Friday, March 13, 2009
Contemporary Indigenous Political Art
Ocumicho is a small indigenous village in Michoacán, located in what's called the "Meseta Purepecha." I picked up this piece by Ocumicho artisana Carmela Martinez Alvarez, made for the 2008 concurso (competition) in Ocumicho because, well, I had to. I had never seen anything like it. I've seen overt political messages from this village before, having previously bought some clay Comandante Marcos figures and a train carrying Zapatista revolutionaries with a sign saying "Mexico Armado" (meaning Mexico armed or in revolt). Mexican artists have always expressed their political views publicly in their art. But this two-sided creation about the struggle of desperate Mexicans attempting to illegally cross the border into the U.S. is truly unusual and amazing. If you look on the left, note the corpses in the desert and the women holding their infants. On the U.S. side (photo on the right) you have the border patrol looking up at the gringo with a bottle in one hand, reefer in the mouth, cell phone in his pocket, who is peeing on the Mexican sneaking under the fence. Thus we have the double meaning for the word "mojado", which literally means wet, but has been used to refer to illegal immigrants who have also been called "wetbacks".
Yes, the immigration issue to most Americans is complicated, but for poor Mexicans who face the choice of doing whatever they can to survive and feed their families, versus committing an illegal act by entering our country without permission (which they would never be able to get if they tried) they do what most of us would do if we were that desperate.
Carmen, and many women like her, have said goodbye to their sons who have left the village in recent years to go to El Norte. If the artists can't sell their work, many will give up and join them. When we were there at the competition, you could count the number of tourists, i.e. potential customers on one hand. So most of the artisans you see pictured below, picked up their pieces and went home with them--weeks or maybe even months of work--and nothing to show for it.
The good news is that people in the U.S. who see the fantastic work coming out of this and other communities in the region are excited by it. Let me know if you are too.
If you'd like to see more or buy clay figures from Ocumicho, or to learn how you can visit the village yourself, go to www.mexicobyhand.com.
Ocumicho artists anxiously waiting to hear names of the prize winning pieces.
Below are two young indigenas choosing to dress in modern short jean skirts, along with the traditional rebozo of their Purepecha culture-- representing a community at a crossroads.