Art is more than a business for Lucia Crespi; it is a passion.
Crespi opened La Galeria Lamanai near the entrance of Akumal Beach nearly 20 years ago after being immersed in the art world of Belize and stints living in Sweden, Guatemala, and the United States.
Visiting the gallery, perched close to the Caribbean shoreline and nestled behind palm trees, is a curated experience. Follow the signs and beyond the ocean tour guides to discover a gallery that takes you out of the ordinary.
La Galeria Lamanai features Mexican contemporary and folk art. It also sells paintings, sculptures, textiles, ceramics, and sculptural turquoise, amber and other natural gemstones set in silver.
If you are looking for one-of-a-kind art that represents the spirit, people, and culture of Mexico, La Galeria Lamanai is for you.
A sculpture of a yawning pink hippopotamus stands in front of a pious angel with a red dress and silver wings. Figurines of dancing fuchsia dragons and cats playing musical instruments are below a wooden cross with a carved heart at its center.
Much of the art showcased in the gallery comes from the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guererro, which are on the Pacific side of the country.
“A lot of great art comes from being pushed into a corner,” Crespi said. “Mexico was conquered. They were forced to believe things. The best way they could express themselves was through art.”
The Spanish conquest of Guererro was particularly brutal, and it is not coincidental that it is also the place where Mexican folk art flourishes.
“There was a lot of protest in Mexican art and a lot of dreaming because they were oppressed,” Crespi said. “There are a lot of colorful animals, for example, because they believe that each of us has a spirit animal. We turn into our spirit animals when we need to when we are being conquered.”
Even within the art of protest, Crespi said, there is a lot of repetitive work. She looks for artists who convey their interpretation of indigenous art. She brings the work of 200 artists from Mexico, Cuba, and Italy in the gallery, including Crescencio Rojas, Hugo Tovar, Jose Sainz, Juan Rojas, and Nestor Mechor.
Most prominently displayed is the art of Jacobo Angeles, a Mexican artisan from Oaxaca who is known for his wooden figures of fantastical animals painted in bright, bold colors and intricate patterns.
“There is passion behind it,” Crespi said, explaining the uniqueness of La Galeria Lamanai. “To quote an artist we worked with for years who died recently, ‘Art makes you happy.’”