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With Powerful Images At The Kansas City Library, Mexican Illustrators Don't Need Words

English-only speakers might not be able to read Spanish, but they'll likely recognize the emotions, situations and imaginary worlds created by children's book illustrators from Mexico on display at the Kansas City Public Library. 

Mas Alla de Palabras (Beyond Words) is 34 drawings by Mexican artists who were finalists in a contest to be selected for a catalog of illustrations comprised of art published last year in children's and youth books. It was assembled by the Kansas City office of the Mexican Consulate in partnership with the Kansas City Public Library.

"I thought they were fantastic. It just shows how much imagination and creativity there is especially in children’s books," says the library's exhibitions manager, Anne Ducey, who worked with the Mexican consulate to get the images ready for presentation. 

The project was not without a language barrier. Not much information accompanies the images — just wall tags with the illustrator's name, the name of the piece, its media, dimensions and the year it was made. Additional context would have been helpful, Ducey says.

"It would have been interesting for us to see what these illustrations were illustrating, more of the words that went with it," Ducey says. "Some were from children’s books and others were more from textbooks, so I miss that piece of it. But looking at the images by themselves, they're just wonderful."

"That's why the exhibition is titled Beyond Words," says Lee Wong Medina of the Mexican Consulate's Kansas City office. "Just like any other piece of art, it becomes meaningful when you can identify with the content beyond the words."

Medina says the exhibition's organizers were mindful that many viewers at the library wouldn't understand the original text that accompanied the illustrations. But that was part of the point.

"Whether it's literature or something more academic, what you can imagine in your mind and translate into the real world is the creative side of it," he says. The artists who illustrated these books, he says, created something in their minds when reading the texts, and that's what viewers get to see at the library.

Medina says the consulate, which has 55 offices in areas of the United States where there are high numbers of Mexican nationals (the U.S. maintains 22 similar offices in Mexico), is looking for more ways to collaborate with local partners.

"Education and culture is a crucial component of our daily work," Medina says, citing a recent donation of textbooks in Spanish to the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, and educational programs for adults.

The Kansas City Public Library's show is the first time these pieces have been assembled and shown outside of Mexico. Medina hopes that after it closes at the Kansas City library, it might travel to other venues in the Kansas City consulate's jurisdiction — and beyond.

"Many institutions and people are trying to raise awareness to foster reading among children and young adults, and we felt this could be another project," Medina says. Besides that, he says, the artwork is "just a good story in illustration, and we want to recognize that effort as well."

Mas Alla de Palabras (Beyond Words) continues through Oct. 18 at the Central Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 14 W. 10th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64105, 816-701-3400.

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