Excerpt from the Exhibition Catalogue, Text by Peter Markman 2013
The Tree of Life is a religious symbol found from the earliest times in cultures around the world, and whatever the culturally specific meanings attached to its various manifestations, the fundamental symbolism remains the same. It is a symbolism based on the tree in nature whose roots penetrate deep into the ground while it leafy branches reach into the sky. A particular tree, then, in its particular place unites the surface of the earth with the unseen worlds beneath and above the earthly plane. In early cultures these unseen worlds were the realm of the spirit, and it was the shaman who could travel, through trance, into them to unravel the mysteries of the spirit in the service of his people. In order to do this, he placed himself at the central point of the world (and any point, when consecrated, became central) and traveled along the vertical axis of the world, leaving the horizontal axis (i.e., the earth’s surface) behind. The Tree of Life, of course, became the symbol of that vertical axis.
But the tree is also an important symbol in Mesoamerican spiritual thought. For the Mixtecs humanity was born from a tree, as the Codex Vindobonensis depicts, and it is worth noting that Izucar de Matamoros and Acatlan are located in the Mixteca Baja, part of the land of the pre-Columbian Mixtecs. And the tree was important in ritual as well. For example, the Aztec veintena festival dedicated to Tlaloc, the storm god responsible for providing water to sustain humanity, is described by Fray Diego Duran in the late 1500’s as centered on an artificial forest created in the ceremonial center. In the center of this consecrated space, the “tallest, most beautiful tree that could be found” was set upright in the center of four smaller trees which formed a square (thus creating a sacred quincunx, an important Mesoamerican spiritual symbol). This tree then became the focal point of the complex ritual designed to bring spiritual sustenance (the rains) to the earth.
So it is no wonder that the Tree of Life existed at the center of Mexican popular art whose focus was generally religious. Inspired by the medieval Christian images in their churches and responding to the internalized experiences of their pre-Columbian Mixtec and Aztec forebears, these potters created a devotional symbol of their faith. Over time, as the commercial culture has come to dominate the spiritual one, the religiously symbolic trees are gradually giving way to more saleable ones such as “The Like Water For Chocolate Tree” offered in Metepec. But as our exhibition shows, the essentially religious nature of the Tree of Life remains.
Xipe’s New Lecture Series
Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 3PM
As part of our growing commitment to expand and deepen knowledge of, and appreciation for, Latin American popular art, Xipe Projects will launch a new lecture series intended to supplement their tri-annual exhibits. Beginning on Saturday, June 8, 2013, Xipe will host “Masters of Ceramics,” their first in a series of talks intended to address a wide range of interests concerning the study and appreciation of ritual masking and the popular arts of Mexico and Guatemala.
Confirmed speakers for our upcoming talk include collector and webmaster, Lee Price Arellano of Austin TX (http://heronmartinez.com/Welcome.html), Ceramicist and proprietor of Historia Antiques, James Caswell (http://historia-antiques.com/), and professor emeritus and director of Xipe Projects, Peter Markman.
All lectures in the series will welcome graduate and undergraduate students, educators, collectors, artists, and any interested members of the community. Events, unless otherwise noted, are always free and open to the public. However, seating for lectures will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so plan accordingly!
“Masters of Ceramics”
15121 Graham Street, Suite 103
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
Admission is free but parking is limited so please arrive early.
For more information, please email us at email@example.com