The Rebozo in Art, Culture & Fashion

“The rebozo reflects the intersection of native culture, the colonial era, and contemporary and political life in Mexico.” –FTM  ‘Made in Mexico’ Exhibit

Last week, the SALSA crew headed to London to check out the #MadeInMexico exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. The exhibition revolves around the rebozo, a type of Mexican shawl, and its role in Mexican culture – from baby carrier to high fashion item. Made in Mexico explores the key role textiles have played in promoting Mexican culture worldwide from the 17th century to the present day.

Most people know the rebozo thanks to Frida Kahlo – who was rarely seen without a shawl adorning her shoulders. Kahlo used clothing to hide her ‘imperfections’, and in turn created an iconic image that reflected not only her own creative and colourful spirit but that of Mexico and Mexican culture. Sixty years on from her death, Kahlo remains a fashion icon and is a continual inspiration for designers; Jean Paul Gaultier dedicated an entire runway show to Kahlo in 1998.

This exhibition was particularly interesting to Eilidh from a research point of view as her work engages directly with the rebozo in Mexican American family life. She got interested in this aspect of Mexican culture and heritage after reading this section from Sandra Cisneros’ Caramelo:

CarameloThe rebozo was born in Mexico, but like all mestizos, it came from everywhere. It evolved from the cloths Indian women used to carry their babies, borrowed its knotted fringe from Spanish shawls, and was influenced by the silk embroideries from the imperial court of China exported to Manila, then Acapulco, via the Spanish galleons. During the colonial period, mestizo women were prohibited by statutes dictated by the Spanish Crown to dress like Indians, and since they had no means to buy clothing like the Spaniards’, they began to weave cloth on the indigenous looms creating a long and narrow shawl that slowly was shaped by foreign influences. [1]


The rebozo weaves together so many of the threads that make up Mexican and Mexican American culture – mestizaje, Indias, migration, colonialisation, indígenas, family, faith, and folklore. It was incredible to get to see so many examples of this wonderful garment and piece of cultura right down the road in London. Getting to see them here, brought from the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City; the Museum of Textiles, Oaxaca; the British Museum, and rebozos from private collections that have never been shown in public before. Also getting to see the work of contemporary Mexican and UK artists, photographers, fashion and textile designers – their new work created in response to the rebozo and Mexican textiles – including Francisco Toledo, Graciela Iturbide, Carla Fernandez, Zandra Rhodes and Kaffe Fassett.

Mamaz Colectivo

This wonderful piece by the Mamaz Colectivo tells the story of the rebozo’s many uses by the people of Oaxaca. MAMAZ is a non-profit women’s art collective, headquartered in Oaxaca, Mexico. Their projects focus on bringing together women whom share and teach each other about what is happening in the local area. Their mantra is to use art as means of expression and as a form of social activism. Eilidh was drawn to this piece in particular because it reminded her of the beautiful jumpers and dresses that her Dad brought her and her sister back from his trip to Ecuador.

For Becky it was the modern interpretation of the rebozo within the fashion industry–new takes on the designs and wearability show the rebozo’s versatility, glamour and elegance. The hope is that redesigning or re-imagining the rebozo will generate increased interest in the shawl and encourage younger generations to invest in the long and laborious process of making rebozos. The average time to make a traditionally woven rebozo is thirty to sixty days with anywhere from 15 to 200 different steps, depending on how complicated the design is and the type of fibre being used. But as you can see, and as many makers (and wearers) of the rebozo know, the final product is well worth the time and effort spent. Go see the exhibit and experience some of the richness that Mexico and Mexican culture has to offer.

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‘The rebozo has been–and continues to be–a resilient emblem of Mexican identity’ –FTM  ‘Made in Mexico’ Exhibit

Exhibit Open 6 June – 31 August 2014

Tuesday to Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Thursdays until 8pm
Sundays, 11am–5pm
Last admission 45 minutes before closing
Closed Mondays

Tickets may be purchased in person on the day of the visit.

£8.80 adults
£6.60 concessions
£5.50 students
Book online or call 0844 248 5076


[1]Cisneros, Sandra, Caramelo (London: Bloomsbury, 2003), p.96

Also massive gracias to Nicole, Jon, & Adam for hosting The SALSA Collective’s trip : )

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