Saturday, February 20, 2010

Art and Graffiti in Oaxaca, Mexico

(Please click on the photos to enlarge them.)

In Oaxaca, art is everywhere, from the works of local artists like Francesco Toledo, hanging in galleries and museums, to the embroidery on the traditional trajes (costumes) worn by women in places like Tehuantepec and sold for hundreds of dollars in the shops here.

The people of Oaxaca seem to create art instinctively, even when choosing to paint their houses and doorways in startling colors with a sophistication that never ceases to amaze me. A mask hanging on a wall near the door to a latrine, or signs glued to a wall, constantly make me stop and stare. An orange doorway becomes abstract art worthy of Mondrian. The sign about the ¨Ninos¨advertises that the store is a place to dress your Child of God. These Christ Child dolls which sit on the family altar, evidently need to get a new set of clothes and to be blessed in the church before Lent begins (last Tuesday) which is why I have seen so many people carrying their Christ Child dolls lately.

I’m presently in Oaxaca taking an art class sponsored by the Worcester Art Museum and led by photographer Mari Seder and artist Humberto Batista. They are teaching us the art of collage. Above is a photo of the first one I tried in its UNFINISHED state. I incorporated photos I took of Mexican church statues and photos taken by daughter Eleni Gage and myself of women encountered in various parts of Mexico. Most of them were selling their traditional art — embroidery, bracelets, necklaces, weaving. We always asked their permission before taking their portraits. I’m calling this collage “Our Lady of the Sorrows” because these women all seem sad or reflective.

I’m also posting some photos of the graffiti that you see everywhere in Oaxaca. The people who own these buildings consider the graffiti destructive and a terrific nuisance, but I can’t help thinking it’s another kind of striking Oaxacan art. One row of the photos above shows graffiti art taken indoors to decorate a small restaurant called Nuevo Babel. (Whoops--I just realized I didn´t download that series of photos to this Mexican computer--will use it in a posting tomorrow.) I’m sure much of the street art is politically motivated, inspired by the riots here four years ago and government corruption and oppression, but as an outsider, I enjoy it as art without understanding the underlying political message, if there is one.

Last night, Friday, we were privileged to see more local art in the costumes and traditional dances of the seven different regions of the state of Oaxaca, presented at the beautiful Camino Real Hotel in a buffet and dance spectacle held in the former convent’s chapel. The men are wearing costumes of the Dance of the Feather, which symbolizes the Mixtec-Zapotec fight against the Spaniards. The women in the black embroidered costumes come from the Isthmus, where women rule in a matriarchal society. Their dance celebrates the gathering of turtle eggs (with erotic undercurrents.) Each of the seven regions of the state of Oaxaca have their own embroidered costume and dance. In two of the regions, the women dance slowly, looking grimly down at the floor. But not the women of the Isthmus!

It’s going to be hard to leave the colors, flowers and art found everywhere in Oaxaca to go back to the snow of Massachusetts.

No comments: