Saturday, December 31, 2011

Alejandro Santiago: 2501 Migrantes

Germaine Gómez Haro on Alejandro Santiago: 2501 Migrantes

The phenomenon of migration as a result of economic globalization and neoliberal policies is one of the most pressing and troubling issues of our world today. Despite all the vicissitudes and dangers, every year the number of people who decide to leave their homeland to launch a desperate search of better job opportunities in the neighboring country, on the one hand affects thousands of marginalized families who stay temporarily or permanently without their men while, on the other hand, paradoxically, it is the main source of foreign exchange earnings of our country.

Alejandro Santiago is an outstanding artist who has lived in Oaxaca and seen firsthand the gradual disappearance of the mainly male population from their place of origin, Teococuilco, in the Sierra Norte. A migrant himself, he left with his family to the city of Oaxaca, where he was trained as an artist. Years later he lived in Europe and settled some time in Paris, where nostalgia for his native country was reflected in his painting, full of references to the Oaxacan culture. Back at home, the impact of finding his hometown nearly "empty" because of the large number of people who had gone to the other side, shook him so much that decided to delve into the issue of migration and raise their very personal protest in a song of solidarity through his artistic work. Thus was born three years ago the project called 2501 migrants, whose first phase is currently showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca (MACO).

Migrant Project 2501 provides for the establishment of that number of clay sculptures representing the 2501 men who have migrated from Teococuilco while the social policy of our country does not perform the changes needed to combat extreme poverty and social inequality. To date, Alejandro Santiago has brought together over three hundred figures.  They now stand along calle Macedonio Alcala near the Santo Domingo. 

Incredibly, each of these fabulous life-size sculptures has its own physical and stylistic features, resulting in the viewer's surprise stand before a crowd of clay, which refers to human diversity.  I have more pictures here also in the album on MACO.  For more on Alejandro Santiago visit

Friday, December 30, 2011


photo by Marianne Gonterman

The creation of the first alebrijes, as well as the name itself, is attributed to Pedro Linares, an artisan from México City specializing in making piñatas, carnival masks and “Judas” figures from papier-mâché.  In 1936 Linares fell ill with a high fever which caused him to hallucinate. In these feverish dreams he was in a forest with rocks and clouds, many of which turned into wild unnaturally colored creatures frequently featuring wings, horns, tails, fierce teeth and bulgy eyes.  While seeing the creatures, he heard voices which repeated the nonsensical word “alebrije.”  After he recovered, he began to create the creatures he saw using papier-mâché and cardboard.  Eventually his work came to the attention of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  While Pedro Linares may have dreamed of these creatures, they did not occur in a vacuum.  Parallels can be drawn between alebrijes and various supernatural creatures from Mexico’s indigenous and European past. In pre-Hispanic times there was a preference for images with bright colors, which were often fantastic and macabre.

What are called “alebrijes” in Oaxaca is a marriage of native woodcarving traditions and influence from Pedro Linares’ work. The Oaxaca valley area already had a history of carving animals and other figures from wood.  Linares’ designs were adapted to the carving of a local wood called copal.  This adaptation was pioneered by Arrazola native Manuel Jiménez.  This version of the craft has since spread to a number of other towns, most notably San Martín Tilcajete and La Unión Tejalapan.  The success of the craft, however, has led to the depletion of the native copal (bursera glabrifolia) trees.

The carving of a piece, which is done while the wood is still green, can last anywhere from hours to a month depending on the size and fineness of the piece.  Often the copal wood that is used will influence what is made, both because of the shapes of the branches and because male and female trees differ in hardness and shape.  Carving is done with hand tools such as machetes, chisels and knives.  The basic shape of the creature is usually hacked using a machete, then a series of smaller knives are used to achieve the final shape.  Certain details such as ears, tails and wings are usually made from pieces separate from the main body.

