More than mariachi: Mexico is home to a vibrant contemporary creative scene – and these names are at the cutting edge, changing Mexican culture before our very eyes
Mexican art and cultural traditions are known around the world, from mariachi to Frida Kahlo and burritos to brightly woven textiles. But this is not a country stuck in the past: Mexico is home to a rich contemporary cultural scene, populated by internationally renowned names in the world of cinema, architecture and the arts – and there are many more to know. We take a look at 25 emerging Mexican doers and creators in fields ranging from design to literature, photography, film, gastronomy and fashion, all changing their respective games with their truly original ideas, initiatives and works.
Thalia Barrios – Under the self-proclaimed title of “cook” (despite having studied gastronomy extensively, Barrios prefers not to call herself a “chef”), Barrios is the creator of Levadura de Olla restaurant in the city of Oaxaca, where she serves the traditional cuisine of her native region using seasonal, regional ingredients and even flowers. The dishes she prepares are often difficult to find elsewhere, including specialties that are customarily served at ceremonies, such as the wedding mole or the wake mole.
María Osado – Founder of Güerxs, a modelling agency that Osado established in 2016 while still at university. Her aim? To represent aspiring models of diverse backgrounds who were often excluded from the established fashion and advertising industries, to thereby question the standards of beauty – and the racism – of wider Mexican society. Güerxs has enjoyed international success, signing models who have walked the major runways in Paris and New York, and worked for Mexican brands like Ben and Frank and MAP, as well as international brands such as Loewe, Maison Kitsuné and Bottega Veneta. She has been nominated for the London Design Museum’s Beazley Designs of the Year and was selected among the Dazed 100 of Dazed & Confused magazine.
Fernando Frías de la Parra – A filmmaker with a master’s degree in screenwriting and direction from Columbia University, Frías’s second feature film, Ya no estoy aquí (I’m No Longer Here) – written and directed by Frías himself – premiered on Netflix in May 2020. Though the film has stirred controversy for its portrayal of violence and poverty in Latin America, it has also gained recognition from critics across the globe and won a number of accolades, taking home a total of ten prizes at the 62nd edition of the Ariel Awards, including Best Film.
Mariana de la Garza – A young industrial designer from Veracruz, de la Garza’s work in furniture and interior design is leaving its mark in cities across the country. Her designs seek to highlight the natural characteristics of the materials and their context, creating clean, linear compositions. She has realised store designs for the likes of Ben and Frank, Caralarga, Tierra Garat, Fiesta Americana and Hindie, and has collaborated with renowned studios such as Esrawe, Mob, Oficio Taller and Sofía Aspe Interiorismo. She is currently undertaking freelance projects.
María Marín de Buen – Graphic designer and graduate of the Basel School of Design in Switzerland and the University of Illinois, de Buen first began working with the CoDe Communication and Design studio, developing projects in Zurich and New York. In 2018, she co-founded graphic design workshop Proyectos Ninguém, and in 2020 she established her own studio dedicated to the design of books, websites and graphic identity for art and architecture exhibitions. She is a recognised specialist in editorial design, as well as a participant in the Young Creators programme of the National Promotion for Culture and the Arts in the category of Editorial Design in Applied Arts.
Silvana Estrada – An up-and-coming singer from Veracruz with a career on the rise, Estrada has quickly gained recognition on both the Mexican and international music scenes. She’s the first Latin American artist to sign with New York label Glassnote Records (who represent Phoenix and Childish Gambino), and she has collaborated with music duo Daniel, Me Estás Matando, has shared the stage with artists such as Natalia La Fourcade and Mon Laferte, and has performed at festivals like Vive Latino or Que Vivan las Mujeres. Billboard named her one of the 21 Latin American artists to watch in 2021.
