Linking Oaxaca Past to Present Through Arts and Design

The New York Times featured Oaxaca as a living example of how to best marry past and present in its June 15, 2013 feature story,  The Past Has a Presence Here written by Edward Rothstein in The Critic’s Notebook in the Times Arts & Design section.  Says Rothstein, “In the museums and gardens of Oaxaca, Mexico, unlike those of the United States, the character of history is unvarnished.”

History converges in Oaxaca, Mexico because her indigenous people have survived for millenia despite conquest, wars, disease, poverty and malnutrition.  The archeological ruins of Monte Alban and Mitla are evidence through extraordinary physical remains of the building and destruction of great civilizations.  Descendants live in the valleys below with language, culture and art intact.  Her food — mole, squash, corn, beans, chiles — are also a living testimony to creativity and adaptation in a harsh land.

Rothstein uses a good part of his “column inches” to discuss the importance and impact of the Ethnobotanical Gardens designed and developed by Alejandro de Avila B.  It is a living centerpiece of Oaxaca’s cultural history — a compendium of native plants that people have and continue to depend on for fiber, natural color, shelter, and beauty.

Oaxaca is rich in tradition that has not died out and is only accessible through memory and museum exhibitions.

He goes on to say, “But how different all of this is from images of the indigenous past north of the border! There are few areas where evidence of ancient state-size power exists (mainly in the 2,000-year-old relics of societies that once thrived along the Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers). There are few places where cultural continuity is even remotely clear, and where ancient languages are still widely spoken. Even before colonization, cultures disappeared, leaving behind neither oral traditions nor written records. And forced migrations and centuries of warfare so disrupted native traditions that the past now seems little more than an identity-affirming fantasy.”

I think of the Taos pueblo, the Four Corners in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, the dioramas and exhibitions in the Museum of the American Indian,  annual Indiana pow-wows of the Potawatomi to bring far-flung tribal members together, and the painful history of exile, annihilation and reservations.

What do you think of when you read Rothstein’s article?

And, yes, Oaxaca is safe.  I am on an airplane today to Mexico City, then Puebla.  I’ll pick back up on my posts in a few days.

Plus, thanks to friend Leslie Fiske Larson for bringing this NY Times article to my attention! Leslie spent several months volunteering at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca and knows a great pushcart fruit stand right around the corner!  Yummy papaya.


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