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The Power of Art

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Tree of Life.jpg

El Rio Nazas (translation: The River of Baskets) borders the states of Durango and Coahuila in Mexico. Its name comes from the indigenous peoples, like the Hume, who would fish on the banks of the river with baskets. The mix of Indian and Spanish is quite visible in this area. The Spanish influence, however, is distinctly from Spain's southern tip: Sevilla.  Sevilla has always been heavily moorish.  The church in Lerdo, Durango gives this away.  It looks like a structure that belongs to The Alhambra with its minarets, arches, and arabic calligraphy etched on its walls. 

In my youth, I spent many hours at the river and within the church (named La Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon) investigating the beautiful tall swirls of arabic calligraphy, the gracefully curved stone arches.  Inside, the statues of saints sat or stood on little platforms cloaked in green, red, blue, or purple velvet on which were pinned hundreds of tiny milagros--an indigenous practice.  I was quite aware that this mix of cultures and spiritual beliefs (Indigenous, Spanish, Muslim) were not like my home back in the U.S. where every Catholic Church looked architecturally the same, painted in muted grays or browns.  

The Mexico in which I grew up, namely Coahuila and Durango, invited me into a world of fusion, of mestizaje--a constant combining and mixing of worlds in shape and color.  Perhaps this is why I so thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Joslyn Art Museum's exhibit on Mexican Folk Art yesterday.  

The first piece (see above) is by Juan Hernández Arzaluz.  Entitled "Miniature Tree of Life of the Sea" is indeed a "Tree of Life" but quite different from the Catholic pieces that usually have a biblical Adam & Eve or Virgin Mary and Joseph motif.  Here we have a whimsical portrait:  a female mermaid queen holding a mermaid baby (its gender ambiguous) with colorful starfish, octopus, seahorses, many fish, and two musical mermaids serenading them all. Ceramic crustaceans and tiny sea anemones border the scene.

The second (see below) is a more familiar religious scene:  the Last Supper. Esteban Basilio Nolasco (from Ocumicho, Michoacan) does something different, however.  The individuals at the table are markedly indigenous and they are eating food common to the Purépecha tribe from Ocumicho:  bananas, watermelon, pan de muertos (Day of the Dead bread), and the fish seems to be the main course.  The colorful designs are typical of Purépecha art.  

Mexico is a country whose indigenous people have endured unimaginable suffering from hundreds of years of colonization.  These pieces reveal the strength of will to resist and preserve their heritage.  

Thanks to The Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha--we get to see these on display!

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