HANDICRAFTS FROM OAXACA: THE ALEBRIJES

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Friday, October 6, 2023, By Jessica Hernández, Real Estate Advisor in SILMÉXICO

 

Oaxaca is the state of the Mexican Republic known as the most diverse in culture, in addition to all the gastronomy that it has and its more than 10 original towns, this state has different cultural representations, among them the handicrafts of each of its regions. From pieces elaborated in clay, to hand-embroidered garments, which are a source of pride and distinguish us worldwide. One of these recognized cultural jewels is the alebrije, which you have undoubtedly heard of and if you have visited Oaxaca you will have seen it in large sculptures exhibited in museums and stores. Here we tell you all about these mysterious, but colorful and original figures.

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What are the Alebrijes?

Alebrijes are the most recognized and appreciated handicrafts in Mexico and are characterized by their curious and colorful shapes, carved in wood. They are considered mystical beings formed from parts of different animals, so you can see dogs with bird feathers, cats with wings, lions with crow’s feet, etc. Besides being carved in wood, the alebrijes are also made of cardboard and hand-painted by artisans from Oaxaca.

How did the Alebrijes originate?

The author of these marvelous figures is Pedro Linares Lopez, originally from Mexico City, who in 1936 was ill. One night while he was delirious he had a dream in which these strange and vibrantly colored figures appeared to him, which once his health improved, were captured in cardboard. The alebrijes became so famous that they reached the hands of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Thanks to the alebrijes, in 1990 Linares was awarded the National Prize for Science and Art.

You may ask yourself then, how did these crafts come about in Oaxaca? It was in the United States where a workshop on alebrijes was held, which was attended by Manuel Jimenez Ramirez, a native of the town of San Antonio Arrazola, who took his knowledge to his community and there perfected the technique, carving the figures in copal, since then until now Arrazola is recognized for the production of Alebrijes, which spread to the neighboring towns of San Martin Tilcajete and La Union Tejalapan.

Plagiarism protection

Due to their uniqueness and beauty, the alebrijes have been replicated in different parts of the world, to avoid plagiarism and revalue the invaluable work of Oaxacan artisans, on October 19, 2020 was published in the Official Journal of the Federation the protection against plagiarism of these crafts. After the request was made by the Ministry of Economy of Oaxaca, this was attended and it was thus indicated in the DOF the Declaration of Geographical Indication which states that these figures belong to the Central Valleys of Oaxaca and are protected by the Mexican Law against plagiarism.

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The Alebrijes are more than a handicraft

The Declaration of Geographical Indication by which the Alebrijes are protected, not only serves against plagiarism but also to give them the added value that these figures deserve. These pieces cannot be plagiarized or manufactured industrially in series, because there is not and there cannot be any alebrije that is equal to another, since they are not simple crafts, because in the ideology of the people, each one is considered as a spiritual guide, with its own personality and different characteristics, they are as unique as each one of the human beings. The belief dictates that the alebrijes are the ones who choose who will be their owner.

On your next visit to Oaxaca do not forget to visit some of the towns where these crafts are made and buy one of these wonderful pieces, in addition to supporting the local economy, you will have in your hands a piece of Oaxacan culture.

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