By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Most people familiar with Mexico know about Huichol art, the vividly colored, sometimes-hypnotic, psychedelia-style creations of the indigenous people of the central states of Jalisco, Durango, Zacatecas and Nayarit, known in their own language as the Wixáritari.
Who has not been dumbstruck by the intricate, spiritually significant and brilliantly hued beaded folk art that now adorns museums and art galleries around the globe?
Indeed, in the last two decades, the tiny multi-chromed sculptures, masks and wall decorations, with their dizzying interweaving of neon-toned animals, symbols and indigenous designs, have captured both the imaginations and pocketbooks of art critics around the world, as well they should.
But long before the Wixáritari people began gluing the miniature beads together to create these visual masterpieces, they would express their deepest feelings and beliefs through yarn and string art (in fact, Huichol bead art developed out of yarn art).
Carefully designed on sheets of thin wood and held in place with a mixture of beeswax and pine resin, Huichol string and yarn art has, to some degree, been overshadowed by the much more dramatic bead work that now pops up practically everywhere, enveloping tequila bottles, carved sculptures and even automobiles.
But for Cilau Valadez, a native Huichol from the Mexican coastal state of Nayarit, there is no art more genuinely Wixáritari, nor more traditionally reflective of his people, than that of string and yarn art.
Valadez, who along with several other artists in his community, is currently participating in the Third Huichol Art Biennial and exhibition at Mexico City’s Presidente InterContinental Hotel in Colonia Polanco with a collection of four works, including three round wall hangings and a head mask, sat down with Pulse News Mexico earlier this week to discuss traditional Wixáritari thread art.
“Right now, the art world is sort of obsessed with Huichol bead art, and there is no denying that it is beautiful and awe-inspiring,” he said.
“But yarn and thread art are more ancient and a closer link to our Wixáritari roots.”
Valadez, 34, said that thread art is rooted in the earliest forms of expression of Huichol mysticism, and that each piece of thread art is a manifestations of communal omens, visions and magic.
Although the works are generally the result of group efforts, with two, three or even more artists contributing to their completion, Valadez said that before entering into the creative process, each member of the team must meditate and “cleanse their spirit” in order to become mediums for ancient Wixáritari spirits.
“It is our work, but it is also the work of past generations, transmitted through our own visions and interpretations,” he said.
The Third Huichol Art Biennial, which will remain on display in the Presidente InterContinental’s lobby through Saturday, Dec. 3, includes a total of 50 Wixáritari creations, spanning the gamut from tiny wood-backed “paintings” of geometric and animal shapes to a giant beaded mammoth elephant that dominates the entire hotel entrance.
Valadez’s admittedly less striking wall art, hung in a corner of the hotel lobby, is perhaps dwarfed by the giant mammoth and other overwhelming works that pepper the Presidente’s premises.
But it is no less ravishing, with a maze of shockingly intense images of snakes, cactuses, coyotes and butterflies interwound into a kaleidoscope of visions and omens, dreams and reality, all intrinsically linked to the very origins of the Wixáritari culture.
Valadez, a fourth-generation Huichol thread artist, admitted that art, by its very nature, is organic, and therefore must constantly evolve to reflect current trends and ideas, but that, he said, is not the purpose of traditional Huichol art.
“We, the artists, are just a link in the chain of ancestral expression and history, a means of chronicling our ethnic and cultural heritage,” he said.
“For us, these works are sacred, a reflection of who we, the Wixáritari people, are and what our place in the universe is. That is eternal, and that surpasses any limitations of time and popular trends.”