30 de Julio, 2011
Al llegar a Oaxaca no teníamos idea de qué eran los alebrijes, pero pronto nos encantaron. Los alebrijes son figuras de madera, casi siempre animales, reales o fantásticos, pintados a mano en colores bien brillantes. Los hay diminutos o gigantes, están todos tallados a mano y se pintan con acrílicos o colores naturales hechos con limón, frutas, y sales. Después de haber visto varios en la feria artesanal de Oaxaca, decidimos ir a verlos donde los hacen, en un pueblito llamado Tilcajete. Las distintas familias tienen talleres en sus casas donde elaboran los alebrijes. Según el tamaño y el diseño del animal, y el tramado y detalle de la pintura, puede llevar desde horas hasta meses hacer un alebrije. T estaba fascinado con los dragones, y se eligió uno naranja enorme. M quería varios distintos y todos chiquititos. Después de comprar varios, y antes de volvernos, fuimos a almorzar. Ahí nos encontramos con otras personas tallando alebrijes, que nos invitaron a ir a un taller a ver toda la elaboración. Ahí nos explicaron como era todo el proceso, nos mostraron cómo los tallaban, los dejaban secar, los lijaban, y finalmente todo el proceso de pintado. La mayoría utiliza símbolos de la cultura zapoteca para pintarlos. Mientras E y L se entusiasmaban comprando piezas terminadas, T se divertía siendo pintado como alebrije en todo el cuerpo, miren las fotos!
El artesano más excitoso es Jacobo Angeles (que fue el que fuimos a visitar nosotros), cuyo arte ha sido exhibido en The Smithsonian y el National Museum of Mexican Art en Chicago. También se encuentra en numerosos museos, institutos de arte y galerías alrededor del mundo. Jacobo aprendió a tallar la madera de su padre cuando tenía doce años, y más tarde fue supervisado por los mayores de su comunidad y de otras comunidades. Aún cuando los diseños de alebrijes han sido innovativos y fueron incorporando elementos modernos, el foco de los diseños de la familia Angeles se mantuvo en la cultura zapoteca. Esto se refleja en los diseños pintados, basados en Mitla y otros antiguos símbolos, como también en el uso de pinturas anilinas hechas de ingredientes naturales como el árbol de copal, el bicarbonato, el jugo de lima, zinc, semillas de granate, entre otros. Cada año, Jacobo viaja a USA para promover el arte folklórico de Oaxaca a instituciones educativas y para hablar en instituciones de arte.
Alebrijes in Oaxaca
When we arrived in Oaxaca we had no idea what ‘alebrijes’ were, but once we started walking around we fell in love with the wooden figures painted in bright colors. They can be tiny or huge and can be anything from dragons to cactus. Most of the alebrijes are made in nearby Tilcajete, where houses double as workshops and galleries. Many families are dedicated solely to making alebrijes, which depending on size and detail can take from a few hours to up to months to carve and paint. We visited several houses and the small stalls set up around the main square. We left with a big dragon for T and an assortment of small figures for M. On the way out we stopped for lunch at a place where we found a person carving and another painting some incredible ones and told us we should visit the workshop to get a full explanation. We went back into town to the workshop of Jacobo Angeles who turned out to be internationally recognized for his work and runs an amazing place.
We first went to the carving section where about six people were working, some with machetes and others with very fine knives and files. They start with a block of copal wood and an idea of what they want to get out of it but modify the figure according to the knots they find and to the errors they make. The wood then has to air dry for a long time, sometimes over a year. If cracks appear they are filled with tiny pieces of wood. The figures also go into the oven to kill any fungus that might spoil them later. We went on to the paint section. Most families now use bright acrylic paints for their pieces, but the colors were originally derived from natural ingredients. We were shown how mixing ingredients such as honey, lemon juice, crushed pomegranate seeds and baking soda yielded an array of beautiful colors. As the colors changed in the hands of the man showing us, T was encouraged to touch and paint a piece of wood. He was very interested and got quite excited. We next moved on to a section where about ten people were hard at work painting the pieces. We peeked, asked questions and were explained what they were painting. Some women were contorted holding the pieces very close to their eyes with one hand and painting with extremely fine brushes with the other, creating drawings of exceptional precision. T was happy to get a ‘sample’ painting on one of his arms. The last stop was the showroom. Most pieces were painted with acrylic and came not from this workshop but from a cooperative formed by several families. One room was reserved for pieces from the Angeles workshop and were painted with natural colors and were much more refined. T decided to go back and ask for more body paint while M played around. E and L were left unusually undisturbed for almost two hours. The result was T’s body fully painted and a ridiculously large number of alebrijes to take home. We left in awe.
The most successful artisan is Jacobo Angeles, whose work have been prominently displayed at The Smithsonian and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. It can also be found in numerous museums, art colleges and galleries in the world. Jacobo learned to carve from his father when he was twelve, and later was mentored by elders in his and other communities. While alebrijes designs have been innovative and incorporating modern elements, the Angeles family’s designs focus on representations of Zapotec culture. This can be seen in the painted designs, based on influences such as the friezes of Mitla, and other ancient symbols as well as the continued use in aniline paints made from natural ingredients such as the bark of the copal tree, baking soda, lime juice, pomegranate seeds, zinc, indigo, huitlacoche and cochineal. Each year, Jacobo travels the United States to promote Oaxacan folk art in general to educational institution as well as a speaker at art institutions.