Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Chromatica at MACO Oaxaca: New Sounds, Ancient Textures

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Inside the courtyard at MACO, once a conqueror’s palace

Chromatica, a multi-media art exhibition created by Guggenheim award-winning Mexican artist Tania Candiani, opened last weekend in Oaxaca at the Museo Arte de Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO).  The exhibition takes a new approach to sight and sound.

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Chromatics is about how we communicate through music and color. It can be considered the interdisciplinary intersection between technology and art. Candiani explores the differences and similarities between language systems, sound and the logics of technology through her work.

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This is interpretive, intuitive and not always “in your face” evident through the various experiences of this exhibition that stimulates and questions the visual and auditory senses. The result is to create an emotional experience that could be somewhat uncomfortable.

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Old loom as modern sound machine

First is the sound of the traditional two-harness pedal loom used to weave serapes and rugs in Teotitlan del Valle.  At the opening, three Mendoza family weavers stood at looms in the courtyard with microphones recording the sounds of their creativity. They wove fast, slow, in harmony and not.

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Javier and friend from Teotitlan del Valle, with natural colors

We could hear the beating of the treadles, loud, soft, harsh, subtle, the whoosh of the shuttle going through the heddles, the rhythms of wood against wool. The recordings can be heard in one of the exhibition rooms along with an abstract video of the work in progress. For how much longer will we hear this sound?

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Upstairs on the second floor of the museum, we see the historical elements used to prepare the wool.  The dyestuffs: cochineal, indigo and pericone (wild marigold). We see ancient stone grinders where people kneeled to prepare the powder. We see embroidery hoops embellished in red, blue and yellow, telling the story of the colors as recorded in the pre-Hispanic codices.

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Metates, manos de metates and cochineal powder

But there is more than meets the eye:  tone poems of color embroidered onto cloth that tell of the modern experience of traditional color in a changing, mechanized world. What does blue evoke? How does red make us feel? What is the human labor needed to give us these colors that we take for granted and enjoy?

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As the crowd gathered around an ancient loom converted into a sound box, people took turns cranking the take-up roll, traditionally used to wind the cloth as it is woven. In this structure, it turned the wheel to produce sounds. The “thread” was string — as in violin or piano.

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A cochineal painted room of breeding cactus gives us a sense of how many of these bugs are needed to color just one rug or garment. The color intensity penetrates.

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Old hand carders against a backdrop of blue

Questions? Did the exhibition go far enough? Were the exhibits as interesting as they could have been? All the explanations were in Spanish with no English “subtitles,” so the meanings could be harder for some non-bilingual visitors to “get.” Was there a clear path to meaning from one gallery to the next?

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Moving from the preparation of cochineal to indigo, we see the concrete vats replicated to show us how the color of the plant is extracted. There is an excellent video created by Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca about the process of preparing indigo. It would have been a great educational video to include in this exhibition — better than the one selected to show.

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Ceramic artists from Santa Maria Atzompa created bellowing birds in the “yellow” room. Push and pull the bellows to hear how sound emanates and enters our bodies for interpretation. Aren’t we all cogs in the wheel?

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Meaning comes from many sources. The exhibition raises questions about how technology impacts and changes people, traditional life, practices and uses. How many are using the metate now to grind the cochineal and indigo, when most have gone over to coffee grinders for ease of labor.

Does this change the outcome of the fiber and color? What about the practice of hand-weaving itself? Will automated looms result in lower prices, yes, and the disappearance of a handmade process, perhaps? Will people only do this for a hobby and not for a business or way of life? What does it mean for the continuation of culture to experience this change? What about the raw materials: The hand-spun wool and natural dyes, what will become of them and the people who make them?

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I presume these are the questions that the artist is asking us to explore in this exhibition. As supporters, appreciators and consumers of art and artisanry, how do we each contribute to the continuation or demise of hand craft?

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The contemporary art museum is located on the Andador — Macedonio Alcala between Murguia and Morelos.

Festivals and Faces: Chiapas Photography Workshop

Book Preview–Milpa: From Seed to Salsa, Oaxaca Food, Recipes, Sustainability

When I visited photographer Judith Cooper Haden in her Santa Fe home recently, she showed me the final proofs for Milpa: From Seed to Salsa, Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future. The book explores the Mesoamerican way of growing, cooking and eating food.

