Located at the heart of Mexico City in the neighborhood of la Merced, Islera is a new platform for young creators, curators and contemporary art players. At the crossroads of an artist run space and an art center, Islera offers a much needed alternative in a city where blue chip galleries tend to monopolise the attention. I spoke with Islera’s Artistic Director Kristell Henry about Mexico’s thrilling cultural ecosystem, their first exhibition Cronofagia and their plans for the near future.



Chavis Mármol

Courtesy of Islera

Photo: Samantha Avila


  • What is the genesis of the project and how would you define Islera?

Last spring, I was looking for an independent curatorial project where I could send my exhibition proposals. While doing so, I began thinking about my great-grandmother’s house, located in La Merced, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Mexico City. The house has belonged to my family for more than a century and had been used for the last few years as a storehouse for decrepit furniture, dusty religion books and clothes. Alongside with my cousin Violeta Ortega, we began emptying the place by selling and donating everything we could, that took several months. In the meantime, we associated with artists Trilce Zúñiga and Luis Aduna, and more recently with Communication specialist Nicolás García Barraza. Together, we laid the foundations of our project and finally created Islera.
Islera comes from the will to detach from traditional and commercial contemporary art circuits. Our wish is to build a cultural agenda based on two main lines: to offer space and visibility to young or emergent Mexican artists, and to integrate Islera into the rich and thrilling dynamics that belong to La Merced’s cultural territory. All through collaborations, encounters, and workshops accessible to everyone. 


Ylia Bravo Varela

Courtesy of Islera

Photo: Samantha Avila



  • Could you tell us about your name and what it stands for? 

“Islera” has connotations to the word “isla” (island) and that could evoke something that exists separately or aside without being completely isolated. We wanted the name to serve as an invitation to discover this unique space, and Islera sounded to that effect somewhat intriguing, yet friendly and welcoming at the same time.

Here’s a fun fact, Islero was also the name of the fighting bull that allegedly killed famous toreador Manolete. After the fatal incident, Islera -its mother- was sadly sacrificed in order to make sure she “wouldn’t give birth to any more murderers”. Giving to our space the name of an unfairly assassinated cow could come off as slightly ironic, given that the neighborhood specializes – amongst many other things- in retail and wholesale of meat cuts. 

  • Regarding your first exhibition, Cronofagia, where did the idea come from and why it’s so emblematic of Mexican culture? 

Cronofagia is a collective exhibition that explores the relationship between food and individual, historical and collective scales of memory. The neighbourhood is home to the most important , hence most traditional, retail market of Mexico City. In this gigantic place one can find all kinds of fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, grains, candy, meat cuts, dairy products and traditional food.

Islera is open to everyone, we see it as a place for exchanging ideas and a generator of cultural experiences and human connections. It seemed important to start with an accessible subject that points out to common grounds where everyone can recognize themselves. Food worked perfectly as it is a vehicle for shared identity, common experiences and local culture. 



Ingesta Corp.

Courtesy of Islera

Photo: Samantha Avila


  • Could you tell us about the artists in the exhibition and their artistic practice?

The exhibition brings together the works of eight young emergent Mexican artists, 4 women and 4 men:

Beth Barbosa defines herself as a “multidisciplinary artist and closeted cook”. Her practice is strongly influenced by analog archives, nostalgia, food, family recipes and includes video, installation, sculpture and painting. These operate as tools that allow her to strengthen and entertain emotional ties with the past and her ancestors.

Through different media such as photography, drawing, Graphic arts, ceramic, textile and embroidery, Ylia Bravo Varela’s practice explores individual and collective learning processes and techniques. She is currently focused on Nature and gardens, teaching and learning techniques applied to children, community-based and food sovereignty projects, natural dyes and writing. 

The work of Irving Cruz is mainly pictorial and addresses geopolitical issues borrowing elements from political cartoon, satire, and media sensationalism and picturing where cultural insensibility takes an active part. The artist seeks to represent the absurdity in his painting using a a dark color palette with which he achieves phantasmagorical and oniric shapes. 

In her most recent work, Circe Irasema considers the sentimental value of certain commercial articles of her youth and the memories she has of their consumption, to further reflect on the notion that consumerism might have a big influence on the construction of our identities. Through a series of hyperrealistic paintings, she explores the tension between popular culture and art.


Beth Barbosa

 Courtesy of Islera

Photo: Samantha Avila


Paulina Lozano’s work is focused on painting and specifically oil painting. In her work, she usually approaches the local themes and cultural subtleties of Mexico City and is particularly interested in food culture and taco culture. Through a formalist aesthetic, she produces colorful and dynamic still-lives where she deconstructs colors, shapes and textures related to tacos and traditional Mexican food. 

Chavis Mármol masters tools and materials like few others: this has led him to work through an extensive variety of media such as painting, sculpture, metal and woodworking or even textile. By mixing techniques, ideas and concepts, he manages to produce highly symbolic pieces that translate a very refreshing view – often critical yet rarely exempt of humor – on contemporary issues. 

Ingesta Corp. is a creative duo formed in 2018 by Javier Gutiérrez Navarro and Darío Meléndez. Their research focuses on revising ancestral traditions or references by the means of playful and food-related devices set up in public spaces. Within their practice, food and raw materials are used to convey ritual meaning and symbolic actions.


Circe Irasema

Courtesy of Islera

Photo: Samantha Avila



  • You have worked in the contemporary art arena both in France and in Mexico, what is your perspective in terms of the market and what is Islera’s role within the Mexican art landscape?

The current health crisis will certainly change a lot of things, and it seems difficult at this point to formulate a reliable market analysis. One thing I can say is that moving back to Mexico has allowed me to confirm the expectations that motivated this important decision: the Mexican art scene is characterized by its diversity and young spirit, which makes it a very fertile ground for new artistic proposals and independent initiatives. Encounters with inspiring and tirelessly creative people have been crucial for starting this project, as well as the thrilling and chaotic energy you find yourself wrapped in when living in Mexico City. 

Independent art spaces play an essential role within the city’s art structure, and Islera’s main purposes are to extend the artistic community beyond the usual spheres of experts and initiated. We are interested in discovering and promoting emergent talents that are important from a cultural point of view, and not only from an aesthetic or commercial angle. Our motivation is to find better ways to listen and to communicate with the most diverse audiences, starting of course with La Merced’s community. In terms of artistic proposal, we maintain a spirit open to experimentation and to collaboration between different cultural agents. Islera is a place for everyone and we want everyone to feel welcome. 


Paulina Lozano

Courtesy of Islera

Photo: Samantha Avila



  • What are you doing to cope with the lockdown and how are things unfolding for Islera?

Like everyone else, we’re currently on total standby and facing a highly uncertain outlook : it’s hard to predict today how things are going to evolve and when will all this be over. Like many others, we had to cancel and postpone some projects and events that were planned for the spring. We are hoping to reactivate Cronofagia at some point, for those who weren’t able to assist before the isolation began. For now, we continue working from home in our summer agenda, which will consist on two short individual exhibitions (if the pandemic allows it) and preparing our very exciting “back to school” projects for next fall. 

We will of course keep you posted through our social media! 




Irving Cruz

Courtesy of Islera

Photo: Samantha Avila





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