Bittersweet Harvest:
The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 Poster Exhibition
Amates. Identity Bark

Amate, from the Nahuatl word amatl (paper), is a type of craft paper with the appearance of a fibrous vegetal sheet. Its artisan manufacturing requires the use of bark from various kinds of trees.

 

The elaboration and use of amate paper have their origin in pre-Hispanic times. During the Mexica Empire, the most important events of everyday life, its history, and the succession of powers were registered in the codices, made with amate. Large volumes of amate paper were destined as a tribute - only in Morelos 850,000 sheets made from the bark of the amate were taxed.

 

In the Colony, its production was banned by the Spanish crown, punished with the death penalty, to control legal documents and erase the historical memory of the native culture. However, the Otomis (ñhañhus) of the Sierra de Puebla continued its manufacture for centuries and clandestinely, using the paper to represent their deities and as a ritual element in healing ceremonies, as they continue to do today.

 

By the end of the 1950s and after a period of experimentation, the Nahua Indians of the Balsas region renewed their use, including an artistic innovation: they began to draw the images that they used to decorate traditional pottery, used for domestic and ceremonial purposes. Some painters began to incorporate Western elements into their paintings, such as landscape and three-dimensionality. In contrast, others maintained a more traditional format that included stylistic elements, similar to the Mexica codices. Others experimented with different forms and styles. The favorite content was the representation of the daily and ceremonial life of their communities. Over time, the remarkable artistic development of painting on amate, along with a skillful commercial activity, gave the Nahua people high national and international visibility.*

 

Amates. Identity Bark, is a selection of amate paintings from the Albrecht Collection of The Mexican Museum, one of the most recent additions to its permanent collection. Themes of flora and fauna, mythological animals, and local narratives are highlighted in the show. The pieces belong to the regions of Puebla and Guerrero; in them, one can appreciate a myriad of styles by the artists and artisans who drew them.  

 

* Excerpt from the text ¨The word and brush of the Nahua artists¨ in Artes de México Magazine by Gobi Stromberg

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