Guest Curator: Kerin Gould

This exhibit highlights the many artistic and cultural expressions crafted by the Hñañhú community of San Pablito, including beadwork, embroidery panels, embroidered and beaded blouses, and painted and cut-out Amate (bark paper) along with photos of artisans, their home in the Northern Sierra of Mexico, and some of their celebrations.

The community of San Pablito, located high in the Northern Sierra in the state of Puebla, is renowned for its artisans, and particularly for being the principal, if not the only, community to make Amate. The community is also well-known for its talented beadwork and embroidery artisans, and, in the last 15 years, the economy has changed focus from agriculture to a combination of sale of these crafts and out-migration.

Amate, made from the bark of varieties of ficus and mulberry trees, was once made throughout Mexico and used in codices that recorded history, lineage, tributes, medicine, and other important information. Most of these were burned in the Spanish invasion in order to destroy intellectual, spiritual, and civic achievements. In San Pablito and throughout the sierra, Amate was and still is used in offering and curing ceremonies in the form of cut-out representations of spirits. Since every family needs to know how to supply the small sheets for the curandero (medicine person) to cut, this knowledge has continued to thrive even when Indigenous spirituality was prohibited. In the 1940’s visitors to San Pablito saw the opportunity to commercialize larger sheets of the paper, and the crafts economy was born. Embroidery and beadwork, painting on Amate and cut-out designs called papel picado have also combined to make up a diverse offering that keeps many people working.

While the use of paper figures may have diminished in other surrounding communities, and codices are rarely produced, the commercialization of Amate has supported the continuance of its use in ceremony. While the curandero Don Alfonso García expressed some dismay that certain Amate-makers “think only about money”, the income from the sale of the paper also goes into the collections for carrying out ceremonies. The relationship between the commercialization of Amate and the continuance of Hñañhú culture is certainly complex, but the vitality of San Pablito’s culture can largely be attributed to its daily contact with traditional designs and their meaning and with traditional knowledge.

Guest curator and photographer Kerin Gould lived in the community of San Pablito and worked with the Mbithe Hñañhú Cultural Center, collaborates with local artisans, health workers, and community organizers and visits the community regularly.

For more information, visit: http://home.earthlink.net/~kering

To raise funds for a new community organization in the Hñañhu/Otomí community of San Pablito in the Northern Sierra of Mexico visit:

http://www.cafepress.com/mbithe

The designs, adapted from beadwork, Amate (bark paper), and embroidery, are based on traditional knowledge and belong to this community collectively. Through cafepress the designs are available on a wide range of products. They are offered here to support community projects. Please enjoy the beautiful designs and the knowledge that your purchase will benefit this Indigenous community.