If the heat makes you wish you were sipping lemonade with your feet gently resting on the warm sand, the ocean waves marking the melody of summer and the wind carrying its salty waters all the way to your nostrils—then you may be daydreaming about Mexico. If you can’t make it down south, perhaps you’d enjoy the Bytown Museum’s latest exhibition, México Fantasico! Culture, Diplomacy and Community.
A splendid array of colourful artifacts are presented, including vibrant textiles, clothing, masks and ceramics; all the typical handcrafts and folk art you would expect, which makes sense given the underlying theme and focus of the exhibition is the trade and commerce between Canada and the land of tacos and margaritas.
Beyond the exhibition’s ethnographic approach, however, lies a body of work that’s worth viewing. Sponsored by the Mexican Government, the exhibition does not feature any contemporary artists who can attest to some of its current social and political issues. Although this is an obvious omission, the historical lens aims to celebrate the nation rather than critique it. Folk art as an expression of national identity persists in Mexico to this day and is a testament of the country’s collective psyche. Dense with symbols, the exhibition portrays a dynamic culture whose exports have enriched Canada and the world.
Overshadowed by cultural powerhouses in the capital such as the Museum of Civilization, the National Art Gallery and the Museum of Nature, to name just a few of the national institutions whose mammoth footprints leave little room for small to medium sized museums to make any noise—the Bytown Museum is like an undying concentration of light which shines with dynamic exhibitions and programming.
The location is perfect and its local focus makes it as relevant for tourists as it does for Ottawa’s own. You can walk or bike there and if you’ve never been, the landscape that surrounds this Georgian style stone building is splendid. The view from the docks is beautiful and tranquil, and you can enjoy a coffee on a small two-table patio, the lower locks of the canal by your side. If you come for any of its evening programs (remember, Thursday nights mean free entrance to all public museums, including this one), you can enjoy a view of the sunset over the Museum of Civilization’s curvy body.
The next three Thursdays of August include songs and sounds from Canada’s yesteryear by Ken Ramsden from Freshwater Trade; Ottawa stories from the last 150 years by an emerging local and bilingual theatre crew, Obviously, A Theatre Company; and a back-by-popular-demand soirée with Ottawa StoryTellers. For details, check out the museum’s calendar of events here.