What Is Oaxacan Art?

By Naomi Valdivia

Oaxacan art is distinctive even apart from other Mexican folk art, which is recognizable in its own rite. It is a mixture of the indigenous culture and the Spanish influence from the the 1500s. Day of the Dead and Zapotec imagery and icons are mixed with Catholic icons. The colors used are vibrant and exciting, making it even more interesting.

Identification

The art of Oaxaca is very indicative of the mountainous indigenous culture of the state. There is lots of color used in Oaxacan art as well as very distinct representations of animals, Catholic representations, iconic representations of figures like Frida Kahlo and Zapotec themes. Ceramics, woodcarvings and textiles are all examples of Oaxacan art, which are both indigenous and also influenced by Spanish colonization in the 1500s.

Geography

Oaxaca is located in southern Mexico at the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain ranges. It is one out of 31 states in Mexico. Bordering states are Puebla to its northwest, Veracruz to its north, Chiapas to its east and Guerrero to its west. The Pacific Ocean is along its southern border.

Ceramics

Oaxaca has black clay, also known as barro negro. Because of this, a lot of the pottery and ceramics are black and then painted with different colors on top. Along with pottery, many terracotta figurines are also created. Common figures created are of the Virgin Mary, Frida Kahlo, Day of the Dead and Zapotec themed. These are painted with lots of different vibrant colors. Green pottery is another type of ceramic. It uses a glaze that is green, originally used by the Spanish. These pieces are used for cooking or serving.

Woodcarvings

Oaxacan woodcarvings are called Alebrijes, which is a term that was first used by Pedro Linares to describe his paper maché creations. They are usually carved into animal shapes. Copalillo wood is the most commonly used wood to create these carvings. Tzomplantle and cedar are also used. A machete is used to create the rough basic form of the carving. After that, smaller knives, blades and other precision tools are used for more detail in the carving. After the carving is done, it is placed in the sun to dry. After the carving is completely dry, it is sanded down. Then gasoline or similar liquid is used to protect against insects. This is when the painting begins. These paintings can be quite colorful and lively using vibrant pigments. They sometimes have more realistic colors or wild colors that are not seen in real life at all.

Textiles

Oaxacan textiles are created for huipal and rebozo, as well as blankets and rugs. Huipal is a traditional blouse or dress. Rebozo are rectangular garments usually worn as scarves or shawls. Many of the colors are created by natural plants, fruits and an insect. That insect is the cochineal, a parasite of the prickly pear (nochextli). After the Spanish presence in the 1500s, lots of the imagery that is woven into Oaxacan textures are Catholic imagery. Also patterns of colors and textures are seen.

About the Author

Naomi Valdivia is an illustrator, designer and crafter who began writing professionally in 2008. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communication arts from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.