AANY 2010 Winter Show
Editor's Note: Due to a death in our family, the Working Gringos were not able to attend the AANY show this winter. The show is a favorite among locals and expats for Christmas shopping. Handmade items make great gifts, and as you will see by the article below, benefit the artists, many of whom are supporting their families with their art. We encourage you to attend an AANY show whenever possible... you won't regret it. Our thanks to Anny Schrader, who did see the show and took the time to interview the artists and tell us their stories. Thanks, Anny!
We've just finished another AANY show, again with great success. While there were a number of new faces this year, I spent my time talking with some of the returnees to find out what, if any, impact has been made on their craft since they have been exhibiting at the show. I only had time to talk with four exhibitors, but what I heard was an eye-opener for me, and gave me a very positive view of the mission that this group of amigos has undertaken.
The comments go from what you might expect to extraordinary thought-processes that, unless perhaps you are an artist, you wouldn't have imagined.
Leticia Cohuo Moo, whose particular craft is making tapetes, a type of woven mat, has lived in Nunkini all her life, and over a period of time has seen changes in the customs of the people which have affected her income. When she was younger, most people in the village had dirt floors, so the mats were very important to young brides to keep their white dresses from getting dirty as they were preparing for their wedding. Also in those days the rules about putting bodies of the deceased on view were more lenient. It was the custom to lay the deceased out in private homes. If the cause of death were natural, the custom was to lay the body on a table, but if some sort of contagious disease was suspected, the deceased was laid on a mat to avoid contamination of the table surface.
Now that these uses are no longer as common, Leticia told me that it was becoming harder and harder to sell her mats. Added to this is the additional problem of obtaining petate, the special type of frond used in the mats.
The petate material is only available in the months of March and April, and it can only be ordered in advance. This means that the craftsman must have the money up front to buy a supply for the entire upcoming year. Recent crop problems in Campeche have forced mat-makers like Leticia to seek the petate in other states, such as neighboring Tabasco. Considering the recent shortages in the honey and corn crops, which are major staples for barter and subsistence for these people, the expense of such a road trip, which to us may look like a small matter, is not trivial and must be carefully planned.
Another town in Campeche, Becal, also sent artisans. Maria Rosaura Uc Cauich makes hats in a cave on her property in Becal. This is an age-old tradition that she learned from her father. There is a small government-owned stand in the town that is provided for the artisans, but the sales there are very slow. Because of this, Maria Rosaura often has to sell her hats at only $80 pesos each, often to a buyer who turns around and sells the same hat for $200 pesos in a larger town. It takes Maria two days to make a hat.
"How am I going to feed my children on that?" she asks.
Both ladies are happy to have a different venue for exhibiting their wares, and have been pleased with the results. Aside from the merely economic issues, both told me that because of the show and the type of market they have found at AANY, they are trying to think a bit "outside the box" and put new life into what they bring. "The first time I brought only hats,"says Maria Rosaura, "but this time I have brought jewelry, small figures, Christmas decorations, and other items." "We've tried to come up with new designs," said tapete-maker Leticia, "and even though it means a lot more work to complete the mat, it's been worth it."
While the two women seemed to be more concerned with the commercial aspect and the problems of feeding their families, the two men I spoke with talked more about how their work has developed since they have been connected with the show. When asked if he thought that his work was changing, Pedro Ayuso, an artisan from Muna who works mainly with jicara, a type of gourd, said that his technique was the same, but he felt his work was more "sophisticated," and that his style was evolving.
He told me that the reason for this was that, since the show is twice a year and people will be returning, he knows they will be expecting something new and different. This has created for him a "psychological pressure" which he said is good for artists. It is a positive force which makes them want to "improve themselves."
But the AANY shows have not changed only his craft. "I still consider myself as an artisan," he admitted. "I'd like to see myself as an artist. Some say I am, but I look around me here at the show and I feel I haven't 'arrived' yet."
He has indeed given us something new and different this show, branching out from his traditional carved gourds to combining different shapes and forms to create imaginative, sometimes playful, "monsters," giant bugs, and other whimsical figures, made entirely from natural materials.
Roberto Garcia Camacho, a native of Merida, told me that he used to make only "serial" type figures with papier maché, focusing on items that he could sell wholesale. When invited to participate in the AANY show, he saw it as a challenge. He said it "revived his inventiveness," and made him feel more realized as an artist. "The association sees us as artists, not just as artisans," he said proudly. "I see the works of the others here and I am inspired to work harder."
And indeed he has. He told me that he spends as much as three months preparing for a show. Now, besides the hand-painted papier-maché figures, he has included masks and paintings to his repertoire.
As more of these artists and artisans seek to improve their skills, diversify their work, and present us with new and exciting crafts, we can expect the shows to continue to capture our interest and enthusiam. Watch for the next AANY show in the spring (Yucatan Living will be sure to list it in their weekly Events articles), and come prepared to enjoy an explosion of color, popular tradition and creativity, displayed by local artists who are full of pride.