Located in the state of Hidalgo in Mexico, a couple hours north from the capital, is the city of Pachuca. It is by no means a particularly touristic city — in fact, there are few attractions bringing visitors from within the country or from abroad. The one exception is the park David Ben Gurion, a park dedicated to one of the founders of the state of Israel. The reason that the park is such an interesting place is its massive mosaic art.
The mosaic art is called “Homenaje a la Mujer del Mundo,” which translates to Homage to the Woman of the World. Measuring 1,300 feet in length by 260 feet in width, it is made up of around 7 million tiles in 12 different sizes and 45 colors. This makes it the largest pedestrian mural in the world. Construction for the mosaic began in 2001, but the mural was not inaugurated until March 13, 2005 (along with the rest of the park).
Also in the park, just off one side of the mosaic art, is the Mexican Football Hall of Fame and the World of Football interactive center, both of which are housed in a giant soccer ball. At one ends of the mosaic is an auditorium and at the other the central library of the state. Behind the library is a range of hills. All these features frame the mural, making it feel even more impressive. It is also important to consider how culture surrounds the mosaic, as the artist’s intent was to create a center for cultural activities.
The mosaic art managed to withstand regular foot traffic for several years, including from crowds of people attending open air events like concerts. However, it was impossible to keep the mural in impeccable condition — it was constantly losing tiles here and there and even experiencing large cracks. This led to a shabby appearance over time. To combat the problem, the government of the state of Hidalgo invested more than 900,000 MXN (about $47,500) into the mural. Its restoration took place over three months in 2013.
Woman of the World
Although it is called Homage to the Woman of the World, the mosaic art actually consists of 2,080 different figures. These form various geometric shapes, coming together in 16 modules. In this way, the mosaic represents not just one woman but femininity in general through a variety of depictions of women in abstract form.
When looking at the mosaic art from ground level, it is difficult to see what it portrays, although you can still appreciate the complexity of the work. Plus, it is in some cases possible to tell where one module turns into another due to the changing colors. Both the auditorium and the library have steps leading up to them, which provides a better view of the mural. However, the best way of all to see the artwork is to use a drone or even to look at aerial photos. This allows you to see how spectacular the mosaic is and how each of the smallest details are critical.
Byron Galvez: The Artist
The mosaic art (and, indeed, the park itself) was designed by artist Byron Galvez. He was born in 1941 in Mixquiahuala, a rural town in the state of Hidalgo, just over an hour away from Pachuca. He had an uncommon upbringing, as his father was a jazz musician and a reader of literature — in fact, Galvez is named after Lord Byron. All this provided Galvez with a love of culture from an early age.
Galvez studied painting in Mexico City, both at undergraduate and graduate level (although he never finished his degree). Before his very first individual exhibition had even opened, he sold all the paintings he was going to show. Many went to American actor Vincent Price, who famously called Galvez the “Mexican Picasso.” This is an accurate description, as Galvez was inspired to take the cubism of Picasso to another level in his own art.
Although Galvez was primarily a painter (especially of oil paintings on canvas) and a sculptor (with a focus on metals and geometric shapes), he is best known for Homage to the Woman of the World. The mosaic is also Galvez’s largest, most visible piece of work and one of the most representative of his style, which has been described as expressionism mixed with abstract or abstract figurativism. The mural uses themes present in much of his other work, particularly the use of female figures with a disconnect from reality in terms of their physical form.
Galvez died in 2009, making Homage to the Woman of the World his last project. He received 15 awards for his work during his lifetime. In addition, the cultural center in his hometown was named after him and he received a merit medal by the state governor, both posthumously. You can find Galvez’s other work in various major collections throughout Mexico as well as in many places in the U.S. He has a mural sculpture in Los Angeles and a mural in National Conservatory of Music in Mexico.
Other Mosaics in Mexico
Homage to the Woman of the World is far from the only mosaic art of note in Mexico. A few others worth a mention include the following.
UNAM Central Library
On the walls of the central library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) is an impressive mosaic art. Created by Juan O’Gorman, a Mexican artist, the mosaic covers all four walls of the building. Using colored tiles in natural tones, it depicts the history of Mexico, starting in pre-Hispanic times, moving through the conquest, and finally arriving at the modern era. The library and its mosaic, along with the rest of the central campus, is a World Heritage site.
The former home of art collector Dolores Olmedo in Acapulco features three mosaics by Diego Rivera on its exterior walls. These are some of the last works of Rivera, finished in 1957 — the year of his death. They include images of the Aztec gods Quetzalcoatl (a serpent) and Tlaloc (god of rain). The work is called Exekatkalli, which means House of Winds in the indigenous language Nahuatl — the name appears in mosaic form on the mural. There are also three more mosaics inside the house, although these cannot be seen by the public.
Tlaloc Fountain is another mosaic art by Diego Rivera: this, one of his strangest works of art. It is located in Chapultepec forest, the largest green urban space in the Western Hemisphere. The work features a basin measuring about 100 feet in length and width with a sculpture in mosaic of Tlaloc lying outstretched within the water.
The fountain was built between 1950 and 1952, but it fell into ruin and was closed to the public for a full decade in the early 2000s. Finally, in 2010, it was repaired in a way to keep it as close to the original as possible. The one main difference is that the water from the Lerma River used to come through the fountain before heading to the main reservoirs of the city. Now, the water is redirected into a pipe instead. This is to keep the water from entering a tank behind the fountain, as the tank also features a mural by Rivera (although this one is painted).
If you decide to visit Homage to the Woman of the World, you can come any day of the year. The park is permanently open, with no opening times.