Logo in header



HISTORY OF OUR CULTURAL ROOTS is a thirteen-week course sponsored by FOFA and the Oaxacan State Museum of Popular Art (MEAPO) for the Winners and recipients of Honorable Mention of the 2013 Contest, "Celebrating Mother Earth". The course began with an inspirational presentation by Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, Director of MEAPO and world-renowned ceramic artist. He described how as a young boy he immersed himself in learning the history of his indigenous culture and its important place in the history of Mexico. This had a profound impact on his self-esteem as a creative artist artist who is now the Director of the State Museum of Popular Art. It was with this in mind that we designed this course for the young artists in our contest.
Ruins of pyramids litter the site which is Monte Albán. About twenty artisans gazed in amazement at the remnants of a once flourishing culture. Many students, from distant and nearby villages, were visiting this historic Zapotec location for the very first time. Thanks to the FOFA-sponsored "History of Our Cultural Roots," these students with their artist-professors were on a voyage of discovery. Their Oaxacan heritage, always a presence in their lives and work but never fully grasped, was coming more sharply into view.

The course's two instructors, Emilio León Zurita and Juan de Dios Gómez, are both visual artists. Zurita has also written about the conservation and preservation of Mexican culture. Dios Gómez is an anthropologist and promoter of Oaxacan crafts. Among their goals was to enhance the pride of these young artisans in their history and culture. "Too often," Zurita wrote, "they think of their work as second class." The course changed that.
For twelve Saturdays, from 10 am to 2 pm, students and their instructors gathered, either at MEAPO or other local museums and archaeological sites. Students who could not travel to MEAPO were able to take the course online -- and to interact with other students and the staff. At their final and 13th session, on December 14, they partied and celebrated. Our hope for the development of a "community of young artisans" was becoming a reality.

As the title, "History of our Cultural Roots" suggests, the course focused on two large issues: first, the contribution of indigenous cultures to their society; and second, events in the Zapotec and Mixtec worlds that changed the course of history. Students were introduced to oral, documentary, archaeological, and linguistic research methods. They explored a variety of topics including Cave Art and Symbolism; Numbers, Hierogylphs and Logograms; Calendrical Systems and Signs; and the Celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Students also enjoyed a number of extra-curricular activities. The group visited the local university radio station in Oaxaca where they participated in a program about the folk arts of the region. Being at the university was a first for most of these artisans and one of many firsts that the course provided. Pictured here are their visits to Museo de Arte Contemporaneo and Museo de los Pintores.

"History of our Cultural Roots," with its varied activities and opportunities, inspired several students to undertake their own investigations. Most now see their work and situation in a different light. Artisans from Atzompa, for example, understand that they are part of an unbroken line of producers of ceramics.

Now they are thinking more about symbolism -- including symbols they have used without fully understanding their origins. One student, an artisan in Totomoxtle (corn husks), now sees symbolism differently. He is working with more "intention," he says, using more Zapotec and Mixtec patterns in his work. He draws constantly from his new understandings of Mexican art history.

The course offered opportunities to interested MEAPO staff members as well. Elvia Francisca Gónzalez Martínez, who assumed many administrative responsibilities, found the experience profoundly inspiring. Going forward, she plans to collaborate with Dios Gómez in creating an online magazine (and paper version for students without internet). Artisans, she feels strongly, can write about their culture from their own perspectives.
Dios Gómez sees the magazine as a way of continuing relationships created by the course. Topics for the magazine will be thematic, he says. We'd like an issue on each craft, including interviews with artisans. Elvia, still in her 20's, is also a poet. "Artifices/Artifices", written in response to the course, evokes intimate connections between art and the body of the artist:

Lllevo el arte en la sangre
La Madera en el Corazón
Y las emociones me dan la fuerza Para recrear la imaginación
En espejos para tu colección.

I have art in my blood
Wood in my heart
And the feelings give me strength
To recreate the imagination
In mirrors for your collection

Elvia's espejos/mirrors are a metaphor for many students' experiences. Wood carvers have seen their strivings in the experiences of potters and weavers. They all have recognized the power of their common Zapotec and Mixtec traditions in the work they do. After these thirteen sessions, they have felt bonded to others in the group. These expansive new links are sources of joy and inspiration. Often isolated by the lack of transportation and funds, artisans in one village, specializing for example in weaving, don't know their peers in nearby villages who do pottery or woodwork. But now, as one student said, "we are like a small community."  That is just what we hoped for.

Dios Gómez is looking ahead. "Students have invited me -- and others -- to visit their pueblos," he said. "In the future, we might all tour these villages, meet the artisans and master artists as well as musicians and poets."
Yes, that would be a great follow-up!

Joyce M. Grossbard and Doris Friedensohn


Click on the link above to make a donation of any amount to support our valuable efforts. Thank you! 

www.fofa.us 718-859-1515 info@fofa.us  275 Central Park West, #1-C  New York, New York 10024