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The Art Representing Mexico

Alebrije can be seen everywhere in the streets of Mexico (Source: Carlows)

The colorful, adorable and a little quirky statues with a variety of animal images can be seen everywhere in Mexico. If you have watched the animation film from Pixar, "Coco", you should be impressed by the bright-colored beast Pepita, which has wings and looks like a tiger. The figure of Pepita comes from Mexico’s most representative folk art, Alebrijes.

Pepita and the Alebrijes in the film Coco

The creation of the Mexican fantasy creature is to combine multiple animal forms, and to include three of the four natural elements, "earth, water, fire, and wind". For example, the lion represents the earth element, and the bird or feather is the wind element. The protruding eyes or the elongated snake tongue represents the fire element, and the fins or the raised spine is the water element. The combinations change and the figures are painted with bright colors and totems, which make them very eye-catching.

Paper Alebrije with natural elements (Source: Pedro Linares)

Mexican Alebrijes are famous for their multi-colored, splendid painting. (Source: EL UNIVERSA)

The Images that came from Dreams

The story of Mexican Alebrijes starts from the town of Oaxaca, Mexico in the 1930s. Pedro Linares, a Piñata artist once was sick and had a fever. In his sickbed, he dreamed of himself wandering in a strange forest. He saw green big trees, rocky mountain walls, drifting clouds in the sky, and all kinds of strange creatures -- donkeys with butterfly wings, roosters with horns, colorful eagle- headed tigers, etc. They all said the word "Alebrijes" to Linares. After recovering, Linares turned the dream images into artworks and named them " Alebrijes".

Pedro Linares turned his dream into reality (Source: FahrenheitMagazine)

At first, no one was interested in the Alebrijes made by Linares. These beasts were too terrifying in appearance. He modified them with gorgeous colors, trying to make them less fearful. One day, a gallery owner from southern Mexico discovered his work, which later caught the eyes of the famous contemporary Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. They incorporated the elements of Alebrijes into their works, and gradually helped increase popularity of Alebrijes. In 1975, British film producer Judith Bronowski made a documentary film about Linares. Alebrijes became well-known to the world because of it.

 

Alebrijes were originally paper sculptures. The sculptor Manuel Jiménez, also from Oaxaca, worked together with Linares to combine the sacred beasts with traditional woodcarving techniques. The perfect match was made, and nowadays woodcarving works of Alebrijes are commonly seen.

Oaxaca, the Cultural Center in Mexico

Oaxaca City in southern Mexico, is not only the cradle of Alebrijes, but also the wood carvings and other artistic creations later inspired by Alebrijes. The city is an important cultural art center. Oaxaca city streets are lined up with colorful houses on both sides. Multiple colors sprinkled here and there, as if God overturned the palette from above the city. Oaxaca is surrounded by high mountains and has been isolated from other parts of Mexico for a long time, and so it preserves many traditional cultures and colonial styles.

Under the influence of artistic culture, Oaxaca’s craftsmen and handicrafts are especially famous, including paper carvings, wood carvings or metal jewelry crafts. It is a mixture of Indian and Spanish cultures, and it also attracts many creative people. It is listed as a world cultural heritage by the UNESCO for such uniqueness. No wonder the city can breed the world-renowned Alebrijes.

Building from the Spanish colonization (Source: El_Viajante)

The colorful Oaxaca houses (Source: Pedro Rodríguez)

Cultural Economy in Mexico

The Alebrijes are a blend of Mexican passion and boldness. In addition to traditional sculptures, many artists combine Alebrije to ornaments, drawings, and installation art. There are even parades in the name of Alebrijes attracting a large number of Mexicans and foreigners, leading to many cultural and tourism activities. Mexicans have been proud of the Alebrijes and cherished them as cultural assets.

The annual Alebrije parade is a tourists highlight (Source: Adn40)

Select Monthly 04 x Mexico Alebrijes