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The photography is stunning! Four years in the making, the book is a collaborative visual narrative filled with pictures that touch your heart, delicious recipes you’ll want to cook, and cultural commentary to understand more about how Oaxaca’s original people grow their food and the risks associated with environmental devastation.

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The book will be ready for printing, distribution and purchase shortly. It is a combined effort by community development organizer Phil Dahl-Bredine, Jesus Leon Santos, Goldman Environmental Prize winner and director, Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in the Mixteca (CEDICAM), cultural photographer Judith Cooper Haden and chef/teacher/author Susana Trilling.

You can pre-order this book today!

haden.judith@gmail.com, 505-984-9849 USA

With 289 pages and 267 photographs and bilingual presentation, it explores food issues, presents mouth-watering recipes, and offers stunning documentary photography about how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1,000 year-old seeds and planting practices are being revived in the environmentally devastated Mixtec region of Oaxaca. Through example, the narrative can help us meet the ecological, health and food crises of today.

This is a taste of what is to come.

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Judy Haden says, “I had no idea I was initiating a 4-year long odyssey when I asked Phil Dahl-Bredine, a 14-year resident in the Mixteca Alta, if I could somehow help him and the non-profit CEDICAM.  This first discussion over hot chocolate on the Zócalo quickly became the seed of a ‘political cookbook’ that incorporates Phil’s thought-provoking essays on local food and international sustainability issues, heritage seeds and the ill effects of GMO’s, Susana Trilling’s tasty and carefully tested traditional recipes from our Mixtecan cooks/contributors, and my own images.

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“The sepia portraits and the color food shots are, I think, so helpful in really understanding the conditions and the situation in the Mixteca Alta (a short hour north of Oaxaca City). Susana and I traveled to many small towns and villages over two years to interview the members of CEDICAM (http://www.cedicam-ac.org/) and spend hours with them learning and documenting their delicious recipes, and the planting of the crops. We visited feast days, religions holidays and private homes. Our plates were always full! 

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“The book is divided into different sections based on each milpa crop. As Charles C. Mann explained in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, “A milpa is a field…in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilies, sweet potato, jícama, amaranth,and mucana….Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary.”

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The book has received heart-warming advance endorsements from many people, including Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Lila Downs, vegetarian chef and author Deborah Madison, agro-economist Miguel Altieri, photographer Phil Borges, Chef Iliana de la Vega, seedsman Steven Scott/Terroir Seeds and food author Peter Rosset. This is very gratifying to the authors after working so long and hard on this project.

Milpa: From Seed to Salsa is an extraordinary book in many ways. It is a hopeful book that shows in careful detail how extremely well the old ways of farming and living in community can not only feed rural populations but also provide them with medicine and fodder for animals.  This is a viable alternative to big agriculture and so-called improvements from elsewhere; this is a fine example.

Milpa is also a remarkable book because, like the community of families that tends the milpa fields, this book is product of cooperation among some very extraordinary people—two activists, a chef, and a photographer, who all found a way to bring to light a story of hope with great wisdom and beauty, with the cooperation of the Mixtec community who live the life this book allows us to witness. I am so grateful for this book. It is a treasure.

~Deborah Madison, Chef, Writer, Teacher, James Beard Award winner.

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Judith Cooper Haden with Mixteca women

The book is bilingual (Spanish and English), with 290 pages and 276 images. It is beautifully printed in full color. Regular retail is $40.  Pre-orders through August 31st receive a 10% discount and a signed copy….and the first 25 pre-orders will receive a free 5”x7” brown-toned image from the book.  Shipping is additional. We use USPS Media Rates. Ship date is late September 2015. For orders and additional info, please write to:  

Judith Cooper Haden, haden.judith@gmail.com

Let the Guelaguetza Begin: Oaxaca Celebrates Indigenous Roots

The Guelaguetza folkloric dance and traje extravaganza in the auditorium that sits atop the Cerro del Fortin in Oaxaca, Mexico is derived from an ancient indigenous custom of mutual exchange and support. The last two Mondays in July festivities draw people from throughout the world. It is one of Oaxaca’s most important tourist attractions.

