Monday, January 21, 2013

Air Cooled Art


The Wixáritari (commonly called Huichol) a Native American tribe living in what is now western central Mexico, produce beautiful art in various forms, the most common probably being beadwork and yarn paintings that are known for being brightly colored. They traditionally made their beads from things like clay or seeds but now use commercially produced beads and sell their work at tourist towns along the Mexican Pacific coast not too far their home in the Sierra Madre mountains.

They traditionally bead things like small hand made bears, jaguars and other animals, but now a Wixáritari artist and his daughter have beaded an old Volkswagen which, judging by the pictures, gets shown at galleries and malls. Below are a few more examples of their artwork. The flat panel items are examples of yarn paintings sometimes called string art.

A couple of non profit or charitable groups have apparently taken it upon themselves to save the Wixáritari from extinction and save their lands from being devastated by mining. I didn't look into the whole matter but provide links to their web sites, here and here.

Their help might be just what the Wixáritari want, but without knowing I am a bit leery of groups who want to save what they see as ancient civilizations from extinction, because it seems to me that they want the people to continue living in primitive conditions while they jet back and forth from the wilderness to their modern homes in modern cities with all the modern conveniences. In many cases I suspect the natives would gladly trade their primitive lifestyles and hard work for more ease and material comfort including things like air conditioning, heat, a more varied and tasty diet, and all the good things in life their benefactors enjoy.

The desire to save primitive cultures and even to save wilderness areas from encroachment by modern civilization is in part owing to a sense of loss that we feel. We are no longer connected to the land that sustains us and as Marx pointed out, in the modern industrial world, we are not even connected to the things we make because they are owned by someone else. We make them, or just a part of them sometimes, and leave them at the factory when we go home. This, according to Marx, is all tied up in a process he called alienation, a term that has become part of modern cultural vernacular.

There are other reasons to save wilderness areas, and they are good and legitimate reasons, but I'm talking about this other reason that we never think about. Most of the places most of us want to save are places we have never been to and will never go to see. We just want to know they're there. I'm not talking about the issue of health and the environment. I'm talking about the vision of an unspoiled wilderness. Something from a past of our own imagination that never quite existed.

If that helps save the environment, fine, and few people are more environmentalist than I am. I'm practically a Luddite, in theory anyway. But not knowing what motivates us causes us a lot of problems. It lets us hide bad motivations under good ones. It affects the policies of our government and what we allow them to do. It affects how we conceive of other peoples and ourselves. In this instance it could be causing problems for the Wixáritari people, and when it comes to saving people, like these people or the Afghan people or the Iraqi people or anybody, we ought to just ask them what they'd like us to do. Maybe they'd like a condo on Maui, too.


1 comment:

  1. You are so right. Sometimes I feel the way about Indian reservations. Pocket of poverty instead of assimilation.