Bernardo Martínez – Founder of Axoque Estudio, a furniture design studio in Morelia, Michoacán, Martínez works with natural materials like stone, wood, wicker and wool to reduce his environmental impact, and collaborates closely with artisans to help preserve traditional techniques. In a short time, Axoque has achieved wide renown, exhibiting at the Mexican Design Open and at Zona Maco. Martínez also won the Revelation of the Year award in “Design Icons 2020” from Architectural Digest México magazine.
Lucía Gómez Robledo – An actress, writer and theatre producer with a promising career that is rapidly taking off. Robledo started her career in classical and contemporary theatre in New York’s Off-Broadway spaces such as Gymnos and Here Theater, as well as at the Shakespeare Forum, La teatrería and El Centro Cultural del Bosque in Mexico City. She has also worked on TV shows like Club de Cuervos (Club of Crows, Netflix) and Cómo sobrevivir soltero (How to Survive Being Single, Amazon Prime).
Selva Hernández – Hailing from a family of booksellers spanning several generations, Hernández comes by her love of books honestly. In her career as an editorial designer, her work has been upheld as a benchmark in the world of Mexican graphic design. Hernández is the founder of Ediciones Acapulco, a small publishing house with a commitment to traditional printing and binding methods that specialises in limited-run editions and collectible books. She currently manages Antonia, La Oficina del Libro in Mexico City, a bookstore and community space where she gathers and sells old, rare and specialised books.
Dahlia de la Cerda – Storyteller, philosopher and women’s rights activist with a notable career as an essayist and fiction writer. Dahlia de la Cerda is the author of Perras de Reserva, a short story collection published in 2019, and her tales have been anthologised in Gabriela Jauregui’s Tsunami 2. In 2019, de la Cerda won the National Young Story Award and took second place in the Raquel Berman Resilience Award for her work in the feminist organisation Morras Help Morras.
Pablo Salas – Pablo Salas is a major proponent of the gastronomy of the state of Mexico, a region of 125 municipalities in south-central Mexico whose great cultural, linguistic and natural diversity is reflected in the different flavours of its dishes. At his restaurant Amaranta in Toluca, Salas reinterprets recipes from across the state (often referred to as ‘Edomex’), working with local produce and ingredients from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Salas is also the creator behind Público Comedor restaurant in the Polanco neighbourhood of Mexico City.
Mabe Fratti – A cellist, singer and songwriter, Mabe Fratti was born in Guatemala, but it is in Mexico that she has garnered her success. Fratti learned to play the cello at the age of eight, which she refers to as being a sort of “second language” to her. Her first EP, Careless, was released in 2016, followed by Moot Point in 2018 and Pies sobre la tierra in 2019. She has performed at festivals such as Mutek, Marvin, Ruido Rosa and Nrmal, and the American magazine Remezcla selected her as one of 15 Latin American artists with unmissable albums in 2019.
Nancy Estela – Creator of the independent fashion brand Kitchen, whose moniker is based on the novel of the same name by Banana Yoshimoto. For Estela, the relationship people form with her clothes beyond the catwalks is paramount, and she has a clear mission: create clothes that are comfortable and easy to wear, designed and produced in Mexico. Most of the materials she works with are sourced in Mexico City, and many of her fabrics are actually scraps from other brands, supplying Estela with high-quality fabrics while reducing the ecological footprint of her designs.
Andrea Murcia – A photographer and photojournalist covering social and political happenings in and around Mexico City, Murcia has collaborated extensively with national and international media including El País, La Jornada, Vice, The Guardian and The Washington Post. Her work has gone viral in recent years, not only for capturing current events, but also for her careful framing and portraits. Murcia has exhibited at the Tijuana Cultural Center, the Benito Gallery in Guadalajara, the emblematic Rejas de Chapultepec and the Chardon Gallery in Paris, and she’s currently collaborating with Mexican photojournalism agency Cuartoscuro and international news agency Reuters.
Theo Zenker – A name to watch in the field of industrial design: Theo Zenker is currently a design student at the UNAM Industrial Design Research Center, but even before starting his university career, Zenker had already become a recognised designer and carpenter. Before the age of 25, he had worked designing, producing and assembling installations, settings and furniture for festivals such as Bahidorá, Corona Capital, Vaivén and Tag.
