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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

Florencia Denti

Florencia Denti was born and raised in Mexico City. She studied a BA in Industrial Design at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico which enabled her to work on a wide range of projects related to art, technology and design, including the development of a project for the Mexican General Archive (AGN) creating new technology experiences to bring audiences closer to museums, designing bamboo bicycles and working together with an artist developing electronic textiles.

Florencia is interested in photography, particularly analogue processes, and studied at the Escuela Activa de Fotografia in Mexico City. She still practises it as a hobby today. In 2013 she moved to London where she had the opportunity to explore multiple fields; inspired by the city's cultural diversity, she decided to deepen her knowledge of material culture and photography and joined the V&A/RCA MA History of Design. In her work she explores topics such as feminism, social and cultural changes in crafts and analogue processes, and the importance of inclusivity in arts and design.

Florencia had the opportunity of doing a 6-month placement at the V&A Museum where she contributed as a researcher for multiple projects including the OSPAAAL Solidarity and Design (Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America) exhibition and published an article, 'Che Guevara in OSPAAAL Posters', on the V&A's website. This opportunity has motivated her to pursue further opportunities in research and curatorial fields. In 2022 Florencia also joined the UK Mexican Arts Society as a trustee and hopes that she has opportunities to work further with other Mexican and Latin American artists.

Photo and design: Alina Kiliwa

Mexican Rotulos: Commercial Muralism

Hand-painted commercial signs, better known as rotulos in Mexico, became common after the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920, when businesses started trading again. They are used as a visual aid to sell products, advertise, or simply embellish storefronts. Though anonymous, many of these signs display great artistic skill. Sign-makers are not instructed in the canons of academia, they acquire their knowledge as an apprentice of someone who has been working in this field for years, and they normally address customers from a similar social background as themselves.

In a contemporary urban landscape literally covered in logos and advertisements from big corporations, rotulos stand out because of their humorous messages and colourful letters and caricatures. Rotulos are part of the vernacular language with which people offer services, products and express themselves; in addition, they represent a living catalogue of what takes place in the city, from a record of what people eat (a gastronomic history archive) to an urban navigation aid for those who don’t speak the language or know how to read.

This signage has permeated the art world. Contemporary artists have retaken not only their iconography, typographies and chromatic language but also the medium from which they come. Many photographers, designers and creatives have captured their beauty (or lack of it) because they are key elements of the cityscape of Mexico. Today they are appreciated as nostalgic elements that capture the daily spirit of a Mexico that is dying out due to the digital era associated with modernity. Despite being painted on street stalls, rotulos are not ephemeral murals, rather they are painted to last a lifetime, or at least for as long as the business endures. For this reason, the signs are also a constant source of employment as from time to time the signs must be restored. Long term, this method results in a greater resilience than digital printing and is more sustainable too.

Sign painting is not only an essential part of Mexico City's public space but also an important component of its visual culture. Many of us consider it an expression of popular art that should be studied, protected, and documented. With the elimination of the signs, not only are their authors insulted and the stalls are depersonalised, but we are also deprived of the right to a diverse market that is inclusive and representative of the popular sector of Mexican society. The dissertation traces the history and identity of this dying trade and examines the more recent challenges affecting rotulos production, the way they are being consumed and their future.

Image. Design is Popular too Photo and design by Alina Kiliwa.