8 Important Mexican Cultural Figures
Between the country’s film, music, art, and jewelry, the effect that Mexico’s creative icons have had on global popular culture is palpable.
Read on to learn about some of Mexico’s most important and iconic cultural figures.
1. Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter active in the mid-20th century and is likely the most famous and influential Mexican painter to have ever lived. Known for her portraits that featured traditional Mexican motifs with a naturalistic bent, her work is known throughout the world as a symbol of hope and empowerment.
While Kahlo was not very prolific with only 150 works in her 47 short years on Earth, she has been a major influence not just on Mexican art — but Mexican culture.
Some of her most famous work includes:
- The Two Fridas
- Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
- Henry Ford Hospital
2. Diego Rivera
Another one of Mexico’s most infamous artists and the husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera was an incredibly influential artist in his own right.
Rivera joined the post-impressionist movement in 1917 and frequently portrayed revolutionary themes in his work. A noted communist, Rivera was commissioned far more often than any of his contemporaries, leading to his standing as likely the best known and historically most celebrated Mexican artist.
Diego holds much esteem in the hearts and minds of Mexicans due to his artistic genius and larger-than-life personality. He is even featured along with Frida on the Mexican $500 bill.
3. Carlos Santana
A rock legend who changed the way that the guitar is played, Carlos Santana is one of the most famous musicians in Mexico’s history.
Born in Autlán, Mexico, Carlos Santana burst onto the scene in the 60s with his band Santana, which blended rock music with Latin jazz to create a hypnotic blend of groovy rock’n roll. His music features soaring yet melodic guitar work over Latin rhythms that are unusual for rock music, particularly in the late 60s and early 70s. You can hear the influence his music had on popular music by listening to everything from the Grateful Dead to Cardi B.
Santana was named the 20th best guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and has won 10 Grammy Awards.
4. Alfonso Cuarón
Born in Mexico City, Alfonso Cuarón is one of the world’s premier film directors and one of the only Mexican-born directors to ever win Best Director at the Academy Awards.
Partial to long takes and constant camera movement, Cuarón is known for his use of camera and framing as an extension of a character’s emotion. While Cuarón is likely best known for the 2013 film, Gravity, his most remarkable film to date is the semi-autobiographical film Roma, which he won Best Director for.
Roma follows a family in upper middle-class Mexico City, and their live-in maid Cleo. The film features many striking shots of the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, and features an indigenous woman, Yalitza Aparicio, in the role of Cleo.
Cuarón is truly one of the most visionary of Mexico’s visual artists.
5. Guillermo del Toro
Another striking visual artist, Guillermo del Toro is likely the most accomplished popular film director in Mexico’s history.
Del Toro’s work features a wide range of styles but is best known for its use of horror or fairy tale motifs. While he wrote and directed many lower-budget Spanish language films such as Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, he is best known for his larger budget, critically acclaimed work such as:
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- The Shape of Water (which won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards)
- Pacific Rim
Del Toro centers many of his works around monsters, and attempts to highlight visual beauty in the grotesque. Religious imagery is often used along with themes of Catholicism, giving his films a uniquely Mexican core.
6. Salma Hayek
One of the best known actresses the world over, Salma Hayek was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. She began her career as the leading woman in the telenovela Teresa, prior to moving to Hollywood in the early 90s. From there, she starred in films such as Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn, and Wild Wild West.
Hayek’s breakout role came in 2002 as the star of the film Frida, which portrayed the brilliant painter Frida Kahlo. She was also a producer of the film and was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.
Hayek is still active in Hollywood, including acting, directing, and producing hit films, as well as launching her own lines of cosmetics.
7. Pancho Villa
Often thought of as a revolutionary symbol in the Mexican Revolution, which was itself an iconic Mexican cultural moment, Pancho Villa came to symbolize the fight against the powers that be.
A bandito who fought against Portofino Diaz’s unfair rule of Mexico through the Mexican Revolution, Villa fought for Nationalistic reasons: land reform and a more equal education system.
Pancho’s myth lives on due to his skilled reputation as a horseman and his assassination in 1923.
8. William Spratling
Also known as the Godfather of Mexican Silver Jewelry, William Spratling revolutionized Mexican silver jewelry and turned it into what we know it as today.
While born in America, Spratling moved to Taxco, Mexico in the late 1920s. Prior to moving to Taxco, Spratling was an architect, writer, and artist. Once in Taxco, Spratling was inspired by the beautiful silver works of the Pre-Columbian era. At this time Taxco did not have a robust silverworking industry. This changed as Spratling began working with locals on jewelry, tea sets, and tableware that incorporated traditional design.
Spratling truly revolutionized how Mexican silver jewelry was thought about throughout the world. By incorporating traditional motifs and designs, he truly brought out the essence of Mexican culture into beautiful, accessible works of art that anybody could own.Learn more about William Spratling.
Experience Mexican culture yourself.
At Mexican Silver Store, we offer silver Mexican jewelry inspired by and in the legacy of William Spratling. We’re proud to continue the tradition of vibrant Mexican culture.
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