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Cultural, social and political commentary about Guelaguetza

There will be an artisan fair on the Alcala near the Santo Domingo Church throughout the next weeks until August 2, 2015. Be sure to find San Juan Colorado weaver Juana Reyes Garcia who works in natural dyes. She sold out at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. She will use those proceeds to put a floor into her children’s bedroom.

I’m still in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and will miss the first Monday on the hill. But I’ll be back in Oaxaca in time to capture the second Monday.  Meanwhile, tonight is a celebration here for the success of ceramic artist Macrina Mateo and cooperative Innovando la Tradicion. I’m certain there will be lots of Oaxaca traje represented here, too.

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2015 Schedule, Danza de la Pluma, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The Dance of the Feathers, or Danza de la Pluma, is an annual tradition in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. This year festivities start on Monday, July 6 and end on Saturday, July 11, 2015.

Here is the schedule.

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  • Monday, July 6, about 4 p.m., Parade of the Canastas, Church Courtyard. The procession of young women in traditional Zapotec dress and carrying heavy baskets on their heads winds through the cobbled village streets.  In front of them is the band and coming up from behind are the Dancers in full regalia. There is no dancing today.
  • Tuesday, July 7, about 4 p.m., Dance of the Feathers in the church courtyard, continuing until dark, then fireworks display.
  • Wednesday, July 8, 12:00 noon until about 8 p.m., Dance of the Feathers. This is the big dancing day when those who volunteer for this ritual and tradition continue almost non-stop all afternoon into the evening. Basketball tourney next to market.
  • Saturday, July 11, 12:00 non until about 8 p.m., Dance of the Feathers, in the church courtyard, followed by grand finale fireworks, and a public dance complete with band in the municipal building courtyard.

There will be carnival rides, a street fair and lots of food vendors. The almost completed new basketball court next to the village market will hold a tournament there on Wednesday, too. Ojala!

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Sleep over, if you like. There are good local accommodations at Las Granadas B&B and Casa Elena B&B. You can find them on the internet. I hear some people in the village are renting rooms on Airbnb, too.

Enjoy yourself. Take lots of photographs and post them on our new Facebook page Mexico Travel Photography.

I’m off to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for a textile extravaganza on Monday, July 6, so I’ll miss my village’s festivities this year. Send me photos, if you like, to post about what you see and do!

Evoking Frida Kahlo: Workshop to Make a Mixed Media Altar

Mexico is filled with altars that usually include sacred images and a Virgin of Guadalupe retablo. During Day of the Dead a family altar displays photographs of departed loved ones. We are taking this mixed media art workshop, based in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, beyond the norm to create a three-dimensional altar suitable for display. Frida Kahlo is our muse.

4 Days, February 25 – 28, 2016

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e·voke. əˈvōk/. verb

bring or recall to the conscious mind, conjure up, summon up, invoke, elicit, induce, kindle, stimulate, awaken arouse, call forth.

Frida offers us inspiration for constructing an altar about life, womanhood, loved ones, family, health issues, successes and set-backs. We hold up Frida’s image, perhaps in self-reflection, to imagine her life and its challenges and to evoke meaning for our own. We then translate these concepts into an altar or shrine that can be used for wall art, to display on a surface or to design as a shelving unit for collected objects.

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Frida was an avid collector of exvotos and perhaps you would like to merge this simple expression of thanksgiving and devotion in your work, too.

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When we think of Frida Kahlo, we may conjure up many images and words to describe her: a woman of strength, power, frailty, independence, weakness, accomplishment, talent. Biographers say she was fierce, passionate, defiant, innovative, creative, vulnerable. We know she was deformed, in pain, proud.

 

Your personal altar can be based on your own experience. We embrace Frida as a metaphor to jump into a new creative realm. Your altar might be a tribute to someone you love who is living or passed on. Your altar might contain a message to send or include as a gift. It can be about you, friends, family or Frida herself.

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About Hollie Taylor, MFA, Workshop Leader

Hollie Taylor earned the BFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focusing on painting and printmaking. She then went on to the University of Georgia and received the MFA with a concentration in printmaking.

