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Oaxacan Art Based in Sayulita

Alexis Velasco
Mar. 29, 2016
1,555 views

The zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-columbian community that flourished in the Mexican region known as “Isthmus of Tehuantepec,” which covers the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, including areas of Tabasco and Chiapas. This culture dates back at least 2,500 years, and a rich legacy of customs and traditions that people in the zone continue to preserve. Among theme, the art of weaving is one of the region’s artistic expressions that has been shared from generation to generation.

Francisco Ruiz is a zapotec weaver who moved from his home state to Sayulita, in Riviera Nayarit, hoping to provide his family with a better quality of life and to make his art known in this part of the country. Over the past five years, he’s been exhibiting his work at “Alebrijes,” a gallery located on Revolution Avenue in downtown Sayulita.

I represent the third generation of weavers in my family, but this is a centuries-old art that has been taught by grandparents.

 

When you walk into the gallery, you can see a great variety of colors and fabrics and a wide range of products, including handmade rugs, tablecloths, bedspreads, belts and bags. Francisco explains that the array of traditional designs of his products have a meaning in the zapotec culture, some of them represent Ladders of Life, the Eye of God and natural elements like mountains, the rain and sunset. “It is a way to preserve our stories,” he explains.

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The artist creates his works using dyed wool yarns and a loom based in an ancient device.

To create these beautiful textiles, the process can be divided in two steps: dyeing and weaving.  The first is a complex one, usually done by grandparents, in which wool is washed, dyed by hand using vegetable ink, and turned into yarn using a spinning wheel.

The second step begins when the weaver uses a traditional loom to interlace the yarns. Nowadays, most weavers use looms with systems based on pedals that allows them to work faster, but in the past, people used backstrap looms, devices that required the use of the craftsman’s body to create the tension needed to weave.

The name of the gallery comes from other types of crafts, a collection of colored small figurines representing fantastical creatures: the alebrijes. These sculptures are representative of Oaxaca folk art, where they are believed to provide protection to those that own them. The inspiration of their shapes comes from the dreams of the craftsmen.

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These alebrijes are made by a cousin of mine in Oaxaca and most of them were carved out of copal, a pre-Hispanic mexican tree used as incense.

The term alebrijes was given to them due to their similarity with the paper creatures made in Mexico City, and they became famous after artist Manuel Jimenez developed his work. He is considered the great master of Oaxacan wood carvings.

Francisco likes to picture Zapotec art as the tree of life: grandparents are the roots, from them comes the energy to keep promoting their tradition, and young people represent the branches.

Some people in our communities don’t want to continue weaving, they choose different paths, so the branches dry and the foundation crumbles. But if we remain interested in our customs, the foundation will remain strong, along with our culture.

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Francisco and his family continue to celebrate their original traditions and speak both languages: Zapotec and Spanish.

After explaining this analogy, the craftsman says that only 15% of the weavers of his generation back in Oaxaca continue working this art. Even though he is worried about this situation, he looks optimistic due to the increasing numbers of visitors interested in Zapotec crafts.

The crafts we exhibit at the gallery represent not only our culture but our commitment to keep it alive

If you want to learn more about the Zapotec native art of weaving don’t miss the opportunity to visit this picturesque gallery located on Sayulita’s main avenue, just 45 min. away from Puerto Vallarta. You can also visit their Facebook page.

 

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