After the carving, the figure is then left to dry for up to ten months, depending on its overall size and thickness. Semi tropical wood such as copal is susceptible to insect infestations, and for this reason drying pieces are often soaked in gasoline and sometimes baked to ensure that all insect eggs have been destroyed. As the figure dries, it is susceptible to cracking. Cracks are filled with small pieces of copal wood and a sawdust resin mixture before painting. Oaxaca woodcarvings were all originally painted with aniline paints made with natural ingredients such as bark of the copal tree, baking soda, lime juice, pomegranate seeds, zinc, indigo, huitlacoche and cochineal. These colorings were also used for dying clothing, ceremonial paints and other uses. Now most carvers have now switched to acrylics which resist fading and withstand repeated cleanings better. However, some still use aniline paints which have a more rustic look. Painting is generally done in two layers, with a solid undercoat and a multicolored designed superimposed.

Artemio Raymundo Ramirez Ibanez, was born in San Antonio Arrazola near Oaxaca. Arrazola is known for traditional alebrijes. At the age of 14 he began artistic wood carving making small figures. By 2008 when he was 26 he had developed his own style, carving dragons from of his imagination. His show of dragons is called, Temo, el señor de los dragones or I fear the lord of the dragons. This display was at the Palace of the Governors in December of 2009.

I have more pictures of the work of Artemio Raymundo Ramirez Ibanez on my web album.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Itanoní and Casa Oaxaca


Amado Ramírez Leyva who owns Itanoní in the Colonia Reforma believes that corn, domesticated in Mexico, is the basis of Mexican culture.  He has dedicated Itanoní to the preservation of traditional corn varieties used in making traditional Oaxacan tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, memelas, tetelas, tlayudas, tamales, and pozole.  Many different corn varieties exist and traditionally were used in different ways.  Global agribusiness threatens the existence of some traditional varieties.  By following the traditional uses Itanoní keeps alive what might become lost.  The restaurant’s fare is made in the traditional way, corn ground by hand, made into masa, and cooked on clay comals.  Open every day, 7am to 4pm with shorter hours on Sunday, in the Colonia Reforma at Belisario Dominguez 513. They have a website,

Casa Oaxaca

Casa Oaxaca has three locations the hotel at García Vigil 407 which has a beautiful courtyard restaurant, the restaurant at Constitucion 104A, and Casa Oaxaca Café at Jazmínez 518 in the Reforma. Alejandro Ruiz oversees all three locations.  Each has it’s own personality.  The hotel menu changes more frequently and shows the most creativity, the main restaurant on Constitucion has a somewhat more fixed menu but maintains high standards of cuisine and service, and the café, which is also a restaurant, has a nice garden.  In the past they have served a grand price fixed seafood dinner on Sunday afternoons.  The hotel website is and reservations are required for dinner.  More pictures of Casa Oaxaca can be found on my web album.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca, MACO

The Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca, MACO) is housed in the so-called Casa de Cortés, three blocks north of the central plaza (Zócalo) at 202 Alcala Street.   The building is one of the oldest in the city but despite the name, the house dates from the later 17th and early 18th century well after Hernán Cortés.  It has been modified somewhat over the years but still conserves its basic layout with rooms surrounding three courtyards.  The latest renovation to update the building’s mechanical systems occurred starting in 2009 and ending in December of 2010.  The architectural style is basically Andalucian modified by Oaxaca traditions. The house was acquired by the state of Oaxaca and initially housed the Museo Historico Urbano de Oaxaca in 1986.  MACO was created with help from the state government, the José F. Gómez Foundation, painter Francisco Toledo and the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes.  It permanent collection contains works by Rufino Tamayo, Toledo, Nieto, Aquinos and others, however most likely when you visit the space will exhibit current works.  If you go it is open daily except Tuesday from 10:30 am to 8 pm.  Their website is  For more pictures from the museum please visit my photo album.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

