Over the weekend, I returned the book I had been borrowing from the Texan on Mexican culture and history. We got to talking and I mentioned that one of the ideas I´ve been thinking about since last summer is to set up art tours. Guanajuato is filled with magnificent art that hasn´t been tapped into by tourists that visit here for cultural reasons. I thought I could set up a website and folks could select the artists they would wish to meet. I could take them to the studios where they could have an experience with the artist which makes for a more meaningful approach to collecting art. My friend thought this to be a good idea and told me I should visit his neighbor, Elba. He handed me her catalog and the moment I laid my eyes on her masks, I knew I had to have one.
So F and I went over to Elba´s. After a bit of negotiating with Rocco, her dog, and waiting for her to come home, she invited us in. She is getting ready for an exposition in Chihuahua, so her art was either boxed up or in disarray, piles of it everywhere. Looking around, I saw we had found a goldmine.
Her work is incredible. She works mainly with clay, but there were plenty of other mediums as well. F and I spent the afternoon with her. She allowed me to photograph most of her work while she shared her ideas of art and her creative process. As she spoke, I felt as though I was in the presence of a genuis.
Her masks are alive. I could feel each of their personalities as I held them in reverence. Her work revolves around three main themes: death, the devil (a playful devil), and eroticism. I asked about her influences and what inspires her. She told me that the act of creating inspires her. That all she does is give birth to the pieces, and like children, they come out with full-formed personalities. She never plans a piece. She simply begins, and in a ferver of molding and creativity, the piece shapes itself. She told me that interviewers will ask her what her masks mean. She tells them to ask the masks themselves. That if you wait long enough, they will inspire you to write a poem or a novel, paint, or to set your thoughts in order.
Fernando and I left hours later. I had held three masks, letting them breath in my arms. And I had a catalog to consider. Even though they are expensive, I knew I would bring one home with me the next day. I couldn´t sleep that night. I thought of Elba and her masks. I wondered what it would be like to create like she does. I admired her, the process, and the legacy she will leave behind. All night long I wondered which mask I would bring home. I heard the roosters begin crowing at 5, and the church bell ring at 6. Finally, at 7, I woke Fernando up and asked if he would walk around the countryside with me. Always willing and sweet, he agreed and we set off early to catch Guanajuato´s morning light and relatively empty streets.
Hours later, we arrived once again at Elba´s doorstep. Rocco remembered us and let us in without any hassle. I told Elba that I had come to a decision and that I would be adopting Escarabajo de la muerte which translates to Death Beetle. She was pleased and told me that of all the masks she´s created, this was her favorite. As she began preparing Escarabajo de la muerte for transport, her eyes started watering and she told me she cries every time she sells a mask. By the time she passed me my prize swaddled in plastic bubble wrap, I was crying too.
I´ve nicknamed her Chula which is the Southern equivalent of darlin´. I can´t take my eyes off of her, and when F and I are out of the house, I think of her there, waiting for us. When F left for work this morning, he put her in bed with me where I admired her and then picked up my book and read for awhile.
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