A Chat with BMS Member Chloë Sayer


Chloë Sayer © David Lavender

Chloë Sayer (pictured) is a mine of information about Mexican traditions, textiles and popular art. Since her first visit to Mexico in 1973 she has become a recognised authority, as shown by her beautiful books and the exhibitions she has curated. To top it all, the Mexican government recognised her long-standing commitment to Mexican culture by awarding her the prestigious Ohtli medal in 2016.

Early Life

When I met up with Chloë recently, I asked her what inspired her to visit Mexico. “After university I taught English in Mexico City. I arrived just before the Day of the Dead and was fascinated by  the markets, the offerings and the cemeteries. At that point I knew very little about Mexico and spoke no Spanish as I had been to school at the French Lycée in London and studied French and German literature at Trinity College, Dublin. I stayed in Mexico for three years, learned Spanish and, while teaching private students, took time off to visit festivals, fairs, and craft villages. My students were very understanding!”

Past Achievements

Chloë’s first two books were Crafts of Mexico (1977) and Costumes of Mexico (1985). She has also written books on popular Mexican architecture, dance-masks, the Day of the Dead and other festivals. Her most recent book Mexico: Clothing & Culture (2016) (with contributions by Dr. Alexandra Palmer) was published for the exhibition Chloë guest-curated alongside Dr. Palmer, Senior Curator of Textiles & Costume, at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. Previously, Chloë had studied the ROM’s extensive collection of Mexican textiles as a Research Associate. You can learn a little more about the exhibition here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mj6ezUbjRHE

Chloë’s other impressive achievements include ethnographic collections in Mexico and Belize for the British Museum. 1991 saw her co-curate the exhibition The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico at the Museum of Mankind in London and she has also curated Mexican exhibitions at The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1977), The Horniman Museum, London (1977-78), Trinity College, Dublin (1998), The University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield (1999), and Queen’s University, Belfast (2004). In 2007 she curated a travelling Mexican exhibition for Lancashire County Museum Services, while in 2008 she collaborated with curator Diane Wolfe on Harvest of Memories: Mexican Days of the Dead at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto.

Added to that, Chloë has worked on numerous TV documentaries. These include Of Gods and Men, a six-part series about Mexican civilisations (1979, BBC); Guitarra, an eight-part series about the history of the guitar with Julian Bream (1984, Channel 4); Lucha Libre: Tales of Wrestling, Politics and Religion (1990, Channel 4); Omnibus: Leonora Carrington (1992, BBC); Full Circle (made with Michael Palin in 1996 for the BBC), and Children of the Sun (filmed with the Huichol in 1997 for World of Geo/Sky TV).

Future Plans

With so much under her (beautifully woven, colourful Mexican textile) belt, I asked Chloë about her future plans. We are looking forward very much to her talk on La Tehuana on 21st March. “I have been going to Tehuantepec for many years to document festivities and the very splendid clothing which never ceases to evolve”, she told me.

Later this year she will organise a course on Mexican textiles and ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum. She also plans to lead a cultural tour to Mexico for an Australian company, Academy Travel. The tour will be in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead, and will include visits to the homes of artist-friends. Chloë has reservations about the exploitation of the Day of the Dead festival: “It is becoming more and more commercial, attracting growing numbers of visitors. While many are respectful and understand the serious nature of events, others just see it as an opportunity to party.” Nevertheless, celebrating Mexican culture in all its wonderful variety and colour is what Chloë is about and she will make sure her audiences are well informed.


Tehuana women celebrating the Feast of Santo Domingo in the town of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca (photo © Chloë Sayer)

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