San Agustín Etla

San Agustín Etla is a town located in a picturesque canyon in the foothills of the Sierra de San Felipe seventeen miles north of the city of Oaxaca. The town hosts a lively Day of the Dead celebration each November 1. It is the home of El Centro de las Artes San Agustín Etla, also known as CASA. Founded by Francisco Toledo, CASA is committed to education, artistic creation and experimentation, and as a public space. CASA is a former spinning and weaving factory founded in 1883 by José Zorrilla Trápaga for manufacturing raw cotton yarns, blankets, and denim fabrics. It was located here due to the abundant water from the San Felipe. Power came from a small hydroelectric plant. After being abandoned in the eighties, Francisco Toledo purchased this property in 2000 in order to create the first eco-arts center in Latin America. Architect Claudina Morales Lopez designed the space and it was funded through the National Center for the Arts (CENART), the State Government, and private foundations including the Harp Helú Foundation and Friends of the IAGO. CASA opened its doors on March 21, 2006. Today CASA is comprised of a set of spaces providing for artistic initiation and creation. It has spaces equipped for the production of digital graphics, traditional graphic and dyeing workshops and textile design, photographic developing and organic printing. CASA offers the public a library of over three thousand volumes. Under the assumption that the interaction with people from different lands stimulates creativity, promotes tolerance and strengthens a community, CASA invites artists to perform residencies giving priority to projects of ecological and community care.

This post focuses on the architecture of CASA and the paper making workshop as well as some past exhibitions of art paper. In the future I will try to cover other exhibitions, including one of Jorge Wilmot. San Agustín Etla also has a fine hike from town up the valley along the aqueduct for about 3 miles ending at a small abandoned hydroelectric plant and the start of the aqueduct. First let’s make some paper. The small workshop makes art papers from natural fibers indigenous to Oaxaca. On the table you can see several different cottons in the tall jars, hemp and sisal in front, and in the short jars mica in back, flower stamens in the middle and probably another dried flower in front.

The fibers are cooked in a mash with bicarbonate of soda for a few hours or up to a week depending on the durability of the fiber. Cotton is the quickest. To make a sheet of paper you dip a screen into the soup of fiber, drain it a bit then press it out between synthetic sheets of felt.

Various textures can be added using reed mats or even fingerprints.
They make various items: paper jewelry, sketch books, and kites printed with designs by Toledo.

For more photos please visit my online web album. For information on Casa link to their website

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Zona Arqueológica de Yagul

El nombre de Yagul proviene de la lengua zapoteca, se forma a partir de ya (árbol) y gul (edad), por lo tanto, "viejo árbol".  A sólo 10 km de Mitla, Yagul comparte detalles arquitectónicos con Mitla, pero su magnitud y complejidad sugiere que fue una ciudad independiente.  Los lugareños llaman la ruina "pueblo viejo" y recuerden que como el precursor de la actual ciudad de Tlacolula.  Yagual fue ocupada en el momento de la conquista española, con una población de más de 6.000 personas. Después de la conquista la población se trasladó a la moderna ciudad de Tlacolula, donde sus descendientes aún viven.

The name Yagul comes from the Zapotec language, it is formed from ya (tree) and gul (old), hence "old tree".  Only 10 km from Mitla, Yagul shares architectural details with Mitla but its size and complexity suggests that it was an independent city.  Locals call the ruin ‘pueblo viejo’ and remember it as the forerunner of the present town of Tlacolula.   Yagual was occupied at the time of the Spanish Conquest with a population of more than 6000 people.  After the Conquest the population was relocated to the modern town of Tlacolula where their descendants still live.

Yagul fue ocupada por primera vez alrededor 500-100 aC. Alrededor de 500-700 dC, las estructuras residenciales, civiles y ceremoniales fueron construidos en el sitio. Sin embargo, la mayor parte de los restos visibles datan de 1250-1521 dC, cuando el sitio funcionó como la capital de una ciudad-estado del Posclásico.

Yagul was first occupied around 500-100 BC. Around 500-700 AD, residential, civic and ceremonial structures were built at the site. However, most of the visible remains date to 1250-1521 AD, when the site functioned as the capital of a Postclassic city-state.

