I travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, regularly and someday, hopefully soon, I will be there more frequently for longer periods of time. I am fascinated by the richness and vibrancy of the culture, archeology, history and art. Art is everywhere. From the food in the markets to the textiles and crafts to fine art expressed through painting and sculpture and the ballads vocalized by Lila Downs and Susana Harp. There is tradition in Mexico that is manifested through form, color and texture.
As a consequence, I am most apt to select my reading material based on its relevancy to Mexico, Oaxaca, political and historical developments, and artistic expression. I recently completed reading (1) “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver. It is an extraordinary novel about a writer raised in Mexico and influenced by the icons of the thirties, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky The book explores the dichotomy of identity that is so prevalent among Mexican social and cultural position — the duality of indigenous and Spanish heritage, asking the question: Where do I belong?
(2) I just ordered and received “Oaxacan Ceramics: Traditional Folk Art by Oaxacan Women” by Wellesley College professor Lois Wasserspring. I recently met Lois and we talked about the extraordinary pottery created by Dolores Porras who recently died and is featured in her book. I am fortunate to have a few of Dolores’ pieces.
(3) Another favorite is “Zapotec Women, Gender, Class and Ethnicity in Globalized Oaxaca” by cultural anthropologist and professor Lynn Stephen who teaches at the University of Oregon. The title says it all. While it is a college text, it is a great read and if you are interested in women’s issues, roles and rights in Mexico, you’ll find this informative and not dense.
(4) Right next to that is “Made in Mexico: Zapotec Weavers and the Global Ethnic Art Market” by W. Warner Wood, assistant professor of anthropology and museum studies at Central Washington University. He describes the economic forces that drive prices and production of handwoven textiles in Teotitlan del Valle.
(5) Finally, “Zapotec Weavers of Teotitlan” by Andra Fischgrund Stanton features fabulous photographs of handwoven tapestry rugs and other textiles made by master weavers in the village, including my friend Federico Chavez Sosa. It includes personal stories and family histories, along with weaving techniques and materials used for dyeing wool.
I never cease to be amazed by the talent in Oaxaca. These books are treasures to enrich my understanding and appreciation of this incredible region.