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Francisco Toledo, One Of Mexico's Most Celebrated Artists, Dies At 79

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One of Mexico's most celebrated artists, Francisco Toledo, has died. He was 79. His art included paintings, sculptures, graphics and tapestries. The work was influenced by Toledo's southern Mexican Indigenous heritage, which he spent decades defending through political activism. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: As news of Toledo's passing broke, crowds filled the front of the Graphic Arts Institute, founded by the artist, in Oaxaca state with candles and flowers. The art world is in mourning, tweeted Mexico's president. Others called Toledo the most talented and mythical Mexican artist of a generation. Born Juchitan, Oaxaca, Toledo's Zapotec Indigenous heritage heavily influenced his art, filled with earth tones and depictions of animals of the region, including bats, monkeys and insects.

In the 1960s, he headed to Paris to exhibit his work, which was much different in form and style to the Mexican muralists that dominated the first half of the century. Toledo's work was shown from Tokyo to Europe, but it was his home state of Oaxaca where he spent his latter years, opening his Graphic Arts Institute, mentoring artists and becoming an outspoken activist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCISCO TOLEDO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: In an interview in 2016, with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Toledo lashed out against Mexico's racism, inequality and out-of-touch corrupt politicians. Easily recognized with his wild hair and rumpled shirts, Toledo fought for years to preserve Oaxaca's colonial and pre-Hispanic architecture, protesting against hotels, roads and a McDonald's slated for the capital's historic downtown square. He railed against genetically modified corn and flew kites bearing the faces of the 43 students kidnapped and killed in 2014, a scandal that rocked the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOLEDO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Asked in an interview with TV Azteca how he wanted to be remembered, the celebrated activist and painter shrugged - well, as a good father, a not so bad one, he said. He's survived by his five children, two of whom are artists and another a poet.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.

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