About me

Early Academic and Professional Years

I was born in Mexico City, however, when I was a toddler my family moved to the nearby city of Puebla. For this reason, all my studies, including my B.A., were done in academic institutions located in or around Puebla. In 1998, I was in my last year of high school and after listening to an inspiring lecture given by an art historian I joined the B.A. program of History of Art at the Universidad de las Américas in Puebla (UDLA-P).

My years as an undergraduate student at the UDLA-P were marked by hard work. It was during this period that I developed my critical thinking and a preference for Mexican Colonial Art as a research subject. Professor Stephen Vollmer, an avid collector and researcher of Mexican Art fostered the latter with his enthusiastic class trips to 16th Century Convents in central Mexico. The former, however, was mainly nourished  my B.A. tutor, M.A. Laurence Le Bouhellec Guyomar, a French philosopher and Art Historian who open my eyes to relativism, postmodernism and deconstruction. Moreover, Professor Le Bouhellec was the first one to introduce me to the images of dead nuns produced in Colonial Mexico, which has been a permanent research interest throughout my academic career.

There were two important experiences that had a profound impact in me during my undergraduate years. The first one was an international exchange at the Istituto per l’Arte e il Restauro Palazzo Spinelli in Florence (Italy) during the summer of 2001. The opportunity to study iconic European artworks in their context and of attending lectures in another language was extremely motivating. It opened my mind to different ways of looking and understanding art and material culture. The second one was the opportunity to work as an intern in two Mexican cultural associations before graduating. During the summer of 2002 I joined the Department of Special Projects at Fomento Cultural Banamex, one of the most important cultural associations of Mexico which sponsors major art exhibits, projects of conservation and cultural publications. The work at Fomento Cultural Banamex introduced me to the strict work ethics of major private institutions and to the wide range of projects available to work within my field. The following fall and all through the spring of 2003, I had the opportunity to gain even more working experience at the Cultural Council of the UDLA-P. I was named assistant of the Vice-President of the council and my most important contribution was the development of a prototype catalogue for the UDLA-P Art Collection.

Finally, in the summer of 2003 I graduated with honours and at the top of my class, this helped me get a position as researcher at one of the local museums, the Amparo Museum. This museum has one of the most important collections of pre-Hispanic art in Mexico and also has important pieces of Colonial, Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art. Although my time at the Amparo Museum was short due to my interest in studying an M.A., it was an extremely valuable. It taught me, in practice, the way Museums function within the socio-economical tissue.

Brighton and Madrid

In the fall of 2004 I left Mexico because I was accepted at the M.A. program at the Department of Art History at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK. Coincidentally, my brother was studying his master across the street, at the University of Brighton. For this reason, although it was the first time I was living alone away from Mexico, I still kept a strong connection with my country and my family.

My time as a master student in England was illuminating in many ways. Academically, the most important thing I learned at the master was how to use of alternative theoretical frameworks to investigate art products (i.e. postcolonial theory, gender studies, etc.). And I also had the opportunity to work under the supervision of Dr. Nigel Llewellyn for my M.A. dissertation. He has done extensive research on funerary art in England and his work later inspired my Ph.D. project.

Furthermore, during my year in Brighton I met my husband, Tom Froese. His completely different way of thinking and his Germanic-Philippine manners proved to be a winner combo. He now has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science and his wide range of interests (Artificial Intelligence, Archaeology, Biology and Art) has allowed us to explore the mind and the world together.

In the fall of 2005, after finishing my M.A. studies I moved to Madrid becuase I was awarded with an Endesa Scholarship. This grant funded a nine-month apprenticeship at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) sponsored by the Fundación Endesa, Fundación Duques de Soria and the Ministry of Culture of Spain. I was assigned to the Department of Registry and to the Coordination of Temporary Exhibits at the MNCARS. The year in Madrid and the work at the MNCARS was one of the most exciting times in my life. At the beginning I was directly involved in registry duties. This gave m the opportunity to interact with museum conservators, museographers, insurance companies and even with transport companies. It was a really hands on the matter approach to the artworks. Afterwards, after proving to be quite efficient supervising the installation and dismounting of exhibitions, I began to work exclusively for the Coordination of Temporary Exhibits. Thanks to my English skills and assertiveness soon I was helping the main coordinators to deal with private lenders, European and American Museums and Institutions, and even with the artists and their families. I am especially proud of the Gordon Matta-Clark Exhibit at the MNCARS (July 4th – October 16th 2006), in which I was recognized as a co-coordinator in the presentation to the media and in the catalogue edited by the museum, due to the hard work invested in the project.

Back to England and Ph.D. process

After the work experience in Madrid I applied for a position in the Ph.D. program at the History of Art Department of University College London (UCL), UK. I was accepted and thanks to a grant awarded by the Mexican Science and Technology Council (CONACyT) I was able to start my research project in the fall of 2006. Returning to London had a lot of advantages due to the vast academic resources offered by the city.

From the onset, I was interested in analysing the representations of death in Mexican Colonial Art as my main research project. I was not sure about the approach, however. It was until the end of my second year that it became clear to me that I wanted to complement conventional iconographic and iconological analysis previously done on these artworks by incorporating alternative theoretical tools. Accordingly, I opted for constructing the theoretical framework of my thesis using postcolonial theory and historical materialism. By doing so, I intend to investigate the complex nature of the novo-Hispanic mortuary and memorial paintings and challenge the tendency of oversimplify them as simple copies of European models. I was extremely lucky to work with Dr. Tom Gretton in this project. He has done extensive research on Nineteenth-century Mexican print culture and has a very clear understanding of Mexican art and history.

Tokyo and the Japan experience

In 2010 my husband was awarded with a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) fellowship at the University of Tokyo. For this reason, at the end of that year we moved to Tokyo so he could start his placement. Although moving to Japan proved to be challenging in many ways, by early 2011 we were already adapting to life in the suburbs of Tokyo. That was until 11th March, 2011. On this day, the area of Tohoku in North-East Japan was hit by one of the most powerful earthquakes registered to date. The earthquake was followed by a devastating Tsunami which killed more than 15,000 people and triggered a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Energy Plant.

In Tokyo the earthquake rattled buildings for approximately six minutes. I was alone at our home that day and unfortunately I had no training in earthquake response at the time. I must confess it was a horrific experience. Although most of the foreign nationals left Japan in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, we decided to stay and just move for a few days to the area of Kansai to avoid the radioactive contamination heading to Tokyo. By the end of March, however, we travelled to Europe to escape the continuous aftershocks and the general chaos originated by the nuclear threat. Unfortunately these dramatic experiences combined with the stress caused by the Ph.D. and the relocation to Japan severely affected me. For this reason, I will always regard 2011 as one of the hardest years at a personal level.

Fortunately, 2012 has been a brighter year. I have recovered in large degree my health and I have managed to finish writing up my thesis (right now I am in the process of revising the style and format before submitting it for its final evaluation).

I also have started to enjoy and explore in depth the nature, art and culture of Japan. These   explorations have proof to be quite satisfactory and also opened new research and personal interests. Currently I am very interested in Japanese votive tablets produced during the 18th and 19th Centuries. I have collected some pictures of these peculiar images and in a future I intend to make a comparative study between these Japanese artworks and the religious votive tablets (ex-votos) produced in Mexico during the same period.

Iliana Mendoza Villafuerte

Tokyo, July 2012

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