What might a palm-sized, multihued, wooden jaguar figurine resting on a shelf in a suburban New Jersey home tell us about its authors in Oaxaca, the economic systems through which it travelled, traditional Mexican values and foreign tastes? The colorful, painted wooden animals dubbed alebrijes were first made by three Oaxaca-based carvers in the 1960s, and by the 1980s a cottage industry in several Oaxacan artisan villages was producing thousands each year; now they are among the most popular and profitable keepsakes for tourists and eBay shoppers. The publications by Western anthropologists and documentarians that have helped form a definitive image of Mexico’s history—and, consequently, its national identity—through photographs of, for example, the subjective reconstruction of Mayan ruins based on Roman standards, have also featured documentation of alebrijes. Artist and architect José Arnaud-Bello has, for a number of years, been thinking about how alebrijes were popularized—and in effect standardized—by richly illustrated books, such as Oaxacan Carving: The Magic in the Trees from 1993. Recently, Arnaud-Bello has been investigating the aesthetic, material, and economic conventions of the production of alebrijes through a collaboration with Oaxacan artisan Lauro Ramirez, which will culminate in a project to be published by Triple Canopy. At this event, Arnaud-Bello will discuss their evolving series of three experiments with alebrijes that propose new relationships between collective authorship and market-induced homogeneity; the artist’s hand and codified decorative symbology; and “authentic” ethnographic objects and invented traditions.
This program is part of Universal Time (Tiempo Universal), an ongoing series of digital projects, print publications, and discussions between Triple Canopy and a number of Mexico City-based artists, writers, designers, and researchers. The program seeks to address publication as a means of producing and distributing knowledge, as a site for the translation of texts and contexts.
- José Arnaud-Bello is an artist with a background in architecture whose research-based work focuses on the relationship between material conditions and culture. In 2013, he and Mateo Riestra founded Lupe Toys, which designs toys that promote intuitive learning about the wonders of nature.