Monday, November 12, 2007

Oaxaca...a grand adventure

Que Viva Mexico!

Well I'm back from a great south of the border. Mexico was fabulous. The classes and the students were wonderful and I think everyone had an experience they will never forget. This was my fourth Dia de los Muertos excursion to Oaxaca and it never ceases to visually amaze me. It has to be one of the most vibrant festivals on the planet. So I'll give you a brief visual tour. Above is what welcomes visitors in the Mexico City Zocalo (square). It is Diego and a mere two stories tall. Behind them is the main Cathedral.

Here's the city's logo I guess you would call it. The severed head is that of the Zapotec princess Donaji...if you read my book, you'll know all about her. It's a great legend.

It didn't take long for the parades and the costumes to come out. It was at least a week long of festivities. Here is an interesting chap...perhaps it is El Charro de las Calaveras...I never saw him without his mask. Now I know why.

Now why can't we do this kind of stuff in the U.S. We need more fun...we're such fuddy duddies.
By the way that is traditional garb in the following photos, and at night those big balls are illuminated with candles from within.
Giant puppet people. Hooray. Caught this parade by chance. There must have been ten million of these processions the week we were there. A group/neighborhood/school/church get together and they start roaming the streets with bands and giant puppet people.

Or in some cases they show up with a bunch of stilt walkers also in traditional ensembles.

I think every one of my students was hot on the trail of some way cool Dia de los Muertos Poster art. In fact some of the nicest posters were from a political rally (very peaceful). Great skeletal wood cut images. Here's a nice poster I saw plastered all over town.

Here's another nice image if you're into the Mexican wrestler thing. This seem part graffiti part poster...either way, it's pretty nifty.
Aw yes, and who could forget about the sand paintings. They take this stuff seriously here. The day I arrived there were dozens of high school students creating sandpaintings and ofrendas (shrines) for a competition.
As for the ofrendas, these are the coolest things in the world. Pretty much every business, home, school, whatever has one. They are offerings for the deceased. They have a number of traditional items, such as marigolds, and incense but also personal items that relate to the deceased, like there favorite brand of cigarettes or food. You could wander a block without seeing one in a doorway. Here's a nice one for Frida.

One of the things that Colleen (the organizer of this workshop) arranged was a number of trips for the class. She hired the best tour guide ever. I'm not usually into the tour guide thing but this guy was great. He is brilliant. No trite information, but great historical, politcal, cultural, insights. He took the class to various ruins, churches, markets, cemetaries, and artists homes.
We got to see some of the tradition methods of creating various items from wood carvings, to pottery, to weaving. Below is from the weaving village of Teotitlan.
and from the black pottery village of San Bartolo Coyotepec. This woman is Eighty some years old...she was amazing.

One of the tours that Juan took us on was to the ruins of Mitla, an ancient Zapotec city. I had never been. What is most striking about the ruins are the patterns in the stone. The same patterns appear in the weavings. They are highly symbolic and those of you familiar with my art my see some similarity. Did I steal this idea or was it intuitive....I'm not even sure, but as Juan pointed out, these are archetypes that Jung describes and can be seen all over the world. Strange isn't it.

Refreshment anyone? Don't you love the colors and the rust?

Let's hit some cemeteries....
these next images are from the village of Ocotlan. I was wandering around and large group invited me over to there graveside party. The poured me a glass of Mescal (like tequila but better...smokier) and showed me how to properly toast there relatives. Salud.

Here's a couple of images from the city cemetery of Oaxaca. Here's a few things from inside the walls.

Now outside the cemetery walls it's a quite a different experience. might say.

This is one of my favorite shots of the trip. This is a little vampire girl on a merry go round outside the cemetery. These days kids dress up as devils, skeletons, witches or vampires. Heres a little vampiress. (notice her little ghoul brother next to her)

I also had to join the fun outside the gates so I played this cool b b gun game. You shoot the target and and a little scene comes to life. Each lit box is filled with a band scene, rodeo scheme, or skeleton. When the bb hits it's mark the music plays and the figures dance around. Pretty fun actually. That booth was dead until I started making things dance's the crowd that followed.

I did get a little ill on the tail end of the trip (no pun intended)

So I didn't do as much as I would have liked in Mexico City but here's room view
And here's the magnificent Pallacio de Belles Artes opera house.

Well thats it in a nut shell. I'm still decompressing and trying to get caught up with life. Just want to say to everyone that went, what a complete joy is was to spend with you all. I think everything went swimmingly and I hope we can do it again. We'll see what Colleen says about next year. And to're the absolute best....congrats on a job well done. Salud!

if you want to see some more images, here are some links to photos that my students took
Here's Kathy's photos
and KD's
and Amy's

Adios amigos
Michael a.k.a. El Charro


Flo said...

your enthusiasm is so infectious!

I would love to experience this.

I will have to add it to my list of things to do before I die.

Julie H said...

Amazing, Amazing images. Thank you so much for sharing. My fav' picture is the cemetary with all the flowers, and yes the children on the merry-go-round.

Paula Scott said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to put together a tour for those of us who couldn't make it down there with you! I thought of you and your students while you guys were on the trip. Someday....someday... I'll get down there too.
Awesome photos!

J a n e said...

Ahhh! Lovely!
One day- I would LOVE to see these sites... one day...

In the meantime- I will live it through your images and words!

Thank you for taking the time to share!
J a n e

art spirit said...

Michael, what great photos...thanks so much for posting them for us all to enjoy!
Come to Santa Barbara for the summer Solstice Parade sometime for some U.S. type creative fun! I dare ya!

jo said...

Oh My God!! How awesome does it all look and sound??!!
Might have to put this on my calendar for 2008!
Thanks so much for sharing this adventure with us.
Love Jo xoxo

Anonymous said...

Was your guide Juan Montes-Lara? Your description sounds like him. We have used him on our trips to Oaxaca and his knowledge of the history, mythology, and culture (old and new) is astounding. If so, I am delighted that he is doing well; when we were there last spring he was recovering from a badly broken leg.

Enjoyed you post; we have never been there for DOD and this motivates me to get us there.

By the way, another great Oaxacan singer is Susanah Harp. There is a fine recording of traditional pieces with the Oaxaca state band (the one that plays in the Zocolo somke night). But I have never seen it outside of Mexico.

L. JonesMoore said...

Hey, Michael--my photos of the Great Oaxacan Adventure are now up on Flickr. Here's the web address:

I can't say enough wonderful things about the trip, the people, my fellow students, the mezcal, Colleen and you!! hope we can do this again next year...

--Lisa JM