June 21, 2013

Alebrijes

        Alebrijes are those wonderful Mexican folk art creatures painted in bright colors and patterns.  They were originally invented in the 1930s by Pedro Linares, who made them out of cardboard and paper maché.  It wasn't until the 1980s that artists in the Oaxaca area, led by Manuel Jiménez, adapted their own ancient tradition of carving wooden figures to the more fantastical creatures.  Because the word "alebrije" spread to describe all the Oaxacan-style carvings, not just imaginary animals, sometimes the word "marciano" is now used to
specify the more fantastical creatures.  With both types - the papier maché sculptures of Mexico City and the wood carvings of Oaxaca - the work is mostly done in family workshops and is dominated by male artisans.  These sculptures are not considered an expression of cultural heritage, but are new inventions.
        I've never been to Oaxaca and the summary I've given above is pretty much all I know about it.  I do know that I get a kick out of these whimsical, one-of-a-kind monsters.  They're like wonderful doodles of the imagination, and no matter how fierce or macabre their shapes, the bright colors are so cheerful that you can't help but like
them.  My favorites tend to be the ones that are smaller rather than the big parade-float ones, and I prefer those that are not too humanoid.  But since every one is different, there are plenty to like in all shapes and sizes.
        The first two above are by Linares: a great bird-monster and something that reminds me of a dragon-basilisk hybrid.  Those are the ones that get put in museums, but the more commercial blue dragon is really quite fantastic, too.
        Although a classic dragon is always appreciated, the real fun of the alebrijes is that they aren't classic mythological creatures.  They're wacky, one-off, unique individual monsters that no one's ever seen before.  They're rich in tongues and tails, spikes and fins and wings and crests, bulging eyes and funny feet…  And of course the patterns turn even recognizable animal elements unfamiliar: spots, scales peacock-feather eyes, roses, spirals, zigzags, and more.  What fun!













[Pictures: Alebrije bird, paper maché by Pedro Linares, 1986 (Image from The Children's Museum of Indianapolis on Wikimedia Commons);
Alebrije, paper maché by Linares, (Image from a blog, from Museo del Arte Popular);
Mighty Dragon, wood by anonymous artist (Image from Naay Art);
Alebrije sapo-pez, paper maché by anon (Image from Pinterest from Museo del Arte Popular);
Alebrije, by Lee Custer and Stanley Sourelis (if I read the credits correctly), 2001 (Image from Mexconnect.)
Ocelotl, paper maché by anon (at least, I can't read the name.  Photo by Armando Aguayo Rivera, 2008).]

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