By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The late 19th century and early 20th century writer and critic José Juan Tablada (1871-1945) is generally considered to be the Father of Modern Mexican Poetry.
The son of a well-heeled businessman, he travelled abroad throughout much of his early life, living briefly in both Paris and New York.
But it was Tablada’s obsession and fascination with Japan – which he visited for several months in 1900 — that most influenced his work.
In fact, taking inspiration in Japanese writing styles, Tablada not only introduced the haiku poetry form in Mexico, but completely revolutionized traditional Mexican poetry with the 1894 publication of his first major work “Onix,” a rhythmic and complex verse inspired in Asian philosophy.
An avid collector, Tablada compiled numerous artifacts and works of art during his time in the Land of the Rising Sun, includuing paintings, sketches, photographs and sculptures, as well as several hand-illustrated books.
That collection – titled “Pasajero 21, el Japón de Tablada” (“Passenger 21, Tablada’s Japan”) and composed of more than 90 original pieces – is currently on display at the National Fine Arts Palace Museum in downtown Mexico City through Oct. 13.
The exhibit – never before presented in its entirety – explores the relationship between Tablada and Japanese culture and how he incorporated Asian values into his own writings.
Divided into four nuclear sections by curator Amaury A. García Rodríguez, head of the Colegio de México’s Center for the Study of Asia and Africa, “Pasajero 21” outlines Tablada’s progressive indoctrination into Japanese culture and art, reflecting aspects of both his personal and professional life.
It also shows how Tablada influenced other Mexican artists and thinkers by introducing them to Japan through his writings and collections.
Among the artist represented in the exhibit are: Katsushika Hokusai, Hiroshige Utagawa, Toyohara Kunichika, Watanabe Shōtei, Ohara Koson, Utagawa Kunisada, Miguel Covarrubias and, ofcourse, José Juan Tablada himself.