I was awarded a scholar's grant to study in Oaxaca, Mexico for a month through the National Endowment for the Humanities. Stephanie Wood, the director of the program as well as an expert on most things Mesoamerican, tailored a magnificent, diverse and comprehensive program for the participants that revealed many aspects of this abundant culture.
Each week was dedicated to a different aspect of life in Oaxaca. We started with the ancient ruins where formal civilization was solidified with archeologist Ronald Spores. He has been excavating parts of Mexico since the late 1950's. I tagged along side this fountain of knowledge and tried to absorb as much as I could as we scaled over stepped pyramids and climbed hills littered with ancient pottery shards. I hope you are visualizing a puppy because that is what I imagine I looked like! We visited Monte Albán. Atzompa, Yanhuitlán and Mitla.
Week two was devoted to the study of enthnohistory. Oaxaca is one of the most linguistically diverse states, only second to Papa New Guinea. It has 16 languages, which may have up to 5 dialects. Someone in Atzompa who speaks Zapotec may not be able to communicate with someone over the next hill that also speaks Zapotec because of the differences within the dialect. We had native speakers visit that spoke in tonal languages, including whistling. We scrutinized pictorial manuscripts and looked at the role of botany and the cultivation of plants as ways to read the continuity of culture from ancient times to present day. We also had a cooking class where we made mole and tortillas from scratch!
Week three and four where spent looking at the arts, crafts and film of Mexico. We visited villages where indigenous families opened their homes for us to learn more about their lives as well as their arts. We looked at weaving, ceramics, and street art.
I found the people, their culture and landscape to be colorful, patient, rich and vital. I am still decompressing from the trip but I can honestly say that it is a magical place. I count myself very lucky to have shared this experience with amazing people who are invested in improving their teaching and who are interested in sharing this special place with others.
Currently, I am assembling a series of paintings that I will auction off, with the help of curator Marietta Bernstorff, to provide funds for indigenous girls’ education. Learning has always been my greatest joy and I can’t imagine a life without it. Please check out their website and if you can help a young woman have choices in her life, that would be wonderful. http://www.gesmujer.org/