Six ceramic paths in Mata Ortiz
Juan Carlos Jimenez Abarca
At the end of the 1970s, the artistic phenomenon currently known as Cerámica de Mata Ortiz burst onto the international scene. The potter Juan Quezada, the anthropologist Spencer MacCallum and many other men and women have participated in the wonderful process of revitalizing the ceramic traditions of Casas Grandes, now spanning three generations dedicated entirely to their creations.
Heritage and Design. Six ceramic paths in Mata Ortiz is an exhibition that promotes the work, experiences and trajectories of six artists of great material, cultural and human quality – belonging to the second and third generation of ceramists in the community. With this, Arte Marakame promotes creativity and the routes that these authors have traced, dialoguing with tradition, producing innovative and unforgettable works.
The community historically established around the Pearson station of the Chihuahua to the Pacific railway line (CHP, now known as El Chepe) was named after Juan Mata Ortiz in 1925 by decree of the then governor of the State, Jesús Antonio Almeida. It was in honor of a well-known member of the state armed forces (1836-1882) who fought numerous bloody occasions against Chiricahua Apaches (the N'nee people) who resisted the occupation of their territories and forced displacement – a situation experienced by numerous peoples. originating during the Porfirio regime. The life of Mr. Juan Mata ended violently, in a confrontation of persecution against a warrior who had sworn mortal revenge.
In the same way that life has been transformed in the community of Mata Ortiz due to pottery activity – moving from an agro-livestock economy to one predominantly based on traditional crafts –, currently there are those who strive daily to make the population stands out for aspects other than violence and the rejection of ancestral knowledge. The inhabitants of this community work socially and creatively in a sense opposite to what Mr. Juan Mata Ortiz did in life, something different from what his memory evokes.
The production and research work of the teacher Juan Quezada and the anthropologist Spencer MacCallum, as well as the people who participated with them in the first generation of ceramists and marketers in Mata Ortiz, is not restricted to the economic transformation of the town through re-invention of a pottery tradition, but rather the acceptance and assimilation of a regional identity that is recognized as ancient and profound, linked to the land and the beings that inhabit it, to the hills, the caves, the rivers, the archaeological remains. All of this is well appreciated on both sides of the Mexico-United States border.
It is in these landscapes – where whites, mestizos and indigenous people once fought – where men and women of Mata Ortiz find inspiration and references for their pots and their lives. They embrace their culture, care for it and protect it.
Creativity and peace is what they pursue. The time has changed.
At Arte Marakame we recognize the importance of the research and dissemination sources that have been produced over the years. To mention a few that have been very relevant to us in the production of this exhibition, there is the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society's Kiva magazine from 1994, the book The many faces of Mata Ortiz (1999) by Susan Lowell, The miracle of Mata Ortiz. Juan Quezada and the potters of Northern Chihuahua (1993) by Walter P. Parks.
Most especially the 45th issue of the magazine Artes de México entitled Cerámica de Mata Ortiz (1999), coordinated by Marta Turok – a very important researcher and promoter of the popular arts of Mexico –, which included texts by Spencer MacCallum, Walter P. Parks and Alberto Ruy Sánchez, among others. And finally the text Mata Ortiz: the borders of time (2013) by Alicia Sánchez Mejorada, published by the National Institute of Fine Arts in the collective book The look at the invisible.
Sánchez Mejorada addresses the dominant narrative about Mata Ortiz, although in a manner that is both poetic and philosophical.
The extensive editorial production that Mata Ortiz's ceramics have motivated over the decades (whether with academic, commercial, dissemination or promotion intentions) undoubtedly adds value to the pieces. On many occasions they serve as a reference as they document the relationships of style and kinship between artists of different generations – from Juan and the Quezada family to younger authors –, while discussing and defining the framework of values and traits useful for the appreciation of this art. They also document the awards and recognitions that each artist receives throughout her career, and guide the purchasing decisions of numerous collectors on both sides of the border.
For this occasion, we have focused on the testimonies and direct experiences of the exhibiting artists: Diego Valles, Tavo Silveira, Elías Peña, Laura Burgarini, Héctor Gallegos Jr. and Héctor Javier Martínez. Not in terms of a genealogy that relates them to the origin of the ceramic phenomenon of Mata Ortiz, but with their particular stories, interests, discoveries and searches. Since the renaissance or artistic miracle – as many insist on characterizing – has already occurred since the 1970s, what interested us in this exhibition was the capacity that each artist has to build their own path, their style, their identity in a context that is recognized as broader, but that does not limit them.
Transiting between the second and third generation of ceramists, they renew the ceramic, pictorial and conceptual languages of artistic practice in Mata Ortiz; recognizing the value of traditional designs in their formation, but also honestly accepting the hunger or need to have their own expression, differentiated from “the others.” These six artists advance tradition through new designs, reliefs and cuts in the clay, innovation of pictorial patterns, the deployment of narrative concepts and a generous attitude towards the community.
They provide ways of doing things that other ceramists in Mata Ortiz follow and reproduce – the drawing of Héctor Martínez, the reliefs of Tavo Silveira, the Bugarini style, to name three – while promoting the work individually and collectively, with the establishment of galleries, management of collectors and formation of civil associations to promote creativity and new talents among local youth.
The participants of Herencia y Diseño are complete artists, they technically master all the production processes (from the collection and washing of the different clays, formation, to the preparation of paint, decoration and burning), in traditional modalities such as open burning. and with technological alternatives that have been recently adopted as sustainable practices – such as the use of electric ovens installed in the town's garages.
Each of the trajectories that we present here has emerged from a shared context, largely determined by the rural economy, livestock management and agricultural production; the apple and pecan fields that intervene in the landscape, the archaeological areas, the caves, the environment and its topography. These artists recognize in their ceramic practices the possibility of producing a personal identity, of forming and supporting a family, of representing the country abroad with their work, and fulfilling their desires for recognition among their peers. To stand out, to shine.
A collaborative factor prevails, since something happens here that did not happen in previous generations. As it is traditional that the pieces are usually signed only by the person who painted them (although other people have participated in the shaping, sanding and burning of the pots) in Herencia y Diseño there are works that are signed jointly. The pieces made collaboratively by Laura Bugarini and Héctor Gallegos stand out: in an interview they highlight that they were one of the first couples to recognize, through their signature, the shared work in the design and general production.
The other case that stands out is that of Héctor Martínez, who, although he participates in the exhibition as an individual artist, signs his pieces with his partner Gabriela Pérez.
Once Héctor has finished the drawing and his narratives, she dedicates herself to the ornamental decoration and the change from night to day by carving the clay prior to burning, revealing the clarity of the material beneath the ink that cover each pot.
This exhibition is just one moment in the prolific career of these Mata Ortiz artists. On the occasion, through encounter and amazement, we learn about the ideas that inhabit the forms gathered in the gallery. We celebrate your creativity and perseverance.