Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Guadalajara Museums: Huichol Arts

This is one of those rare museums where the gift shop is in stiff competition with the exhibits for the attention of the visitors. Located through a door beside the main entrance to the cathedral of Zapopan, it's not hidden and yet it is not obvious. Walking in seems a bit like entering a back of house room for storing a few odds and ends that nobody quite knows what to do with. A saint with perfect eyebrows is shown holding the virgin of Zapopan during a miraculous moment. Unfortunately, exactly what the miracle is is somewhat unclear.

The museum costs 10 pesos to enter (including children) and after signing a guest book, you step through a curtain made up of dried bamboo. The museum itself is a good effort, but clearly desperately in need of assistance. No photos are allowed and the only reason I can possibly imagine for such a rule is the fear of ridicule the curators carry with them. But in Mexico, rules abound and so it is. The exhibits themselves have signs in Spanish and in something that could be misconstrued as English but that has an odd poetic quality to it, rendering it useless as a vehicle for conveying information but somewhat musical as an accompaniment to the displays.

The signage throughout the space is sprinkled with bits of wisdom from someone named Lumholz (the identity of this person is never clarified) who wrote some things about the Huichol in 1904 and apparently it has never been considered necessary to update or re-examine any of those proclamations. After all, when I want an in depth and culturally aware explanation of indigenous cultures, I turn to Aryan men at the turn of the 20th century, don't you?

A series of dusty and distorted coati are sprinkled about the place giving the odd impression that they lived among the Huichol, possibly even as pets, although that is not confirmed by even a single mention of the creature in any of the signage. A grouping of three mannequins in what appear to be varying states of intestinal distress ostensibly show the customary clothing...and provide the entertaining translation of 'curandero' as 'quack doctor.' Probably not the most sensitive way to depict the medicine men.

The mannequins appear to have come from Sears and with their long limbs and Caucasian features look particularly out of place, if not downright insulting. The final tragedy of the museum is a display case in which some of the elaborate bead work for which the Huichol are particularly famous. Unfortunately, the approach they decided to use is one I would entitle "intricate things in a dark box" and even the addition of a flashlight would significantly improve its didactic quality.

In the gift shop, there are dozens of yarn art creations by various Huichol artists. Those are indeed worth going to see and an apt reward for the curatorial mayhem that preceded. The prices have increased significantly since the last time that I was there (the only thing in the museum that seems to have been updated in the last 20 years). However, given the beauty of the pieces and the efforts required to create them, they are still very reasonable. A couple hundred dollars and you can go home with a 20 x 20 work of yarn art positively vibrating with color and intensity of feeling.

There are also fantastic examples of the beadwork surfaces as well as a book that purports to be about the museum but somehow manages to avoid including a single image of the museum or anything in it. It is a guide the museum in the same sense that this is a set of direction for making vanilla pudding.

So...I don't have any pictures...yet.

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