Today, I arrive in Southern California to give a talk about Oaxaca, Mexico, art and culture at the Bowers Museum of Art in Santa Ana. The Collectors’ Club invited me about six months ago to make a presentation on Saturday afternoon, September 16, 2017.
There is so much about Oaxaca to cover. I thought I would share my narrative outline with you:
Oaxaca is one of those rare places in the world that inspires creativity and artistic expression. A UNESCO World Heritage site colonized by the Spanish in 1521, its indigenous roots go back 8,000 years ago.
It is mestizo, mixed, a blend of ancient and contemporary, reflecting generations of invasion, migration and cultural identity. Walk her cobbled streets and feel Colonial history. Explore her villages and know the first peoples who lived here before – and now.
Corn (maize) was first hybridized in nearby Yagul, Oaxaca, caves by Zapotec farmers. Carbon dating has pinpointed this at 6,000-8,000 years ago. The plant traveled worldwide to become an essential food source on every continent.
Oaxaca’s culinary prowess is second to none. Her finest restaurants and humble comedors give way to innovative recipes rooted in native history, married with European influences. We know mole negro. There are six others.
Women sit at back strap looms, nested on packed earth floors in remote villages weaving beautiful garments with supplemental wefts embellished with figures from nature and the constellations, just as they did thousands of years ago. There is a revival of native natural dyes, including cochineal and indigo, as well as the use of native silk and wild cotton.
Pulque, the fermented juice of the agave plant evolved into mezcal, a leading artisanal beverage distilled from the roasted core of wild and cultivated cactus plants. Have you tried Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal?
Ceramic figures and cooking vessels are made today much like they were in 900 A.D. when Zapotecs artisans supplied the mountain-top kingdom of Monte Alban. Mixtec gold filigree jewelry unearthed at this archeological site is reproduced and offered for sale, made even more desirable by popular Frida Kahlo style. Contemporary silversmiths adapt traditional designs for practical daily wear.
And, the contemporary art scene is unparalleled. Printmakers, graphic artists, painters and muralists actively produce extraordinary works that capture the essence of Mexican history, culture and politics. Their work is rooted in the pre-Revolutionary iconic work of Jose Guadalupe Posada and post-Revolutionary murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros.
Experimentation, innovation and design permeate a vibrant arts scene that encompasses all the senses.
Yet, Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico. It has pockets of poverty, social unrest and a widening economic gap. Rural, indigenous people have limited access to education, health care and public services. They demonstrate peacefully now to express their discontent.
Despite this, Oaxaca is safe and welcoming.
During this presentation, Norma Schafer will lead a visual tour of Oaxaca city and villages, discuss artisanal crafts and contemporary art in the context of social history, bring examples for you to see and touch, and answer questions you may have.