Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Day 1: Portrait Photography in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

I organize the Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop based in Teotitlan del Valle to introduce experienced and novice photographers to the beauty, kindness and culture of Oaxaca’s people.  Our workshop started today.

True to experience, instructor Matt Nager returned with lots of strategies for taking better people pictures. First we looked at and discussed examples from some of the best: Yousef Karsh, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Nadev Kander, Dan Winters and Matt’s portraits. We reviewed camera basics using manual settings and covered iPhone photography tips.  Then, we took to the streets. After taking impromptu photos on the fly – asking local people for permission to photograph them (which combines both respectfulness and courage) — we went into a family home for a more formal session.

Photography Workshop: Oaxaca Luvia Lazo  Portraits_1_Best12-8 Selling Tables, Teotitlan del Valle Grandmother & granddaughter, Teotitlan del ValleJose Buenaventura, Teotitlan del Valle Lupita and Ernestina, Teotitlan del Valle Moto Taxi, Teotitlan del Valle Matt Nager, Teotitlan del Valle La Cocinera, Teotitlan del Valle In the Church Courtyard, Teotitlan del VallePortraits_1_Best12-11 Portraits_1_Best12-9Each of us will edit each day and select our ten best photos each day. Here are what I chose for today’s best. At the end of the week, we will each present our twenty best of week after a series of feedback sessions and reviewing each others’ work.

Participants this year come from Canada and the United States of America, and one is a native of northern Italy. Our local fixer is photographer Luvia Lazo who helps us with the local Zapotec language and more complex Spanish translations. It’s wonderful to have her help!

 

4th Feria de Carrizo Continues Sunday in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

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More handmade bamboo baskets than you could ever count!  Handmade cornhusk paper flowers in every color of the rainbow are yours for a dollar each. Want a bamboo airplane or dump truck for a child to play with or a birdcage to hang from your veranda? How about a market or waste basket or something grander to store laundry or anything else you want kept out of sight?

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The Feria de Carrizo in San Juan Guelavia is all this and more.  This Sunday, February 1, 2015, is the last day. Get there by ten in the morning to get first choice.  Sample great food prepared on the spot, al fresco.

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Save your breakfast until you get there. Take your pick from barbecue goat, chicken enchiladas with red sauce, chicken and pork pozole, hot chocolate, atole, homemade empanadas with tortillas fresh from the griddle. The food is all made women from local village organizations and the proceeds help fund the health center and other municipal endeavors. Notice the innovative wheel barrow stove! Mexicans are incredibly resourceful.

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What makes San Juan Guelavia special and this festival unique is that the bamboo is grown in the village, stripped by hand, woven by hand, and is a dying craft worthy of preservation. Bamboo baskets, once used throughout the farming communities of Oaxaca, have now largely been replaced by plastic. The handwork ranges from very fine to utilitarian and considered an art form.

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The local market is open, too. Last Sunday there was a farmer selling quail. Fruits and vegetables abound, including perfectly ripe avocados for five cents each. I couldn’t help myself and picked up a sapote negro, too. Stock up on garlic from neighboring Tlacochuaya or mangoes from the coast. The homemade ice cream, called nieves, was some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere in Oaxaca.  Try the mamay (a tropical fruit) and nuez (pecan nuts).

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One of the great things I discovered at the basket festival is a little tiendita on your left just before you get to the zocalo. They sell wild herb tobala mezcal, called arroqueño, produced by El Cortijo. I bought three bottles and will probably go back for more. It’s delicious and makes great gifts.

CarrizoBest-4 CarrizoBest-9Susana Harp is this year’s madrina, the benefactress of the Feria. She was there last Sunday, and though she didn’t perform live, her songs were broadcast throughout the gathering area.  CarrizoBest-5

 

Oaxaca’s Contemporary Art Museum MACO Shows Ceramic Sculpture

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A second floor exhibition of ceiling-height sculptural columns that I interpret as totems are made by ceramic artist Mariana Castillo Deball, who lives and works in Mexico City and Berlin. The show opened last night at MACO, the Museo Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca on Macedonio Alcala.  The work is on view until April 20 and features indigenous objects — gourds, urns, animals, gods and goddesses, cooking vessels — many of which replicate those found at the archeological sites of Monte Alban and Atzompa.

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MACO is no ordinary edifice. While conquistador Hernan Cortes never lived in Oaxaca, his son Martin Cortes, second Marquis del Valle de Oaxaca built and occupied this grand house. It is now a perfect public space to view large works created by Mexico’s masters.  The art is larger than life and fits into the more than spacious galleries.

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Innovando la Tradicion with 1050 Degrados have helped produce the exhibition. They are a nonprofit ceramics arts cooperative that helps promote indigenous ceramics in many of Oaxaca’s pre-Hispanic villages that have created functional and artistic ware for centuries.

