The boxed worlds of Oscar Becerra

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Becerra with wrestling themed box in progress.

Oscar Becerra is both  an artisan and anthropologist, who combines the two worlds to create windows on Mexican history and culture. While studying at the National School of Anthropology and History, he discovered working with paper mache (cartoneria), developing it first as a hobby. It quickly became something more than that, and by the time he graduated in 2003, he was already selling traditional items such as alebrijes in the trendy San Angel neighborhood of Mexico City.

Becerra continued selling on his own until 2006, when the opening of the Museo de Arte Popular in the capital offered him not only another venue for sales, but a teaching career as well. The maestro has been teaching children, adults and fellow artisans here ever since. His teaching has expanded international, giving classes, workshops and exhibitions in the United States, Canada and Poland.

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Its the attention to detail that makes these exceptional (credit: Oscar Becerra)

One aspecto of Becerra’s work which makes him unique is the creation of miniature scenes and other arrangement in boxesm which strive to depiect aspects of everyday Mexican life, both past and present. These are multimedia pieces, using paper, metal, paste, wood, pottery and more. Most of the materials are recycled, such as metal from cans, wood from shipping containers, but they are all heavily worked so that it is difficult-to-impossible to tell that the materials are not new. Another important aspect to these pieces is that there is great attention to detail, which include real or reproduced pulque menues, boxing and lucha libre posters, furniture styles, glasses and more. Often, miniatures made by other artisans, such as dishes are included as well.

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Lucha libre ring with figure in progress

He has created scenes such as traditional barbershops, circuses, bars, sports. Almost all are contained in a wood or other stiff boxes, either made by him or those used to ship goods such as dried cod. This box is finished and painted, with the front covered in glass. The use of wood and glass instead fo cardboard gives the piece a heft and seriousness that it might not otherwise have.

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Becerra and Castillo with Las Chicas (credit: Oscar Becerra)

In 2014, the Mexican Cultural Center in Denver commissioned Becerra to make a series of these scenes in relation to Day of the Dead. In 2015, he paired with Ruben Miguel Castillo Navarrete, an artist specializing in vitreus enamel, to create a boxed scene focusing on cartoneria Lupita dolls, representing the Seven Deadly Sins, Mexican style. This piece was exhibited at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City.

All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia unless otherwise indicated.

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