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Flowering Oaxacan art form comes to Santa Fe

“Madre Tierra” is a linocut that Gabriela Morac made in 2018. (Courtesy of Hecho A Mano)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Many Santa Fe collectors of folk art are familiar with Oaxaca, Mexico, because of its brightly colored wood carvings of animals, reptiles and fantastical creatures known as alebrijes, as well as for its black pottery and Zapotec rugs. But if Frank Rose gets his way, Oaxaca will gain more recognition in New Mexico for its printmaking.

Rose, who opened the Hecho a Mano gallery in March at 830 Canyon Rd., is mounting a show featuring the works of six printmakers from Oaxaca City. “Grabados Oaxaqueños” opens Friday, Oct. 25.

Rose traces the recent flowering of Oaxacan printmaking to a 2006 teachers strike, which escalated into protests that used prints as a symbol of resistance. The uprising was quashed by the Mexican military during a seven-month occupation of Oaxaca City that saw at least 17 deaths. The civil unrest scared away many of the North American tourists who typically flock to the state in southern Mexico and its colonial capital to shop for handicrafts and to sample the local cuisine.

“Untitled,” a 2019 serigraph in three colors by Alfonso Barrera

But while the tourists stayed home, a new generation of artists embraced printmaking. Their efforts were aided by education from the Taller de Artes Plásticas Rufino Tamayo school, founded in 1974, and the Instituto de Artes Gráficas (IAGO), founded in 1988 by Francisco Toledo, who died in September.

“IAGO was fundamental in the shift of the perception of graphic arts being a minor trade to being considered a discipline in its entirety,” said Gabriela Morac, one of the artists featured in the Hecho a Mano show.

A native of the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle in the state of Oaxaca, Morac studied printmaking at the National School of Plastic Arts at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). She collaborates with Taller Hoja Santa, an all-female workshop in a medium that is largely dominated by men.

Zapotec symbols and paradigms are prominent in Morac’s work, hand-colored linocuts that are embossed with gold and silver leaf.

“My art is a form of personal projection and reunion with myself, my background and history,” said Morac in a statement. “I like to believe some of the pieces become spectators … and the viewer is the one observed.”

Mirel Fraga, another female printmaker featured in the exhibition, said in an email that her work is inspired by “nature, plants, animals, the cosmos, life on and outside the Earth, magical objects, colors and our relationship as human beings with all of them.”

“Flora,” a serigraph in six colors created by Mirel Fraga in 2019.

In Fraga’s flowing serigraph “Flora,” one could be just as easily be looking at an underwater scene as at a tropical forest because of the way the print seems to flow off the canvas.

Meanwhile, the work of Fraga’s partner, Alfonso Barrera, explores darker themes, as evidenced by the skulls in “Untitled,” a 2019 serigraph in three colors. “In Mexico, the culture sees death in a different way (than in the U.S.),” Barrera said. “I think the violence of the world and my country have an influence on many things that I make.”

Although he mainly draws with graphite and charcoal on paper, Barrera also creates books with no more than 200 copies through the editorial project Polvoh Press.

Barrera said he doesn’t necessarily see himself as part of a larger movement, but Fraga has a different perspective. “I feel part of a movement of illustrators, designers and artists trying to work across different disciplines, trying to apply their drawings or ideas from paper to textiles, ceramics, printmaking, books, fanzines, clothes and paintings,” she wrote by email. “There is a big movement of artists with very different techniques, styles and themes showing their work in galleries, open studios and printing workshops now in Oaxaca.”

Visitors to Hecho a Mano can get a snapshot of that scene with the works of Alberto Cruz, Daniel Hernández and Miguel Martinez, as well as Morac, Barrera and Cruz. “It is important to recognize that printmaking in Oaxaca is very diverse,” said gallery owner Rose. “These six artists are not a definitive statement about printmaking in Oaxaca, but rather artists that I personally think are making extraordinary work and happen to be creating in the same ecosystem.”

Rose started visiting Oaxaca five years ago and began acquiring prints for his own collection of art.

Prior to opening Hecho a Mano, he worked at form & concept and Manitou Gallery in Santa Fe. In addition to prints, Rose’s new gallery focuses on jewelry and ceramics.

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