Hand Painted Birthday Sheet
A hand painted birthday sheet made in the infamous National Jail of Betlem in Mexico City to the president of the jails commission. In the four corners the author painted: a torture pendulum, a fire ball, a representation of a law and liquor bottles. The decoration in the corners may have been to represent the personality of the commission president.
“Al señor presiente de la Com.on de Carseles y Hospitales Bernado Durán en su cumpleaños” Translation: “To the President of the Commission of Jails and Hospitals, Bernardo Duran on his birthday.”
History of Betlem (or Belem): prison located in the Doctores neighborhood in the City of Mexico was founded in 1863 and closed in 1933. Due to his famous inmates and scandalous conditions, the jail became fearsome for criminals and political prisoners alike; it was considered practically a death sentence
“Belén is a disgusting old convent that became a prison only to amass several thousand people within its walls. It is not big enough to accommodate with enough space 500 prisoners; but there is often more than five thousand there, who give a daily ration of biscuits and beans, enough to keep a person alive for several weeks.
A prison doctor informed me that: within three days of having entered Belén, all prisoners contract a skin disease, a terrible itch that seems to burn the body, which is acquired by the filthy conditions of the place. Every year, he continued, occurs in the prison a typhus epidemic that kills an average of 10% of the occupants.” (John Kenneth Turner. Mexico Barbaro. 1908)
The prison was one of the most overcrowded prisons in Latin America: with a maximum occupancy of 600 inmates, by 1879 it held 2,000 and by 1890, 7,000.
Colonialism / Diaspora
This collection features objects related to human colonization and displacement.