Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Lo and Behold, Dia de Muertos

Dia de Muertos is so deeply embedded in the fabric of Oaxacan life, that the typical three days of commemoration from October 31 - November 2 is apparent everywhere throughout the year⏤mostly evident on walls that are painted with emblems. Living in our village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, just outside of town, I have been deeply influenced in my own way, and expressed my feelings in a body of art that surprised me, and even more so, the people who have collected and watched my work over the years. I created a series of skeleton paintings. 

Viaje Final, oil on linen, 90x140 cm

While making these paintings, I had to admit it was not in any way a commercial venture. Even so, I harbored feelings of hope that these works were not for myself only, but would be received publicly somehow, someday. Lo and behold, our wonderful neighbor Mayolo who makes fabulous tin frames for Amy and I, went in to town smartphone in hand equipped with a screen to show off the website DosVenados I recently created for our Mexican art. Immediately he secured one of the best galleries in the city to show our work, called CuatroSiete Galeria. It happened so suddenly and amazingly, our paintings are already up on the walls and even figure prominently near the gallery grand “ofrenda”  the traditional altar, built to honor lost loved ones. People can walk in from the street to see it.
LA HERENCIA SAGRADA DE MADRE MAÍZ, Acrylic on canvas, 70x90 cm

Besides all the activity preparing our work for show, Amy’s sister arrived from Minneapolis to stay with us for nine days. 
Oaxacan days of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) are marked by a joyous and colorful revelry that engulfs the streets in a lively atmosphere. As the sun sets and darkness descends, the city comes alive with celebration that honors and remembers departed loved ones. Streets adorned with marigold flowers and flickering candles create a surreal, otherworldly ambiance.
For me, as a photographer it is thrilling to see such color and artistry. 

The three of us drive into the city every day and spend hours, witnessing parades, visiting ofrendas, walking the streets while mingling with crowds of people who most often have decorated themselves. The air is filled with the aroma of traditional Oaxacan cuisine, including the enticing scent of tamales and molé. Music echoes through the streets, featuring mariachi bands, folk musicians, and dancers, all contributing to the festive spirit.  

Tonight we will visit a cemetery where families gather to clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors, offering their favorite foods, drinks, flowers and mementos, and lighting candles.

In our home we have made our ofrenda and decorated it while offering prayers.

Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca is not just a celebration but a profound cultural and spiritual experience, where the boundaries between the living and the deceased blur, allowing for a heartfelt connection with those who have passed away. The streets of Oaxaca during these days are filled with love, laughter, and a profound sense of community, making it a truly unforgettable and magical celebration.

Amy and I are especially blessed this year to have our artwork accepted and honored in Oaxaca⏤in the spirit of Mexico and Dia de Muertos.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Remembering Deceased Loved Ones

Each year, Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead arrives to great fanfare in Oaxaca, Mexico. The holiday has indigenous roots and combines elements of pre-Hispanic beliefs with Catholicism, and is dedicated to honoring and remembering deceased loved ones.

Dia de Muertos occurs at the end of October and first 2 days of November. It is a a vibrant and deeply meaningful celebration⏤a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated throughout the country, particularly in the region of Oaxaca. 

At this time, families create elaborate altars, known as "ofrendas," in their homes, adorned with marigold flowers, candles, photographs of the departed, and their favorite foods and drinks. These ofrendas are believed to help guide the spirits of the deceased back to the world of the living for a brief reunion with their families.
People also visit cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Families gather to share stories and memories, and there is often music, dancing, and other festivities. The atmosphere is one of both reverence and joy, as it is believed that during Dia de Muertos, the boundary between the living and the dead is temporarily lifted, allowing for a special connection with those who have passed away.

In essence, Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico, is a celebration of life and death, a time for families to come together, honor their ancestors, and celebrate the continuity of life beyond death. It's a unique blend of indigenous traditions and Catholicism, creating a rich tapestry of cultural significance and remembrance.

