Art has its own diplomatic currency, and many embassies work hard at the cultural exchange. So don’t sleep on the gems right under your nose.
At the Mexican Cultural Institute, the only talk of walls focused on the art they hold. “Cultural attaches know they can speak directly to the American people through their artists,” says Gustavo Morales, deputy director of the institute, housed in a Beaux-Arts mansion two miles from the White House (2829 16th St. NW) in Columbia Heights. Murals by Roberto Cueva del Río — running up three floors — depict Mexican history in a colorful, Diego Rivera style. Tours of the century-old mansion are available in English and Spanish.
The Spanish Embassy’s cultural program is next door (2801 16 St. NW) in the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain. Begoña Díaz-Urgorri and Edgar González are the respective curators for two exhibits about design by contemporary Spanish architects that run through June 4. “Alternativas/Alternatives” looks at homes, schools and parks in videos and scale models. “Export” centers on Spanish architecture outside the country.
At the light-filled Slovenian Embassy (2410 California St. NW), “History of Ribnica Peddling,”
or woodworking, is on display through June 22. “Though the trade survived 500 years, it’s now in decline because cheaper products are available,” says Borut Zunic, an embassy counselor. “Hopefully, the trend will reverse.”
A few blocks away, the ongoing exhibit “Pearls of Excellence: An Exploration of Haitian Contributions to American Society” adorns the Haitian Embassy’s elegant lobby (2311 Massachusetts Ave. NW). Black-and-white photographs of renowned women, such as author Edwidge Danticat, and the unfamiliar, such as educator Elizabeth Clarisse Lange, are on display. Visitors enter through a rear garden packed with flowering plants and metal sculptures created by artisans from the village of Noailles, north of Port-au-Prince.
“Very often people think first of our poverty and disasters,” says embassy consultant Dave Fils-Aimé, “but we have so much more to share.”