Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Natural History Museum, Mexico City 2007

Germaine Gómez Haro

El maíz es nuestra vida / Corn is our life

In our country, the relationship between man and corn dates back to the dawn of Mesoamerican civilization and travels far beyond the mere nutritional factor. Corn cultivation determined economic, political and social devellopement in ancient Mexico. Hence, it is considered the “primordial plant”—the sustenace of the people who gave credit to one of the most important gods in the precolumbian world. Those in the Aztec world called her Centeotl, and in her masculine state-Chicomecoatl. She was patroness of terrestrial fertility. Xilonen is the name given to the tender corncobs, while Ilmatecuhtli represents the old, dry cobs. Among the Zapotecs, the patron of corn is Pitao Cozobi, and according to Popul Vuh legends, the gods created man from cornmeal. Innumerable works of art relay the importance of the corn cult in the Mesoamerican society. The indigenous people have conserved and perpetuated these traditions throughout the centuries, which form the most intrinsic foundations of our identity today as Mexicans.
“Maize is our life,” proclaim 48 artists native to or residents of Oaxaca. They speak by exhibiting their forms of expression in the exhibit entitled with the same phrase. It was present in the Natural History Museum until February of 2009.

Concern about the dangers that genetically altered crops impose the survival of native corn led this group of artists to create an exhibit which would eventually include painting, sculpture, prints, installation, art-object, photography, and video. Artists and founding members of the Curtiduria (an alternative art space dedicated to the exhibition of and the promotion of, contemporary art in Oaxaca), Demian Flores and Marietta Bernstorff, launched a call for entries for women wishing to create artwork based on the corn theme. More than one hundred entries pored in. The show exhibited a selection of fifty-two pieces of various media with the intention of expanding the show and altering it to include new participants. Another motive of this singular exhibit was to reunite well-known artists, blossoming artists, and social activists in order to form a common voice that would protest the blindness and the obstinacy of those who support transnational corporations that are contaminating the Mexican farmland with their diabolic genetically-altered seeds for the economic benefit of a handful of people. The irreversible health damage that these altered crops pose is also grave. It is imperative that we raise awareness in the Mexican people of the severity of the problems caused by the loss of our ancient traditions and values, which have given our now endangered culture its extraordinary richness.

Juanita Vasquez, Zapotec social activist and community leader from Yalalag, was present at the opening. She has been instrumental in defending native corn in Oaxaca. She advised many of the women who participated in the show about the fundamental role that corn plays in the daily life of the indigenous people. “We are digging a grave here in our country,’ exclaimed Juanita, “We are burying our culture. No matter the cost, we have to save the corn that it our sacred inheritance.”

Among the various exhibited works, the artists expressed their very personal interpretations on the importance of corn and its close ties to indigenous women and the land. It can be considered a sacred plant. The vocabulary and techniques employed were numerous. The genius and the audacity in which this critical theme was expressed were noteworthy. Such is Izmalli Coca’s case. She contributed the piece entitled “Esteril o Fructifera (Sterile or Fruitful),” which recreated the history of Sara, a mannequin representing Mother Earth, dressed in a gown made with pieces of tortilla and corn grains.

The “Maize is Our Life” theme poses an interesting reflection based on humor, irony, and artistic beauty, as poet Natalia Toledo puts it. “Scatter purple grains across your petate in order to learn about the cob from which you are made. Thresh your body on the comal and its fire. On this earth, we are grains of corn.”

La Jornada, Sunday October 14th, 2007