Our ofrenda, 2022

Today during our Sunday free art session for our neighbor children, we made decorated masks from gourd shells. Everyone worked happily on the project and went away with a creation to share with family and friends.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

La Sagrada Herencia de Madre Maiz

Amy and I share a studio at our home in Oaxaca, Mexico. Our approaches to painting are very different and we both admire each other for the unique abilities we bring to creation. Being with Amy when she makes her masterpieces is enthralling and perplexing both.

Amy usually begins work without a clear idea of what will arrive in the end. The entire process is a journey of discovery which she refers to as a ¨conversation¨. It is as though she opens herself to the power of energetic vibration and then uses that to bring forth visions and stories. 

I am amazed at the potent stories that are told in her paintings. My frustration is when I see her come and go from her work, which she does frequently. She gets something done and walks away, sometimes for a day or so, only to come back and change it. She insists she does this at the painting´s request. She is self taught and has to see her work in stages⏤fine tuning all along. 

My paintings take much less time to accomplish than Amy’s. I have a degree in fine art with much academic training. Over the years I mastered my techniques and work with strong impulse, not second-guessing as I go along. 

Amy has done very well in her art career and has more recognized achievements and awards than I during her forty years of art making. It is because she is pure in her creation.

Here in Mexico, we both have been inspired by the culture and our art reflects some new paradigms.
Amy has just completed a fine example: called, 
La Sagrada Herencia de Madre Maiz.  ¨The Sacred Inheritance of Corn Mother¨
She says: ¨Since childhood, I have felt a connection to the jeweled colors of corn, and throughout my life, it has become a totem symbol that represents me. I felt a deep sense of reverence while bringing this prayer to life."

"In my painting, the vital force, coming from the potent world of Spirit is also in the memory and breath of our Ancestors. The Human Being; in this case, a child wrapped in Guadalupe´s rebozo is open to receive the gifts / blessings that surround her. 
And, Corn, the staple of life, is the heartbeat of it all.”

For more : Amy Córdova Art

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Life in the Balance

In the heartland of Mexico, where azure skies stretch over vast, rolling fields, a way of life has been intricately woven with the golden threads of corn. Our village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca is on the outskirts of a worldwide cultural capital: Oaxaca. Our home is surrounded by corn fields that are planted in the beginning of the wet season that lasts from June through September. For generations, small farmers have depended on planting their corn crops, nurturing them with dedication. These farmers, often with weathered hands and faces etched with stories of perseverance, understand the dance between the heavens and their fields. Their hopes, dreams, and sustenance spring from the corn they sow. Yet, if the rains prove unkind during the critical growing season, these dreams are shattered, leaving behind daunting uncertainty. 

This year all looked good and I could look out over the green rows of corn and breathe in the vibrancy. Two companions of corn are sown among the corn⏤pole beans and squash. 
Then in mid September the rains stopped prematurely. It did not take long for the stalks to begin to wither. Unfortunately, now there is not much to harvest, and most of the fields will be fed to cattle. 

The delicate balance upon which the lives of our neighbor farmers depend is fragile. The rhythm of their existence is dictated by the capriciousness of nature, specifically the rainfall during the growing season. If rains prove to be scant, the corn crops suffer. The once vibrant emerald green fields wither under the scorching sun, and the once-promising stalks stand stunted, bearing the weight of dashed hopes. In these moments, the very essence of life as they know it hangs in the balance. 

In rural landscapes of Mexico, small-scale agriculture is not merely a livelihood; it is a heritage passed down through generations. Families rise with the sun, hands calloused from tending the soil, planting the seeds of their hopes within the nurturing earth. Among these seeds, maíz holds a special place. It is not just a crop; it is a cultural icon, a symbol of resilience, and source of sustenance. In the fields, the very essence of Mexican identity is rooted.

