Jesús Mendiola and Emma Zahonero (MV Arte): “Tarraco Viva created a new way of explaining history”

Jesús Mendiola i Emma Zahonero, de MV Arte. / ©Rafael López-Monné
Jesús Mendiola and Emma Zahonero, of MV Arte. / ©Rafael López-Monné

They spend most of their time with relics, busts and temples, and even a mummy but, behind their artistic concept, there’s the vision of someone who presents culture with a depth charge: invocation to essences in order to provide an answer to fundamental questions for our period. This project by Jesús Mendiola and Emma Zahonero is known as MV Arte, a workshop specialized in preserving and restoring works of art, responsible in the last few years of spectacular creations for the Tarraco Viva, the Roman history re-enactment festival of Tarragona.

Jesús and Emma’s speciality is a meticulous use of visual arts techniques usually used back in the Antiquity, high-level artistic and pedagogic demonstrations that are much more than what we can see, and that provide the festival with content. Two years ago, MV Arte really made a difference when bringing the original colours back to the Augusto de Prima Porta, thanks to an intense previous work. In 2016, the workshop is back again with a number of pieces that will help users experience a cultural fusion that took place in Egypt 2,000 years ago, under the rule of Rome.

August de Prima Porta
Augusto de Prima Porta

Cultural fusion is the antithesis of imposition, the trend that is furthest to seduction, which is the history dissemination process adopted by the festival, and that has allowed it to be known to the public. “Tarragona is a city with an enviable legacy, not just from the Roman period, and its patrimony has proved that it could become a trademark with a capacity to generate resources. And that’s thanks to the Tarraco Viva, which created a new way of explaining history, with narrations of incredibly varied subjects, and gathered experts from different disciplines all at once”, explains Emma. Over 100.000 spectators per year prove this project is a true success.

Zahonero and Mendiola met while taking part in their degree in Fine Arts, in Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and it was when living in Cantabria, in the early 00s, that they found out about Tarraco Viva. “During a Roman plastics workshop in Julióbriga, Cantabria, we were told to visit the history re-enactment festival of Tarragona. Even back then, it was considered the best one of its characteristics in Europe”, explains Zahonero. This very first contact was a true revelation for the couple. MV Arte settled in the Tarragona area in 2007, and has collaborated with the festival since 2008.

The workshop’s duty is to create facsimile editions of ancient artworks for museums and, most of all, to preserve the originals; most of them, historical objects property of the Tarragona Archbishopric. Besides, MV Arte got involved in the most recent restoration stage of the Tarragona Cathedral, and led, among others, the works that allowed the recovery of both the disposition and original colours of the outstanding gothic altarpiece located in the Capella dels Sastres (14th century), one of the Temple’s main attractions. According to Jesús Mendiola though, good part of the most valuable heritage in Tarragona is still hidden from public for no good reason.

Many cities really make the most of what they have. An earthquake left the town of Lorca with no archaeological museum, for instance; they have now rebuilt it and designed a new town project, which has involved the whole town’s population. Tarragona has great potential; they should learn from them. I find it very weird that the vast collection of tapestries of the Cathedral can’t be seen, or that some palaces in the city are closed. We believe Tarraco Viva is a seed with the capacity to shake the city, build a story, a management experience, and develop its potential. Above all though, we should not forget to water this seed”, says Mendiola.

Materials Jesús and Emma have been working on for the last months will certainly stand out in the 8th edition of Tarraco Viva. The workshop takes part directly in three new shows: “Mòmia. El viatge al més enllà” (“Mummy. A journey to the hereafter”, designed in collaboration with Argos, Serveis Culturals), about the mummification process of corpses in the ancient Egypt; “Sopant a les portes de Duat” (“Having dinner in the edge of Duat”) about the Egyptian funerary banquet, and “Mirades d’eternitat. Els retrats del Faium” (“Eternity gazes. Faium’s portraits”, together with Argos and Projecte Phoenix), about a number of funerary portraits that represent a meeting point between both the Egyptian and Roman culture.

Text: Oriol Margalef (@OhMargalef on Twitter)

Translation: Artur Santos (@artur_1983 on Twitter)

Pictures: Rafael López-Monné (@lopezmonne on Twitter)