Delicate Duality


Mexico City, Mexico




Mexican Functionalist

The paradox of duality is present in art, relationships, and even spirituality. Two seemingly opposing forces converge to create a delicate balance. While this is a universal concept not unique to one culture, I found that it kept presenting itself during my recent trip to Mexico City.

My boyfriend and I were visiting this vibrant city for a friend’s wedding and spent plenty of time cooking, eating, and exploring. One of our most notable stops was Templo Mayor in the historic downtown area. 

Templo Mayor was the centerpiece of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Constructed in 1325, the temple consists of seven pyramids built over the previous as illustrated below. Each new temple corresponded to a different Aztec emperor. The seventh pyramid was largely destroyed in the 1500’s by the Spanish Conquistadors and much of the original stone was used to build the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral nearby.

Due to the colonization and reconstruction of the city by the Spanish, Templo Mayor was buried and forgotten until the 1970’s, when it was discovered while the government was drilling for electrical lines. 

The temple retained its original form of a stepped pyramid with twin stairs leading to the shrines of two deities: Huitzilopochtli, the G-d of the sun and war and Tlaloc, the G-d of rain and fertility. 

The Aztecs believed that they had to maintain harmony between these two deities. To keep the delicate balance between these two very different G-d’s, they made human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli and sacrifices of water animals, jade, and other artifacts to Tlaloc. 

And both had duality within them. Tlaloc, whose temple was painted blue and white to represent water, could provide much needed rain for crop growth. But he could also summon floods and other destructive storms. Conversely, Huitzilopochtli, whose temple was painted red to symbolize blood and war, could harness the restorative power of the sun or the destructive power of war. 

Both sets of temple stairs carried snake head sculptures with blinkers and feathers; the latter of which was a frequent Aztec symbol of nobility. 

Modern Mexican nobility, however, instantly calls to mind the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. For those who have been living under a rock, Frida and Diego were two of the most prominent artists of the twentieth century. These two political activists had an incredibly turbulent marriage, filled with both passion and infidelity; both of which are reflected in their art. 

I saw Kahlo’s painting “The Two Fridas” at The Modern Museum in Mexico City. While there are varying interpretations of the work, my perception was a harrowing portrayal of her married self sitting astride her divorced or authentic self cutting the vein between her two hearts. It moved me to tears.

I was heartbroken that tickets to Frida Kahlo’s museum were sold out during my visit to Mexico City. I have seen a Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of Art. Diego’s work is beautiful. But I feel that Frida’s is more evocative and conjures truly powerful emotions within me. 

I also got a chance to visit “Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo”. Now a museum, this was formerly two separate houses, one belonging to Diego and the other belonging to Frida; which were connected to one another by an elevated bridge. They were designed by famous architect Juan O’Gorman in the Mexican Functionalist style.

The duality continues in both artists' personas. Frida was intriguing as both masculine and feminine. And also as both cultural traditionalist and one who did not conform to the social norms of the day. She is considered by many to be an early feminist. Openly bisexual, many of her paintings touched on miscarriage, birth, and other topics considered taboo at the time.

Diego often displayed a toxic masculinity in contradistinction to his artist’s sensitivity to the plight of people and social injustice. 

Frida and Diego’s stark incongruities were a source of great tension. However their art, passion, and tenacious political beliefs produced an undeniably magnetic energy. 

I think that incongruities are to be expected in any romantic relationship. A week after this trip to Mexico City, my boyfriend and I moved in together. The blending of two separate lives and homes is bound to pose challenges, especially when one of the residents is an interior designer who covets order. Why can’t men understand decorative pillows? 

But through chaos and disparity, something stronger, more beautiful, and harmonious evolves. 

Often in interior design, asymmetry and other contrasting elements create the most interesting spaces. 

Diego and Frida’s houses present the perfect example of this. The bridge between houses creates a uniquely alluring building. And metaphorically, it forever intertwines two very different people. 

The contrasting temples of Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc merge as one beautiful piece of historical architecture.

This blog’s design is a kitchen inspired by my trip. It features various shapes, both geometric and curvilinear. Many elements were inspired by nature, such as the cactus floor lamp. Cactus is abundant in Mexico City. The spiral chandelier calls to mind the spiral staircase at Diego and Frida’s house. And the floral cabinet knobs are reminiscent of Frida’s elaborate hair adornments. 

The soft travertine flooring is a material used in the temple. The chevron mosaic kitchen backsplash is a modern translation of the steps at Templo Mayor. They all lead to a resounding harmony.

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