Not long ago, before climate change, more fields existed. Now, with all the uncertainty, land is being sold in lots, called “lotes.” As Amy and I drive to town, we see a plenitude of signs vending lots for sale. Already numerous lots have been sold around us. 

Small farmers, with unwavering spirit and deep connection to the land, continue to plant their seeds, nurturing the fragile promise of a better tomorrow. But, perhaps new techniques are needed to continue production of the sacred maíz. Hope must be found, rising like a resilient sprout through the hardened cracks in the parched Tierra Madre, our mother, the Earth.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Give It To The Dogs


Give it to the dogs this week. I will explain in a moment.

At long last, the old tires that served as steps out front of our grand house are replaced by stone and mortar. I had a masonry contracting business forty five years ago⏤so old skills came in handy. The steps properly give a grander entrance to our home from our gate and parking area. 

Back to the dogs. We have two: MaliNalli is our proper house pet and a pedigree Xoloitzcuintle, the famous native Mexican breed. Avión is a dog that showed up on our property, starved and living on trash. He was in such bad shape that although we were helping two other dogs in similar plight, Amy fed him against my advise and he stuck to us like glue. The other two dogs are gone. One killed by mongrels and the other went back to former owners. Avión is our outdoor dog. We had him neutered and given vaccinations. His name means “airplane” in Spanish. His ears stand out like wings when he is attentive. Avión will always have problems. He would certainly be dead by now if left to himself.

Recently, MaliNalli became listless and scared us. She had a temperature of 105. The breed normally runs high temps but we were very concerned. A drive to the vet takes forty minutes. We took her for tests. At the gate when we arrived home, was Avión, covered with blood. I thought there had been an accident. Soon I saw blood spurting from his nose and he was snorting it out in red blasts of droplets. Turns out both dogs have been affected by ticks. Avión has parasitic worms around his heart and probably in his nasal passages. We have made long trips to the veterinary clinic every two days for checkups, injections, tests . . .

The dogs seem to be on the mend. MaliNalli is back to her old self and Avión has had only one brief bleeding spell. We have been advised to keep the two apart, since Avión is in much more trouble and could infect MaliNalli. MaliNalli has had a series of four injections and both dogs are on pills for two weeks. Whew! A handful.   

Americans that visit or move to Mexico are shocked at the condition and circumstances of the dog population. They can be seen roaming streets⏤maimed, hobbled with broken limbs, starving or with mange. Humans seldom take animals to vets for vaccinations or to be neutered. They are left on their own in poverty and blight. Not to say all Mexican dogs are like this.

A couple days ago, Pilar, the girl who lives in the large family above us on our hill showed up at our gate in the morning. Several puppies were missing. Their mother had been run over by a car, so the story went. Her grandmother heard puppies crying during the night. The sound came from our property. MaliNalli had been running up the hill sniffing the ground. Close to our property line, under a big fallen cactus in a cove in the ground, amidst dense underbrush, two squealing puppies were found. They were newborns and did not have their eyes open yet. Strangely, a bowl was there. Amy asked, and Pilar said it came from her house. Amy asked if someone had put the puppies there. Pilar looked confused and did not answer. She was very happy cuddling the pups in her arms as she left. 

Amy and I have never visited these particular neighbors who have been troublesome. Yet some of the kids come to our home on Sundays for art classes, free materials and refreshments. We love the children. 

We often hear of animals mysteriously dying up there. We have found a dead dog on our land, and at least once saw a father from the hill clan racing down with a bag to empty somewhere by a creek. Probably dead puppies. 

The night after finding the pups, after watching our evening movie, we went outdoors to stand in the fresh air and let MaliNalli do her business. Amy heard whimpering from above. We went to the cactus log and I could hear the crying. After searching with a flashlight, I managed to pull a pup from out of the earth. It was too young to have its eyes open. We fed it warm milk and put it in a dog kennel for the night. The next morning we called the grandmother and within seconds three children were at our gate. Pilar took the pup with joy and her little brother said, “How sweet!”