Sitting evenly upon close-toothed paper, vivid pigments compose harmonies of color and form (Fig. 1). Lines of cerulean wiggle upon a velvety cobalt blue. Between crisp boundaries of ink, veins of the white folio carve out a lattice and tapered fringe to impart legibility: a striped, blue shawl generously cloaks a figure, who nearly disappears beneath her dress. Cinched by a violet-vermillion belt, three bunches of black and white pleats fold in rhythmic lines. A small, low-heeled shoe peeks from below the voluminous skirt, recalling the figure beneath the fabric. From the abundant shawl, a head emerges in profile with warm brown features articulated only by dips and crevices of negative space. Even the figure’s eye is an almond-shaped vacancy of color. Facing her, a second figure also denies recognizability. Her likeness is instead replaced by identifying details: dark braids joined by a purple ribbon, another bi-toned sash fastening her pleated skirt, a white, short-sleeved blouse. They occupy an empty expanse, anywhere and nowhere, grounded only by the page beneath their pigments. Yet, the specificity of their dress offers the localizing information that their blank surround does not. The informed viewer can complete the picture with lessons from an accompanying brochure, supplementing the folio’s sterile pagination with a label: “Tarascans of the State of Michoacán (A).” One of twenty-five, this serigraph print accompanies more floating figures whose labels can be learned––“Tarahumares of the State of Chihuahua,” “Huastecs of the State of San Luis Potosí,” “Triques of the State of Oaxaca”––each marked by a faint gray signature of authorship and a folio number (Fig. 2-4). Titled Mexican Costume, this portfolio was designed by Guatemalan-born Carlos Mérida (1891-1984) and published by The Pocahontas Press in the United States (US) in 1941. A booklet, authored by Mérida, sits loosely in the portfolio with explanatory texts for each print's depicted attire. Informing this analysis, the Yale University Arts Library Special Collections holds one of the 1000 editions of Mexican Costume.
Ortega-Guerrero, Sofia, "Between Specificity and Myth: An Analysis of Carlos Mérida's 'Mexican Costume'" (2023). Kaplan Senior Essay Prize for Use of Library Special Collections. 30.
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