The Aztec ruler wore an outfit adorned with green feathers and large works realized in gold, along with gold embroidery, pearls and stones, some of which hung like embroidery…
—Bernal Díaz del Castillo - Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España
The exposition Mestizaje: 500 años de encuentro, is a project spearheaded by the NGO Institute of Cultural and Educational Exchange of Mexico and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) Oaxaca, working together with the Monte Albán archaeological site and various Oaxacan artists. Those artists work in wood carving, feathered pieces, weaving via pedal and backstrap looms, hammered tin, silver filagree, and oil painting on woven palm substrate.
The exposition is composed of twenty one works made specifically with the purpose of conveying the concept of mestizaje from the perspective of each artist. Each artist, as an interpreter of the multicultural roots of modern Mexico, expresses in each work the results of the cultural encounters that have formed the society that exists today. The work represents some of the various ways of thinking, seeing, and existing in the world that have formed our current reality.
Mestizaje was accomplished thanks to the cultural understanding of the artists as well as lifetimes spent furthering the practice of folk art forms native to the state of Oaxaca. Materials, techniques, animals, images, concepts and notions from Mesoamerica and the Old World are merged in this project to contextualize the cultural diversity born of those and other influences.
The state of Oaxaca is and has been a font of folk artists whose works have transcended the limits of borders since pre-Hispanic times.
The largest metropolis of the Mesoamerican classical period was Teotihuacan. Archaeologists working in that site have recovered numerous pieces of folk art that arrived there from the central valleys of Oaxaca. Centuries later, in the postclassical period, the chronicle of Ixtlixochitl mentions that the ruler of Texcoco housed Oaxacan migrants in his city and that they were considered to be true master artists.
One can find works that attest to the long history of Oaxacan artistic mastery exhibited in the state, including in the museum at Monte Albán, as well as in museums in Mexico City and outside the country. Many of those same museums also contain ample evidence that modern practitioners of folk art in the state are worthy inheritors of that tradition.
While developing the concept for the exposition, the artists participated in various activities in collaboration with INAH researchers stationed at the Monte Albán archaeological site. Those included outreach activities in the form of live online presentations of the studios of the various artists, with the objective of providing a detailed view into the processes they employ to create their work. Those virtual studio visits in turn showed the techniques used to create Mestizaje.
The staff of INAH at Monte Albán also organized a number of publicly broadcast panel discussions where the artists met with specialists in archaeology and anthropology to delve into themes pertaining to religion, economics, as well as folk art objects and techniques employed in Mesoamerica and Europe. Those discussions resulted in a probing and enriching interchange of ideas that broadened the vision of both the artists and scientists involved.
From that basis, the work and conceptual basis of Mestizaje was molded from two mutually complementary perspectives, the scientific and the creative.
The finished work also represents that dichotomy of inputs. There is the physical work and its photographic representations, where their viewer is invited to explore the ways in which the pieces represent the concept of mestizaje via exotic characters that bear garments and adornments produced through two or more distinct media and studios. The pieces display poses, gestures and elements that speak to concepts including religion, war, and naguales or spirit animals.
From a more empirical perspective, there are the documented discussions between the artists and INAH scientists, which resulted not only in the works that comprise the exhibition but also a catalog that includes texts that compliment the creative aspect of the work while exploring lesser-known features of the pre-Hispanic worldview. They do so through archaeological and historical insights that illuminate how Mesoamerican and European cultures collided and commingled during the time of the Spanish conquest, the impacts of those interactions over time, and how they have influenced the development of concepts including those of diversity, equality, and the manner in which one experiences the cultural riches of Mexico.
—David Andrade Olvera y Ma. Teresa Vázquez Sánchez