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The artist asks us to look at how past informs present and creates future. Using indigenous Mexican icons from cooking vessels to codices images to gears and other technological devices, she creates a vertical landscape for imagining, exploring the consonance of time and its objects, memory and influence on the present.

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In addition to this wonderful show, other art in the building offers us a view into Mexico’s contemporary art scene.  Plus, the balmy January evening gave me a chance to look over the balcony onto the Andador, the pedestrian walk that connects the Zocalo to Santo Domingo Church.  In the distance a band played and a sequence of wedding parties paraded in and out of the neighborhood churches, too.

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¿Quién medirá el espacio,

quién me dirá el momento?

Mariana Castillo Deball

Enero 24 – abril 20, 2015

Inauguración: Sábado 24 de enero, 7 pm – 9 pm.

La exposición inicia con una pregunta sobre la consonancia entre el tiempo y los objetos, y cómo la memoria se impregna del presente.

¿Cómo contar la historia del universo en cien años?

¿Cómo contar la historia del universo en un día?

Serpiente, pochote, engrane, trompo, pelota, guerrero-cornudo, madre tierra, alfarero, olla, murciélago, tornillo, perro, mazorca, rana con celular, raíz, lagartija, calabaza, anciano, guajolote, ceiba, columna infinita.

Este repertorio de objetos, algunos de ellos arqueológicos, otros mecánicos, lúdicos o sintéticos; fueron seleccionados en el presente, junto con el Taller de Cerámica Coatlicue en Atzompa, Oaxaca. La selección fue el sustento para imaginar una serie de historias, que ahora se alzan cual columnas en el espacio expositivo.

La pregunta inicial parte de la relación que los ceramistas de Atzompa tienen con su legado arqueológico y de qué manera este se expresa, se contamina o se disuelve en el presente. Lejos de tomar una postura purista, el trabajo comenzó con una serie de discusiones en torno a las copias, las falsificaciones, los cambios de estilo y las influencias en la historia de la arqueología mexicana.

El proyecto cuestiona la idea de una tradición estática que no se debe cambiar para poder existir, ampliando el debate de lo que es la arqueología en el presente y cómo puede ser actualizada constantemente para resignificar panoramas visuales de identidad.

Este proyecto un proyecto realizado en colaboración con el Taller de Cerámica Coatlicue, de la familia Hernández Alarzón en Santa María Atzompa, e Innovando la Tradición ac. Producido por el Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca.

Mariana Castillo Deball (México, 1975) vive y trabaja en la Ciudad de México y en Berlín.

Oliver Martínez Kandt, Curador (Oaxaca, 1983) Curador del programa Monogramas del MACO.

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca. MACO

Alcalá 202, Centro Histórico

Oaxaca, Oaxaca, México

http://www.museomaco.com 

info@museomaco.com

Wandering Oaxaca and Teotitlan del Valle

Casita Roof Sunset-3 Casita Roof Sunset-2 After our Art Huipil Workshop ended, I retreated to the rooftop terrace where I live in Teotitlan del Valle to finish The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. The views of the surrounding Tlacolula valley are glorious from there, especially at sunset. Casita Roof Sunset-4It’s winter, the dry season. The night air is clear and cold. The star field is glorious. During the day, sun provides enough heat that we have to hide from it by walking on the shady side of the street. So many northerners are here to seek shelter from the winter cold in the warmth of Oaxaca’s sun.Art Huipil Workshop-9Around and about Teotitlan del Valle, the daily village market, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., gives us bread, fresh vegetables, meats and poultry, handcrafts and the essentials of daily life, like soap and bathroom tissue! The space is a source of constant fascination and appreciation for me. It’s where my food comes from! Art Huipil Workshop-99 For those without vehicles and sturdy legs, the tuk-tuks (or moto-taxis, as some call them) are an essential for getting home from the market with the daily bundle that always includes fresh flowers for the altar.Art Huipil Workshop-111 When the market closes at 10:30 a.m. not much happens there until mid-afternoon when the nieves (ice cream) vendors come to open their stalls. Ices made from tropical fruits like mango, papaya, strawberry and pineapple are muy rico. And, yes, they are made with purified water.Art Huipil Workshop-22After resting for a few days, I went to Oaxaca city to meet up with friends for a series of lunches and dinners. Social life here during the season can be intense. But not as intense as the color of this yellow flowering tree that punctuates the skyline throughout the city.

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Everyone along the cobblestone sidewalks have their heads lifted skyward to take in the brilliant yellow blossoms of the Primavera tree of the genus Tabebuia, also called Ipe or Trumpet tree.  Not me, though. With my new knee replacement only two months behind me, I’m very careful to step lightly. If I want to take something in, I stop and plant myself on terra firma.

ArtHuipilMezcalChoc-2 Late afternoon brings us to Santo Domingo Church where vendors gather and weddings and quinceañieras are scheduled throughout the day. Bring it on!