Yagul es uno de los sitios arqueológicos más estudiados en el valle de Oaxaca. El sitio está construido alrededor de una colina, y se puede dividir en tres áreas principales: la fortaleza, el centro ceremonial y las zonas residenciales.  Zonas residenciales sin excavar se encuentran en terrazas al sur, al este y al oeste de la colina. La piedra de construcción en Yagul es principalmente guijarros de río formados a partir de rocas volcánicas como el basalto.  Los vestigios de presencia humana en la zona, a saber petroglifos en Caballito Blanco, fecha hasta al menos 3000 antes de Cristo.

Yagul is one of the most studied archaeological sites in the valley of Oaxaca.  The site is set around a hill, and can be divided into three principal areas: the fortress, the ceremonial center and the residential areas.  Unexcavated residential areas lie on terraces to the south, east and west of the hill.  The construction stone at Yagul is mainly river cobbles formed from volcanic rock such as basalt.  Vestiges of human habitation in the area, namely petroglyphs at Caballito Blanco, date to at least 3000 BCE.

El sitio fue excavado en los años 1950 y 60, por los arqueólogos Ignacio Bernal y John Paddock.  El centro ceremonial, excavado en 1974 por Bernal, compone la gran mayoría de lo que se ve hoy en día. El centro ceremonial consta de una serie de grandes patios bordeados de arquitectura monumental, y también incluye un juego de pelota y un complejo residencial de élite.  El cancha de pelota restaurada es la más grande en el valle de Oaxaca. Tiene una longitud total de 47 metros y una longitud de campo central de 30 metros, y se encuentra a 6 metros de ancho.

The site was excavated in the 1950s and 60s by archaeologists Ignacio Bernal and John Paddock.  The ceremonial center, excavated in 1974 by Bernal, composes the vast majority of what can be seen today.  The ceremonial center consists of a number of large patios bordered by monumental architecture, and also includes a ball court and an elite residential complex.  The restored ball court is the largest in the valley of Oaxaca. It has a total length of 47 meters and a central field length of 30 meters, and is 6 meters wide.

El complejo residencial conocido como el palacio de los seis patios es una estructura laberíntica formada por tres complejos de élite, cada uno con dos patios rodeados de habitaciones. Una entrada de la tumba se encuentra en cada patio. Las paredes se enfrentan con piedras labradas y estuco sobre un núcleo de piedra y arcilla. Los suelos eran de estuco rojo.

The residential complex known as the palace of the six patios is a labyrinthine structure formed of three elite complexes, each with two patios surrounded by rooms.  A tomb entrance is found in each patio. The walls are faced with dressed stones and stucco over a stone and clay core.  The floors were of red stucco.  

Patio 4 with a jaguar figure under the cover

Patio 4 se encuentra al sureste de la cancha de pelota y es parte de un complejo de templos-patio-altar formado a partir de cuatro montículos alrededor de un altar central.  Una escultura de un jaguar-efigie se encuentra en la base del montículo oriental. Es posible entrar en la tumba 30 debajo del patio 4. Está formado de tres cámaras con paneles decorados. La cámara principal tiene una fachada decorada con dos cabezas humanas talladas en piedra. La puerta de la tumba es una losa de piedra con inscripciones jeroglíficas en ambos lados. Unas 30 tumbas se han encontrado en Yagul.  Usted puede subir una colina desde donde se puede obtener una buena visión general de Yagul.

Patio 4 lies to the southeast of the ball court and is part of a temple-patio-altar complex formed from four mounds around a central altar. A sculpture of a jaguar-effigy lies at the base of the eastern mound.  It is possible to enter tomb 30 underneath patio 4.  It is formed of three chambers with decorated panels.  The principal chamber has a facade decorated with two human heads carved in stone.  The door to the tomb is a stone slab with hieroglyphic inscriptions on both sides.  About 30 tombs have been found at Yagul.  You can walk up a the hill from which one can get a good overview of Yagul.  For more pictures please go to my web album.

Para más información en español visite: INAH and

For more information in English visit: