The opening was last night. The food was amazing. The exhibition ethereal and dramatic. The premise: in the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, when the two glyphs flower and song are joined, the new meaning is art and poetry. This concept was essential to the Aztec worldview, according to exhibition creator Carolyn Kallenborn, professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
And what do I take with me when I go?
Will I leave nothing here of me on this earth?
Do we only rise up and grow to then die in the ground?
At least let us leave flowers.
At least let us leave song.
—Nezahualcoyotl, Aztec Poet
Flores y Cantos invites you to lose yourself in a surreal world of past and future, light, shadow and projected imagery of the ever-present and on-going cycles of nature. As you step into and move throughout the space, you add your own shadow and become immersed in the thoughts of life’s meaning and what is left behind by those who came before you. The artist asks, What will you leave behind?
For me, that leads to the ultimate and essential question, What is the meaning of life?
The exhibition has as its backdrop the pre-Columbian ceramic figures collected by Oaxaca artist Rufino Tamayo. While the individuals who created these sacred pieces, often deities that also refer to animals, plants, people and customs, are unnamed, we consider their legacy and that of their culture. They who believed in the eternal and the life cycle of birth, death and back again.
I sit on shallow steps, examining the tapestry of indigenous maize woven by textile artist Erasto “Tito” Mendoza, appreciating the fine embroidery stitches of a tree of life by Miriam Campos, I watch the movement of light, color, sky, water, nature projected. Sound conveys birdsong, waves, thunder-clap, peace, and I am immersed in another world, or is it my own, here and now?
Carolyn asks us: Think about the following questions —
- What do you value that your ancestors passed on to you?
- What would you want others to remember about you when you are gone?
In the frenzy of Guelaguetza, the Oaxaca event that attracts thousands to the city, this is a respite that offers calm and consideration.
I am grateful to be writing about this after the almost two-hour trip from the city back to Teotitlan last night. The city celebration brings much-needed tourism and also Los Angeles-style gridlock. I’m going to be here on the hammock for a while as I think about what Carolyn asks me to re-examine.