Hello from Cuernavaca – Opening of a South African photo exhibition and a visit to the Palacio de Cortes

After my visit of the Newcomers Club I took a taxi to the Museo de la Ciuadad which is located directly about the Tourist Office of the City of Cuernavaca. There I connected with some colleagues from the Ideal Language School where I had been taking language classes this past week.

The Museum of the City was the location of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a special exhibition by two South African photo journalists, Dr. Peter Magubane and Omar Badsha. The photo exhibition was appropriately called Dos Lentes – Dos Visiones – Una Experiencia, “Two Lenses – Two Visions – One Experience”.

Hand-painted poster for the exhibition

Dr. Peter Magubane was born in a suburb of Johannesburg and found himself drawn to photography early on. He was inspired by the photographers of Drum Magazine and started his work in 1955 with his first job covering the convention of the African National Congress. In 1958 he was the first black person to receive a photography prize in the country. He was arrested in 1969 while covering the protests outside of Winnie Mandela’s prison cell and was prohibited from practicing his profession for the next 5 years.

Dr. Magubane is an independent South African reporter and photojournalist whose credits include UNICEF and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. He is the only black South African photographer who was able to enter and document the events in other African countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. He also worked as a photographer for the Rand Daily Mail. He gained international recognition during the June 16, 1976 uprising and won various prizes in the fields of photography and jouralism.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony begins

Omar Badsha was born in 1945 as part of a Muslim Gujarati family. His grand-parents had emigrated from India to South Africa towards the end of the 1890s. Badsha is a celebrated artist and self-taught photographer and played a very important role in the South African fight for human rights. During the 1970s he was part of small, but select group of union activists and in 1987 he and his family moved to Cape Town to create the “Center of Documentary Photography” at the University of Cape Town.

He is one of the founding members of the Cultural Workers Congress and was also a key member of the legendary independent agency and photographers collective called Afrapix. This agency played a critical role during the 1980s in documenting the fight against apartheid. Currently Omar Badsha is working on a retrospective exhibition and educational project about the history of South Africa.

Pooveshnee Reddy from the South African embassy explains some of the photos

A woman by the name of Pooveshnee Reddy from the South African embassy came out to introduce the exhition. She cut the ribbon and gave us some background on the exhibition. The photos were very gripping, images of apartheid, racial segregation, a young black boy – dead and covered by a newspaper, a photo collage consisting of a poor black shantytown and an upscale neighbourhood just blocks away really gave us a taste of what apartheid must have been like. But there were also images of celebration, when apartheid came down, and an image of a boy jumping through the air. A reminder that sometimes the happiest moments can be experienced by the people who have the least…..

Carriage on display in the Palacio de Cortes

After this stirring photographic exhibit I took the bus downtown, where I exited at the Zócalo and ate in a little local restaurant for $5. Then at 3 pm I headed to the Palacio de Cortés for a guided tour together with 3 members of a music quartet from Prague (Czech Republic) who were in town for a concert tonight.

The Palacio de Cortés is a former residence of Mexican’s conquistador, Hernán Cortés, who invaded the country in 1519 and in three short years had conquered it and along with it destroyed the Aztec empire of Moctezuma. With his palace he left a lasting legacy in Cuernavaca, which was originally called Cuahnahuac (“Place of great trees”) by the local Tlahuica Indians. The Spaniards renamed it Cuernavaca (“Cow’s horn”) since that was easier to pronounce.

Mummy in the Cuahnahuac Museum

The Palacio de Cortés is also called the Museo de Cuahnahuac and is located on the southeast side of Cuernavaca’s Plaza de Armas. Cortés began building the structure in 1526 and lived in the palace for several years until he returned to Spain in 1540, never to set foot in Mexico again.

The building was later used as a prison, a Catholic Church and also as the seat of the Morelos State Legislature. The building’s salons display a variety of pre-Hispanic and colonial artefacts including carriages, furniture, farm implements, even a suit of armor. One of the exhibition rooms holds a Indian mummy in an open casket, well-preserved and a somewhat eerie sight. On the top floor there is also an arched gallery holding one of muralist Diego Rivera’s most renowned works: the mural Historia de Morelos, Conquista y Revolución (“History of Morelos, Conquest and Revolution”) which is intended too summarize the history of the State of Morelos.

Diego Rivera mural in the Palacio de Cortés

After this historical education, I went to an Internet café, and finally took a bus to the Plan de Ayala residential area where I picked up my orthotic inserts to help me with my inflamed ankle. The ability to walk is crucial for a travel writer/ photographer like me, so I am hoping that these orthopedic inserts will do the trick. Right across the street I went into a supermarket and bought some bananas, mangoes, a bottle of pop, Doritos, and went back to my comfortable accommodation at La Nuestra. By 7:30 pm I had arrived, taken off my shoes and was relaxing by the pool, listening to the wonderful song of tropical birds.

I read a little but I was physically exhausted. The last few days have been a whirlwind of experiences and I definitely need a bit of downtime. I think I am going to sleep a bit before I write up today’s stories…

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