Mumbai event: Exhibition to showcase indigenous art form from Mexico
Discover an indigenous art form from the Central American country that dates back to the pre-Hispanic period at this month-long exhibition
In the 1500s, when Spain's rulers conquered the Aztec empire (most of present-day Mexico), they grew suspicious of Amate paper. Made from the bark of red and white Jonote trees, the paper was an integral medium of communication - used for ritual offerings, registering data, or as a surface for codices written by the Aztecs and the Mayans who called it hunn and amatl, respectively.
This soon evolved into a form of decoration with the amates being used on shrines, burials, and even as gifts for soldiers. It also reflects the merging of two communities; the Otomi people manufacture the bark paper while the Nahua people decorate it. The latter were ceramic painters but soon adapted to painting on amates.
Amates are paintings made on bark made by artisans from San Pablito. They transitioned from painting birds and animals to scenes of everyday life
Being central to indigenous practice, the Spanish saw no good, deemed it as witchcraft, and banned it. But it continued to live on in a small town situated by the Guajalote Mountain called San Pablito. Closer home, you will be able to find the evidence as 46 pieces stand beaming with colour at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum. "We are delighted to collaborate with the Embassy of Mexico to showcase 'Mexican Amates' in Mumbai. We encourage cultural exchanges through collaborations with institutions and embassies," says Tasneem Mehta, honorary director and managing trustee.
Initially, artisans would restrict themselves to painting birds and flowers but gradually moved on to depict everyday life - a day in the market, fishing, agriculture, as well as special occasions, like weddings. "They're outlined in black before painting. The landscapes are crowded with brightly coloured figures, and suddenly in the centre you spot the bride in white. This builds a different kind of visual experience in Bombay, and could perhaps draw a comparison with Madhubani paintings," explains BDL curator Puja Vaish, adding that amates now support a flourishing art industry back in Mexico.
The frames are accompanied with intricate borders, and retain the texture of the bark - the pulp of which is boiled in limewater, so the colours can range from dark brown to yellow. "This is a folk form that feels familiar, but it's not, which gives the amates a wider appeal. It will definitely draw the attention of folk art lovers, but in the end, this is a painting with a narrative. So, this is for everyone," Vaish tells us.
TILL: November 13, 10 am to 6 pm
AT: Veer Mata Jijabai Bhonsle Udyan, Byculla East.
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