Yasnayá Aguilar – A writer, translator and linguist from Ayutla Mixe, Aguilar is a lucid essayist and writes in both Mixe and Spanish. She is the author of the book Ää: manifiestos sobre la diversidad lingüística (Almadia, 2020) and her work has been anthologised in numerous other publications, including El futuro es hoy: Ideas radicales para México (Biblioteca Nueva, 2018). Recently she appeared in the documentary series El Tema (The Issue) together with actor Gael García Bernal, in which they deal with the magnitude of the climate crisis in Mexico.
Lía García – As a teacher, performance artist and activist for transgender rights, Lía García’s work contentrates on themes of sexual diversity, occupying the public space to convey her messages in playful and emotional ways. She has collaborated with the UNAM University Program for Gender Studies, and her work has been presented in various forums around the world such as the Berlin University of the Arts, the University of Chile and the University of Texas at Austin. Her writings have also appeared in Tsunami II (Sexto Piso, 2020).
José Fabián Estrada – Also known as ‘Perrito’, José Fabián Estrada is a cartoonist and illustrator who portrays urban life in and around Mexico City through a humorous and critical lens. He was the creator of the 2018 Mexico City subway commemorative ticket design with the illustration “If it no longer fits, don’t be foolish” as well as the book Ecatepec. Every month he publishes an illustration in the magazine Este País, and he is also the co-founder of Imaginaria Café, a coffee shop and “place for drawings” in Mexico City’s Magdalena de las Salinas neighbourhood.
Alejandra Márquez Abella – A writer and film director born in San Luis Potosí, Abella’s most recent film, Las niñas bien (The Good Girls), has been recognised by critics at home and abroad, winning the prize for Best Ibero-American Film at the Malaga Film Festival in 2019, and being named as one of the filmmakers to follow in 2019 by Variety magazine. According to The Hollywood Reporter, she’s currently making a film based on the life of the Mexican-American astronaut José Hernández.
Jonathan Miralda Fuksman – A Mexico City-based painter and illustrator, Fuksman’s figurative and geometric compositions emphasise movement and synthesis, focusing on representations of urban life through a lens of logical absurdity. His work has been exhibited in local and international spaces such as the Mexican Art Gallery, the Museum of the People of Guanajuato and The Present Company in Brooklyn.
Brenda Navarro – Born in Mexico City, Brenda Navarro earned her Master’s degree in Gender Studies at the University of Barcelona and is currently living in Madrid. In 2018, together with independent publisher Kaja Negra, Navarro published her first novel, Casas Vacías (Empty Houses), which won critical praise and was reissued by Sexto Piso. She is currently writing her second novel. Navarro’s work has been translated into Italian, Dutch and English, and in 2019 she was awarded the English PEN Translation Award in the UK.
María Arguelles – It’s an unlikely story, perhaps: a psychologist who successfully ventures into the world of fashion, with an eye for social progress. Having learned knitting techniques from her grandmother, María Arguelles one day decided to make herself a bikini – and that’s how Rayapinta was born. Not only Mexican-made and hand-woven, Rayapinta’s swimsuits provide work for women who are in the process of societal reintegration after serving time in prison. The brand’s various collections consist of a reduced number of pieces, moving away from the notion of fast fashion. Arguelles’ swimsuits have been featured in fashion magazines such as Vogue and Who.
María Conejo – Visual artist María Conejo’s work explores representations of the female body, and her drawings are easily recognisable for their clean lines and the expressiveness of her figures. As an artist, Conejo has also been involved in sex education projects and is a co-founder, along with Zoe Mendelson, of Pussypedia – a free bilingual illustrated encyclopedia that, in 2019, won first place at the 10th National Design Biennial in the category of Socially Responsible Design. Her illustrations also appear in the accompanying book, Pussypedia, A Comprehensive Guide, which will be published this year