Hollie taught drawing, printmaking, painting and ceramics at the college, middle and high school levels. For over 20 years, she has taught adult workshops in handmade paper-making, screen-printing, woodcutting, photo-imaging on clay, ceramic hand-building, mixed media art and art journaling.  

She is a recipient of the North Carolina Museum of Art annual artist scholarship award. Her work is published in Art Voices South and The Village Rambler. She earned the prestigious National Board Certification for Teaching Excellence and her students placed repeatedly in national shows. 

Hollie encourages deep personal exploration, offers demonstrations and samples of finished products.  Art produced at her workshops is highly individualistic, broad ranging in style and expressive of the maker. Participants come to the table with varied past creative experiences and she accommodates fully for this range of novice to accomplished artist. She gives personal feedback and encouragement and holds informal discussions to compare intent with outcome, noting what has been learned. A workshop with Hollie is engaging and fun!

A new project for Hollie involves making a book using found family letters and archival photos from Brazil during World War II. This will become a mixed media art show installation based on composites she is rendering in Photoshop to glean new meaning from the material. 

 

Process and Materials

Using found objects, copies of photographs, paint, paper, memorabilia and embellishments, you will construct either a 8” x 10” three-dimensional sculptural piece or a 12” x 16” flat art wall piece.

Materials We Provide: We provide step-by-step altar-making directions and construction materials, plus selected art supplies such as self-healing cutting mats, box cutters, some acrylic inks, assorted decorative papers, handmade clay medallions and selected ephemera art associated with Frida Kahlo.

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Materials To Bring: A sharp pencil, rubber bands, assorted size small brushes, embellishments such as stamps, charms, shells, milagros, copies of photographs, textiles. Try to imagine what will symbolize the different attribute’s of your altar’s theme and bring what will enhance its meaning. After you register, we will send you a complete list of supplementary supplies to bring. Participants often share for a wider range of choice.

 

Resources: Hollie recommends Crafting Personal SHRINES, Using Photos, Mementos & Treasures to Create Artful Displays, by Carol Owen, Lark Books, 2004.

Our Schedule: Daily, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. includes catered lunch  

Day One, Thursday, February 25: We look at images of altars and sacred boxes, visit church and private home altars, and talk about Frida Kahlo – her style and what she valued. You will come with a concept for your creation, and with Hollie’s guidance you will finish the design and begin to build your project.

Day Two, Friday, February 26: Continue to build your altar, wrapping it, painting it, and gluing it together to form a completed container for what will come next. You may also want to add a door and small shadow boxes to display memorabilia reflecting your concept.

Rolling on Matte Medium to seal the foam core.

Rolling on Matte Medium to seal the foam core.

Day Three, Saturday, February 27: Finish altar construction. Begin to decorate and embellish your altar with photos (copies), writing, drawing, found objects and memorabilia you have brought with you.

Day Four, Sunday, February 28: You will add the finishing touches before we hang your finished work for a group show and presentation of your piece, followed by a grand finale mezcal margarita cocktail reception.

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Workshop Cost

Base Cost – Workshop Only: $495 per person, includes all instruction, materials to construct your altar or wall art, hand-outs, guided visits to family homes and churches for altar research, 4 lunches and cocktail reception. This option is designed for people who do not need lodging, and want to travel back and forth daily from Oaxaca city.

Upgrade 1 – Workshop + Share Room: $665 per person shared room with private bath en suite. Includes all of the above plus 4 nights lodging, arriving on Wednesday, February 24 and departing Sunday, February 28 by 6 p.m. Includes 4 continental breakfasts. We assign rooms in order of registrations received. Contact us for availability.

Upgrade 2 — Workshop and Private Room/Bath: $795. Includes all of the above.

How to Register

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.  We can arrange taxi pick-up and return from/to the Oaxaca airport at your own expense (approximately 280 pesos).

Reservations and Cancellations A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last payment for the balance due (including any add-ons) shall be paid by January 6, 2016. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register.  After January 6, refunds are not possible.  You may send a substitute in your place.  If you cancel before January 6, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Workshop Details and Travel Tips.  Before the workshop begins, we will email you a map, instructions to get to the workshop site from the airport, and documents that includes extensive travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact: oaxacaculture@me.com

This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

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