Monday, July 31, 2023

2023 07 Vida y Sueños (Life and Dreams): A Mixed Media Art Experience with Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus During Oaxaca’s Famous Guelaguetza Festival Dia Uno and Dos

Vida y Sueños (Life and Dreams)

A Mixed Media Art Experience with Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus 

During Oaxaca’s Famous Guelaguetza Festival

Having been to Oaxaca, Mexico (as well as Mexico City and Chiapas) for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in November, I was thrilled hear that Michael deMeng and his wife Andrea Matus deMeng were going to team teach a workshop in July of 2023. 

Here is the course description: “This workshop takes place during the festival of Guelaguetza, an annual festival honoring traditional dances and one of the most beautiful celebrations in all of Mexico. The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and means a reciprocal exchange of gifts or offerings. The customs of the local people incorporate this act of giving and sharing in their cultural celebrations. The festival features cultural dances and traditional dress from the eight regions of Oaxaca (Valle, Sierra Juárez, Ejutla, Istmo de Tehuantepec, Huautla de Jiménez, Pinotepa Nacional, Huajuapan de León, and Tuxtepec). In this retreat we will be celebrating the longstanding tradition of storytelling through the creation of a wall-hanging based on the traditional Mexican (pre-Columbian) garment called the huipil (pronounced we-peel). The huipil is a traditionally indigenous garment made by women and for women. The tunic style clothing is often made up of three heavily decorated sections and includes a wealth of personal symbolism depicting the stories and the lives of the women in each region they represent. This concept will be the starting point for our journey.

In Andrea’s portion of the workshop you will create a collection of mixed media scrolls.   This all starts off with a canvas (rolled canvas for easy travel) that we will divide into three sections for our tapestries and then with a variety of techniques create our unique stories incorporating many elements from the region as well as the personal symbols you bring along. We’ll “weave” our tapestries, not from thread, but rather through the use of paint, pastels, collage, stencils, and textiles.

As for Michael’s portion, you of course will need something to display this wondrous and story laden garment.  So, using the techniques of assemblage and sculpture you will incorporate various found objects to create a decorative hanging device to exhibit your scrolls. The objects used may be items you bring or you can add a bit of local flair by including bits found in the markets or shops of Oaxaca. 

By the end of the week, using a combination of two dimensional and three dimensional art techniques you will have created a visual narrative; your very own story as factual or fantastical as you wish…and along the way, you will get to experience the amazing traditions of one of the most magical cities in the world.”

I was equally thrilled when my wife Denice decided to come along. We made our art plans together as well as our travel plans. This means we can hold down the weight by sharing art supplies and also by preparing some of the pieces at home before journeying to Mexico. 

Dia Uno, July 12th (Wednesday)

Our sister-in-law Marijeanne Gorectke and her husband Donnie agreed to drive us all the way to Chicago’s O’Hare airport when we realized that the usual bus we take from Milwaukee would not get us there in time. So everyone had to get up before dawn in order for us to leave our house by 6:00 a.m.

We were at Terminal 1 for our United flight by 7:30 a.m., got checked in, got through TSA and were in the terminal seats by 8:00 a.m. Our 10:35 a.m. flight was on time and we were in Houston by 1:30 p.m. We fly to Houston because United has one of the few direct flights from the US to Oaxaca and this is the second time I have taken advantage of how easy it makes this journey.

This year our art buddy Marilyn Werst, from Louisville, KY, was there to take the same flight. After we all got together, we boarded our flight to Oaxaca, only to have it’s take off delayed by about twenty minutes while we waited to have luggage loaded.

We still arrived in Oaxaca, Mexico, around 7:00 p.m. but it got very confusing at that point as we discovered that Oaxaca does not leap ahead in spring anymore so although they are in the Central Time Zone, it was only 6:00 p.m.

To get to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Centro Historico in the historic old town of Oaxaca, we take what is called a collectivo but is essentially a hotel shuttle. Every time I come to Oaxaca, we are the last hotel on the route and this proved true again. It is a safe, cheap and efficient way so actually I have no complaints.

Art work in the Holiday Inn Centro Historico

Denice, the first time traveler, was too tired to head out into the night but Marilyn and I walked over to the restaurant now dubbed “the clubhouse,” La Terraza de Barro. Marilyn and I found Michael and Andrea, David and Marci Donley, Solange, Kathleen, Helen and Una. The special surprise for me was to find our former fearless leader Colleen Darling there acting as our new fearless lead Mija’s major domo.  

Dia Dos, July 13th  (Thursday)

When ever I have a remote workshop I always fly in one day ahead of the suggested fly in day because air travel now adays is so unreliable. That meant today was a free day and I really wanted to spend this day with Denice oriented her to this city that I love.

Michael deMeng and me at breakfast (Photo by Denice)

One of the great things about the Holiday Inn here is that they have breakfast buffet that is in my opinion far and above your average hotel fare. The other thing that is so cool is that the wait staff in the restaurant has pretty much not changed all the years we have been coming here. That means everyone greets each other with big smiles, broken Spanish and great conviviality. We seriously really like these people a lot. 

Mogigangas, or the giant paper-mache parade figures, are everywhere

The wall art in Oaxaca is constant, wonderful and everywhere

The Tilitche, or The Old One, a parade and dance costume made of rags

Photo by Denice

After breakfast, Denice and I walked though the park across the street from the hotel to the nearby supermercado. We stocked up on drinks, snacks and a few things we needed as art supplies and then took then all back to our room.

Denice and I headed over to the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca for the English language tour at 11:00 am. The gardens were the number one thing I wanted Denice to see as I knew she would love the plants and the very educational two hour tour that you get from the guide. 

Photo by Denice

We were so hot after that tour that we went to the Alcala area to get some drinks. 

There we met again a woman named Nancy Hatcher who we had met at the airport while waiting for our luggage. 

Nancy Hatcher (from the organization's website)

We had a nice long conversation with her and found out about her adventures bringing needed medical supplies to the Oaxaca area hospitals and her work on the board of an organization called Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots that puts deserving kids from Oaxaca through school. (During the trip we saw a lot of needy kids busking on the streets but we did not donate there. Instead we decided to give a year's sponsorship to a deserving child through Nancy's organization after we got home).

The botanical gardens are a part of the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán so we walked back there to tour the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca.

Modern Book Arts

Ancient Book Arts

Next we walked down the alcala to the zocalo but before we could actually enter the square, we decided to head back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. We had picked a restaurant we found across the street from The Clubhouse called Casa Celia. 

Later on this trip we will visit the Suberraneos Taller but their work is everywhere on the walls

A street busker

An unwritten rule in Oaxaca: if a church's door is open--go in. Below are photos from the Catedral de Oaxaca.

The magnificent etched doors

I learned that during Dia de los Muertos in November, parades are called "comparsas."  Now, during Guelaguetza, the parades are "la calendas." Here is the first one we witnessed and there we ran into our workshop leaders, Andrea Matus and Michael deMeng.

Watch out for the flying arms of these mogigangas (he says for a friend)

Zancudos Stilt Walkers

Michael deMeng

Denice decided to end her first full day in Oaxaca but after dropping her off at the hotel, I headed straight back to the Alcala and the walk to the Zocalo, looking for unique things. 

Wall art featuring the countenance of Macedonio Alcalá of whom the walk is named

Same as for Dia de los Mueros, the alcala is being turned into a mall

I think I have photographed this blind busker every time in Oaxaca

The Santo Domingo

The door was open

As the night ends, I am reminded this trip will be all about the dance