Pink Hummer-3 Later that same night, with Pink Hummer stretch limo in waiting, a fifteen year old princess emerges from Santo Domingo complete with her men in waiting to escort her into the cavernous vehicle. There’s lots of poverty in Oaxaca and visible wealth, too. I see many more Audi’s, Mercedes and BMW’s on the streets now than ever before.

ArtHuipilMezcalChoc-4As we emerge from a delicious dinner at La Zandunga on Garcia Virgil, we stop in to Casa Crespo for a Oaxaca chocolate tasting. I think my favorite is the one flavored with chipotle chili. Trees on the avenue are illuminated in changing colors of red, green, yellow and purple. It’s a warm and festive evening for strolling.

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So we stroll on over to Mezcaleria El Cortijo for a nightcap of my favorite reposado, an aged mezcal that goes down smooth and easy.  Ellen sniffs the bottle while our host Raul Mendez talks about mezcal culture.

Anri Okada Artist-4 Anri Okada Artist-2Oaxaca is pretty quiet most Sundays, and in my meanderings I notice an artist through an open doorway painting what appears to be a sign.  Meet Anri Okada. She has been in Oaxaca for six months, is an artist from Japan who studied painting. She speaks Spanish and English and is delightful.  Curiosity is what keeps the world exciting and imaginative.  You never know who you will meet next!Art Huipil Workshop-89Back in Teotitlan del Valle, weaving continues, surrounded by the paraphernalia of the craft — bags of wool, unwarped looms, cotton warp thread, a baby’s rocking horse and a dog’s water bowl.

Pochote_CKnox-2 Ultimately, it’s time to eat and what could be better than blue corn tortillas on the comal with your choice of chorizo and cheese, beans, or potatoes and spinach topped with a fresh egg. The health of Mexicans depends upon unadulterated non-genetically modified corn. It’s a constant battle here between the small farmers and the mega-producers like Monsanto. Indigenous corn, grown in the Oaxaca valley for 8,000 years, is laden with nutrition.

As we say in Mexico, buen provecho!

Two spaces open now in the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing & Yoga Retreat. And, you may want to come with me as we go Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in April in Mexico City.

 

Telling Stories: Art Huipil Mixed Media Workshop

The Art Huipil Workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico just ended. Our instructor Lena Bartula says, Textile is text, which is why she incorporates stories, messages, poems and other writing into the mixed media art workshop she teaches.  Textile is also cultural subtext, telling personal stories of the makers through pattern and design.

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Exquisite Corpse Huipil — Group Collaboration

The huipil is the oldest Mesoamerican clothing form worn by women. Each woman who weaves a piece of cloth on a back-strap loom has to tell that is incorporated into the cloth.  No two garments are alike.  They may incorporate similar materials and patterns, but they are arranged differently, reflecting our distinctiveness.

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Each woman uses symbols that reflect her personal and village history, and place in the world.  Each chooses yarn and thread colors important to her, mother, grandmother and village tradition. The way the symbols flow through the garment is a message about life. Our instructor La Huipilista Lena Bartula, guides along the creative pathway.

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Arrepentimientos by Vicki Solot

We take this Mexican tradition and use the huipil concept to create our own stories. We bring cloth, scissors, thread, canvas, handmade paper, ribbons, photographs, paints, drawing pens, glue, memorabilia and our imaginations.

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We take field trips to local markets to collect paraphernalia.  We look down on street pavement and in gardens to incorporate found objects. We determine what to edit, what is more or less, what is meaningful. We make art.

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We laugh. Dance. Eat. Sing. Rest and renew. We make an altar to bless each other and our work.  We celebrate the creativity and spirit within.

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We celebrate the completion of our work and time together with a spirited exhibition of our work, followed by a fiesta dinner complete with handmade chilis rellenos, roast chicken, tortillas, salsa verde, potato empañadas and a divine dessert called Pastel Imposible — chocolate cake topped with flan.

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As we say goodbye, we lay out our huipils. The sun is shining. The air is clear and warm. The days have sped by quickly and each participant takes away an art piece to display, a memory of an unparalleled experience in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Here is our work:

Workshop participants and their art.

Workshop participants and our collage of huipils.

I Love Mexico by Carol Egan

I Love Mexico by Carol Egan

Quierdos -- Dear Ones, by Ellen Benson

Quierdos — Dear Ones, by Ellen Benson

XXX by Sherry Bone Peel

Finding Teotitlan by Sherry Bone Peel

Bad Girl by Ellen Benson

Bad Girl by Ellen Benson

XXXX, by Vicki Solot

Natural Grace by Vicki Solot

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Gracias a la Vida/Yin by Ruth Greenberger

XXXX by Sherry Bone Peel

Let It Be by Sherry Bone Peel

XXX by Ruth Greenberger

Gracias a la Vida/Yang by Ruth Greenberger

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More or Less by Norma Hawthorne

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Let me know by email if you are interested in participating next year. I am starting an early notification list.