globally renowned company, working on projects for brands like Hermès and collaborating with organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation. Mestiz specializes in creating “wild objects,” as described by its creator, David Varela. These pieces transport viewers to a parallel universe that combines the humor, fantasy and mysticism of Mexican folk art.

Daniel Valero at his studio in San Miguel de Allende. (Courtesy: Mestiz)

Recently, Mestiz opened a new studio in the historic center of San Miguel de Allende and created an experiential design activation for Casa Dragones’ headquarters there with a parallel Day of the Dead altar in front of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. Mexico News Daily sat down with David Varela to discuss the design philosophy of Mestiz and the studio’s most recent projects. You don’t want to miss getting to know this notable, young Mexican creative.

Why do you describe your unique objects as wild?

It was difficult for me to classify whether Mestiz was art, design, or craftsmanship, and I was always asked about it. One day I decided to create my own category that I call “wild,” because the term wild comes from what is not domesticated. It was my way of saying I make pieces, I go with the craftsmen and I adapt to what they do: from what I learn we create new things. What I propose is to create a long-term relationship in which we create wild pieces that are different from what they do, but inspired by what they already know how to do.

Can you describe your alter ego and how it influences your design process?

It comes from the same idea of the name: Mestiz. When I started the project, I didn’t want it to have a name because I thought I was generating an alter ego to make a mixture of craft techniques from two different generations: craftsmen and designers. It was born out of a synergy of craftsmanship, design and art, with the idea of creating something different. The alter ego is Mestiz, this mixture of ideologies, techniques and ways of thinking, but all in the same direction. Mestiz is not Daniel, nor only the craftsmen, it is something else, born from the meeting of two worlds.

What aspect of the Mexican artisan tradition inspires you the most?

I believe that handicrafts and gastronomy are the best ways to get to know a place: both are like an open book of the history of each place. Mexico has so much cultural richness, and its geography is so complicated, that each region has developed its type of gastronomy, music and crafts. I don’t want to focus only on the handicraft technique, but also on the folklore, the mystical and religious themes of a place, because the handicraft or popular art has a lot of that, each manifestation speaks of a cosmogonic theme. I am also inspired by their sense of humor, fantasy, or surrealism. In handicrafts there is a lot of play, conversation, joy and sadness: all emotions are valid. All this is what I love and what I always try to absorb to create my pieces.

San Miguel de Allende Studio. (Courtesy: Mestiz)

Can you tell us about “Los Dos Soles Ofrenda” in New York City and its significance?

It was a portal: two suns that connected and created a bridge between San Miguel de Allende and Rockefeller Center. The project was made for the Rockefeller Foundation and Casa Dragones, the tequila brand based in San Miguel de Allende and New York). Then,  snakes inspired by the fauna and vegetation around San Miguel de Allende came out of this portal and took over the space, creating a micro-universe: the serpents at the end moved to the plaza and served as benches: I wanted people to interact with the offering, because an altar is something very private and intimate. In the back there was a blue wall where people could leave a photo of a loved one, the response of the people was impressive. There was a day when it looked like Mexico had won the World Cup: there were 3,000 people in the plaza, people with flags and hats. I had never worked in a public space before and I loved the energy.

Can you share some details about your new studio in San Miguel de Allende?

My new studio is located in a historical building in San Miguel called Pasaje Allende: this space was abandoned for a while and we renovated it. Now is a place to show people the pieces, but in the end, it’s not a shop or a gallery, it’s my studio and it works by appointment, it is not open to the public.

What are your thoughts on the current Mexican design scene? Do you find it to be innovative?

I feel that in general the Mexican creative scene is in a good moment. The eyes of the world are on Mexican design. If a few years ago they were focused on what the Scandinavians were doing, now they are interested in what is happening in Latin America, but I think especially in Mexico.

Ana Paula de la Torre is a Mexican journalist and collaborator of various media such as Milenio, Animal Político, Vice, Newsweek en Español, Televisa and Mexico News Daily.

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