“I like to be copied, but I don’t like to copy,” says a man in a documentary at the new exhibit at Museo del Chopo. Those giant backpacks used by vendors to blast cumbia, salsa and pop hits in the metro? He designs them.
He shows off three models, and explains how small adjustments result in different sound quality, increasing the reverb or bass, a quality he calls “spongy.” When asked if he cares about others borrowing his designs, he says, “I love to be pirated, because I am not unique.”
This is the essence of “Modernidad Pirateada” (“Pirated Modernity”), a new exhibit at the Museo Universitario del Chopo that runs through Sept. 25. Curated by Spanish-born artist Jota Izquierdo, the exhibit explores the cultures of cumbia, salsa, rock and punk in Mexico. “Modernidad Pirateada” is borrowed from anthropologist Ravi Sundaram, who argues that “pirating” allows for people in post-colonial countries to both distort, and integrate into modernity and capitalist culture.
The exhibit is divided into two halves, one showcasing cumbia and salsa, and the other punk and rock in Mexico. The connection between Colombian cumbia and the scene in Monterrey, Nuevo León, is particularly emphasized. This culture-mashing, between Mexico and Colombia, Mexico and the United States, is reflected throughout the exhibition.
Listening stations allow visitors to hear some of the influential cumbia tracks that exemplify “pirated” culture. “El Cafetero” is an ode to the Colombian coffee farmer, by Los Guacharacos de Colombia. Despite calling themselves Colombian, the band is actually Mexican. Another example is the cluster of Mexican cumbia bands, such as Los Askis, that adopted the Andean aesthetic and musical style, wearing ponchos or ruanas, and playing pan flutes.
This first half of the exhibit is wall-papered with pirated cumbia and salsa CDs, just like the ones you can buy in the Metro or at markets around Mexico City. Many “sonideros” (Cumbia DJs and dancers) are devout followers of the Virgin of Guadalupe or other patron saints, and the CD covers often feature religious imagery. But they are just as likely to have a woman skimpily dressed in the colors of the Colombian flag.
The second half of the exhibit, focusing on rock and punk culture in Mexico, displays dozens of cassette tapes, the preferred method of sharing music in the scene’s early days. Izquierdo combed the Fanzinoteca, or Fanzine library, at the Museo del Chopo to find homemade zines in which punks wrote about everything from anti-imperialism to veganism.
Using music, documentary videos, zines and posters, “Modernidad Pirateada” is a fascinating tour of Mexican pop culture in the 1980s and 1990s. In imitation, something new is always born, and the open-minded attitude of sonideros and rockers in Mexico has resulted in pioneering music and social spaces with world-wide resonance.
Museo Universitario del Chopo is located at Dr. Enrique González Martínez 10, San Rafael. It is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Entrance to the galleries is 30 pesos, or 15 pesos for students with I.D. Free entrance on Wednesdays.