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Dream of a craftsman

Trisha Bhattacharya, May 19, 2013, DHNS : 19:09 IST

Alebrijes

Fictitious: A fine example of Mexican Alebrijes.
Particular science fiction characters and creatures of phantasmal nature that we see on silver screens are not real, but creative expressions of their original creators. These characters contribute and bring to the story a sense of wonder, and sprinkle magic on its viewers.

Similarly, specific crafts and folk sculptures from around the world, through the use of a variety of frames, materials, colours and embellishments, result in sequent odd, but intriguing, almost science-fiction like creations and images which represent the artistry of its creators and craftspeople, to those who appreciate such imaginative works of art.

One such creation is the inventive and colourful Alebrijes, from Mexico, which too have a similar, entrancing effect on others. Although they are not in fluid motion, as are the creatures-on-screen, the still, life-like nature of these creative pieces, in their varied forms, in a spectrum of bright colours, and as solid apparitions, bring forth an abundance of effervescence, spirit and enchantment.

Fantastic creatures

These creatures are therefore reflections of fantasy, combined with characteristics of some real animals and birds on earth, and certain human-like traits. Strange-looking ears, beaks, mouth, eyes, creatures with wings or without, a strange head on the normal body of an animal, or a normal head of an animal on a strange-looking body, an animal with star fish legs, a fish with wings, an octopus with fiery eyes, and other alien-looking creatures with claws, horns, wings, tails, and big and sharp teeth, are some examples which form a range of such creative species in papier-mch (paper mache) or wood. The final pieces are as colourful, elaborate and imaginative as is perhaps pictured by Alebrijes creators.

Each piece of Alebrijes is different from the other, and its conception dates back to the 1930s, when they were first visualised. As goes one version of the origin of Alebrijes story (and there are several versions), Pedro Linares Lopez, a paper mache craftsman, during an illness, dreamt of a number of creatures of an alien nature in a forest call out the name ‘Alebrijes’ to him. After recovering from his illness, Linares created pieces of those creatures out of paper mache. This is said to be the original Alebrijes. Later on, another creator named Manuel Jimenez, from Oaxaca, created a different variety of Alebrijes out of copal wood instead of paper mache. Both forms have found immense fame worldwide since then.

The impact of these creations can be seen in a yearly parade and a carnival-like atmosphere where the essence of Alebrijes encapsulates gaiety and fun by celebrating festivities on the streets of Mexico city, for everyone to see and be a part of. The cultural thread it carries unites people from various parts of the world. Some celebrities have also endorsed these creations for their variety, and the enigma which envelops these artistic pieces. Alebrijes lend exuberance, a sense of mystique and otherworldly possibilities to its environs. Their stiff liveliness finds them manifested in the celebratory glances people give them, or perhaps, it is the other way round, as these artificial creatures are also considered to ward off evil from the lives of people.

Influence of history


The cultural heritage and history of Mexico also had much to contribute to the dream-like experiences of the creator of Alebrijes, and hence we see his painstaking work, in what has now become one of the popular art forms of the country.

The original Alebrijes, made out of paper mache, are small, but those made of copal wood are giant-like. Documentaries on their development and construction have also brought to the world the knowledge and importance of their existence. They have found universal acceptance as being a part of the culture of Mexico. The family of Linares continues to make these fantasy-bound pieces, and even the craftspeople of Oaxaca continue to contribute to galleries of wood-based Alebrijes. Small or large, they are all part of the same family of colours and ideas which seem to lead to a supernatural and positive influence on those whose lives it touches.

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