Tag Archives: exhibit

Mascaras Mexicanas: Mexican Masks — Dances, Dieties, Identity

A new temporary special exhibition at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) on the Zocalo in Mexico City features hundreds of hand-made masks from towns and villages throughout Mexico.

This is the same building that houses Diego Rivera murals, so if you go there soon, don’t miss this. Enter on side street through security, go to second floor.

 

I returned on my last day in the Federal District and spent about an hour-and-a-half learning more about Mexican art and culture. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In ancient civilizations one of the main functions of ritual masks was to represent gods to worship them in religious celebrations. This was designed to support natural and social equilibrium.

 

In pre-Hispanic Mexico, masks served as elements of transformation that allowed rulers and priests to assume the identity of their gods during ritual ceremonies.  This helped bridge communication between the spiritual and natural world.

 The gold mask, above right, was found in a Monte Alban, Oaxaca tomb.

Sculptures, reliefs, murals and figurines from throughout Mesoamerica show ancient members of the elite personifying deities with the masks and attire that empowered them.

If you come with us on Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Study Tour in February or March, you can drop in to see this show.

According to the exhibition curators, since the time of the Spanish conquest in 1521, the invaders prevented pre-Hispanic civilizations from freely practicing their religious customs. The conquistadores imposed their will by force. The Catholic religious friars sought to supplant native ancestral traditions by incorporating Christian ideas into native rituals.

 

Despite these efforts, pre-Hispanic symbols survived and indigenous people continue to observe their ancient religion under the veil of Catholicism.  New masks arose from this cultural mixing (mestizaje) with an original combination of symbols that continue to the present in many regions throughout Mexico.

 

This provides continuity for ceremonial and celebratory traditions.  Many communities throughout Mexico, such as Teotitlan del Valle, where I live, practice rites and dances like Dance of the Feather (Danza de la Pluma) from viceregal times in which costumes and masks play a central role in the celebrations.

        La Malinche mask, left, called Maringuilla bonita, is from the Purepecha Danza de los Viejitos, Michoacan. Here she appears as a sweet, modest young woman.  To the right is Moor Mask from the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca, with eyelashes and red cheeks depicting cultural exoticism.

 

The masks are handmade from gold, precious stones such as jade, turquoise, malachite and coral, wood, paper, straw, textiles and other materials. All the indigenous people of Mexico, including Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs, Purepechas and others used them.

 

Sacred dances in pre-Hispanic Mexico were ceremonies of invocation that found resonance in Catholicism as indigenous people were folded into the Spanish concept of small towns or barrios under the sponsorship of patron saints.

  Right, Huichol mask from the Sierra Madre of Jalisco. The Huichol people do intricate beadwork.

Indigenous people adopted and venerated these saint along with their own ancestors and pre-Hispanic deities. Friars promoted village feast days during the liturgical calendar and introduced morality plays. These were dramas based on sacred history and events that focused on the struggle between good and evil.

 

Often featured in these dances are masks representing Judas, Jews, Moors and the devil. The purpose of this was to instill fear and respect in the local population along with the message that they were defeated and obliged to strictly obey the new religion. I have no personal evidence today of any anti-Semitism in Mexico, that continues to welcome dissidents and disenfranchised.

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We see in the Hall of Festivals at the Secretary of Public Education Building in Mexico City, many of these celebrations painted by Diego Rivera in his murals. Masks in this exhibit depict the Deer Dance from Sinaloa, also featured by Rivera.

  La mascara posee un extraño poder de sugestiøn sobre la imaginaciøn … es la sintesis, la               esencia de la deidad, del demonio, muerto o héroe qu se trata de representar.                           — Miguel Covarrubias

           The mask has a strange power of suggestion on the imagination … it is the                                    synthesis, and represents the essence of deity, demon, death or hero.                                           — Miguel Covarrubias

The exhibition takes a step beyond the traditional to include the work of Mexican contemporary artists who work in various media. This painting (below) by Frida Kahlo, My Nanny and Me, is on loan for this exhibition from its home at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Evoking Frida Kahlo: Making Altars and Shrines Art Workshop

The painting is part of this exhibition because of the masked wet-nurse representing indigenous culture that provides sustenance.

 

Also included are the work of artists Francisco Toledo (paper mask) and Germån Cueto (wood mask), and painters and printmakers whose names I didn’t record (sorry).

   

Today, we often hide behind the mask we present to the world as a way of self-protection, self-preservation. In the days before the popularity of mask-wearing for Halloween, the mask was a symbol for deception, hypocrisy, and lies.

Instead, we can hide behind a straight face, make-up, choice of clothing to present who we are — to project “our face” outward. It is interesting to think that an exhibition of this type can cause each of us to ask the question, Who am I?How do I present myself and how am I “seen” in the world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Pictures of the Exhibition: Today at Las Bugambilias B&B

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Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Exhibit at Duke University Set: Chavez Family to Participate

On Tuesday, October 2, 2012, 5:30-7:30 p.m., an opening reception will be held at Duke University Friedl Building Jameson gallery for “Days of the Dead: From Mexican Roots to Present Day Practice in the United States,” in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Included will be 25 photographs taken in 2011 by participants* in the Day of the Dead Photography Expedition, produced by Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. The exhibition is organized by the Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South at Duke University, whose executive director Jenny Snead Williams participated in 2011. The exhibition is curated by Bill Bamberger, award-winning faculty member in the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and expedition leader/instructor, and Jenny Snead Williams.

*Participants in the 2011 expedition whose work will be exhibited are:  Cheryl Cross (Towson, Maryland), Liz Bryan (British Columbia), Nick Eckert (Washington, DC), Wayne Kubal (Tucson, Arizona), Jenny Snead Williams (Durham, NC), Norma Hawthorne (Pittsboro, NC), Jenny Haynes (British Columbia) and instructor Bill Bamberger (Durham, NC).

Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and his sister Janet Chavez Santiago, a linguist and coordinator of the Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo educational programs, are invited by Duke University to participate in the opening activities. They will talk about Day of the Dead traditions in their family home and village of Teotitlan del Valle and work with students to build a traditional Oaxaca Day of the Dead altar.

Chavez Santiago family rugs will also be on exhibition and offered for sale during the opening reception. The family produces extraordinary textiles woven with 100% churro sheep whose wool is hand-spun and then dyed with natural plant materials (wild marigold, indigo, moss, pomegranates, nuts) and cochineal (the bug of the prickly pear cactus that produces natural, color-fast and intense shades of reds, purples, oranges, and pinks).

The altar offerings include wild marigold (cempasuchitl), photographs of deceased loved ones, pan de muerto (special egg bread), papel picado (cut out paper decorations), the favorite fruits, foods, and beverages of loved ones, Oaxaca chocolate, sugar skulls, tamales, candles, and incense. An essential part of the Oaxaca altar is also religious and spiritual — an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and of the Crucifixion.

Jenny Snead Williams tells me that area elementary school students will be creating another part of the exhibit with Duke students and faculty, and that Duke students will also be working on a third project that relates to the US celebrations of Days of the Dead. “Overall, it’s a rather complex exhibit because it will include so many constituents from local school children and teachers, to the general community, to students and professors.

Eric, Janet and Norma will be in Atlanta on October 3 and 4, where we will be hosted by Robin and Ted Blocker, and Lauren Waits and Art Gambill, for two evening rug exhibitions and sales. If you live in Atlanta or know anyone there, let me know and we’ll send them an invitation!