Wherever migration takes us, we Mexicans know that we have a special date in our calendar dedicated to the remembrance of our faithful departed. It is a family gathering when we honour our deceased relatives and friends with an explosion of forms, colours, flavours, aromas and textures. The arts of today in particular, have an important role in keeping this tradition alive by giving it a contemporary vision and significance.
The participating artists in Cuando el tecolote canta, reflect on this tradition, by unfolding, form and content in their own terms, sometimes reinterpreting traditional techniques as in the case of Alec Dempster, who takes the tradition of paper cutting from Puebla, and the ‘tongue and cheek sense of humor’ so prevalent in Mexican popular culture, to create delightfully inventive skull images. The small but powerful metal sculpture Pernicious Podium by Luis Rojas, is in the shape of a pyramidal form made of skulls confined into squares with a clean slate square at the top, the official podium, alluding to the student massacre prior to the grand opening of the1968 Mexican Olimpic games.
The pure abstraction form in Lyobaa / Resting Place by Lulu Ladrón de Guevara, is a brilliant exploration in minimal terms of the play of life and death, light and shadow reminiscent of the geometrical friezes in the archaeological center of Mitla in Oaxaca, known as the place of the dead. On the other hand, the 4 silver prints titled Threshold by Patricia Deadman a Tuscarora Six Nation artist, also portray the resting place of the dead in Mexican cemeteries and ancient burial sites. Albeit, her eye sees in the entry doorways or thresholds, the metaphor or poetic space between life and death.
Jesús Mora created a clean red and white Sugar Skull Tzompantli alluding to those skulls of sacrificed victims exhibited in the main plaza of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. But, in the treatment of the skull, the artist covers the shape of skulls with Coca Cola tin cans, creatively transforming them into contemporary skulls that relate to popular iconography.
The beautifully drawn white line figures in Ed Pien’s piece titled Projection, dance through the black blue atmospheric space they inhabit in a macabre rhythm. The simplicity and fluidity of line within a sophisticated composition, is achieved by sheer craftsmanship and a sense of the dynamics that the artist has of his own body. Considered the most renown Mexican living artist, Francisco Toledo’s two small and precious renderings of the human skull in record vinyl material, become alive as the artist imbues in them, the facial expressions of the living. Toledo chooses an everyday dated material and transforms it into a work of art dealing with the duality of life and death as one indivisible whole.
The participating artists in Cuando el tecolote canta, reflect on this tradition, by unfolding, form and content in their own terms, sometimes reinterpreting traditional techniques.
The impeccable drawings in Homenaje a Posada by Oscar Camilo de las Flores, are charged with drama and sinister monsters, revealing the world of insomnia and reason’s dream reminiscent of Francisco Goya. His figures are trapped in a baroque density of bodies, competing for space. His world is that of La Bestia, the train that runs from Central America to ‘el nort’e which represents hope and terror. It is the world of the forced diaspora, focused on Latin America, El Salvador, the country of origin where as a child Oscar witnessed the horrors of war.
The piece titled Tecolotl also our exhibition icon, and Seed and the Transition of Being, both by César Correa, are intriguing and imaginative. The artist works with a variety of plant material in a technique he himself developed and named izuatl. They allude to the human relationship with the natural world and the ephemeral quality of life. Using only plant materials, César covers the shape of a skull with maple tree seeds and orange peels, that also serves as a womb for ceramic baby, life.
The exquisite and intricate bronze sculpture of Morris Wazney, currently studying at the Ontario College of art and Design University, seems like a movement caught in time and space. This work in various pieces, forms one whole and speaks of the combined absence and presence of the human body. Morris’s sculpture leans towards fabrication research, interactive art and installation.
In the Mirror of Life by Juan Alcázar 1954-2006, a contemporary Oaxacan printmaking artist, the narrative and treatment is in keeping with the strong vein of magic realism in the Latin American. He was an admired teacher of generations of artists in Oaxaca. Life and death are a process in his metaphor of the mirror that portrays the inevitable, as the skeleton seems to be saying: “as you see me, you shall see yourself”. The drawings of Maria Luisa de Villa a master’s degree from UNAM, celebrate Mexican flora, reflecting place and a message of import to the 21st century: that of the delicate balance between humans and nature and life and death. “I am moved by the majestic forest cathedrals of Canada, the nation that carries the scent of sweet grass; the wise Mexican milpa (maize) culture, with me allways, I carry the image which is my own, that of the land of yellow cempasúchil flower and tezontle red, the place of the ofrendas and laughing sugar skulls, where every fall, the migrant butterflies return.”
Como una pintura
Nos iremos borrando.
Como una flor,
Nos iremos secando
Aquí sobre la tierra.
de plumaje de ave zacuán,
De la preciosa ave de cuello de hule,
Nos iremos acabando
Nos vamos a su casa.
Alguien me habló todos los
días de mi vida
al oído, despacio, lentamente.
Me dijo: ¡vive, vive, vive!
Era la muerte.
– Jaime Sabines
Señoras del presente y del olvido
las hormigas recorren
los espacios del silencio
arrastrando grumos de vida
hacia el mundo de las sombras
– Homero Aridjis