VISIONS IN THE NEWS! Be sure to read the Philadelphia
Inquirer's November 17, 2003 article that examines the Huichol
shamans' use of hallucinogenic plants and how American scientists
are considering the potential medical benefits of these substances.
Visions: Yarn Paintings of a Huichol Shaman, New Exhibition Opening
November 8, 2003 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Sheds
Light on the Spiritual Perspective of Mexico's Huichol Indians
the vibrant yarn paintings of the Huichol Indians of northwestern
Mexico have achieved a worldwide popularity in recent years, few
outsiders know of the rich religious and cultural stories they contain.
Mythic Visions: Yarn Paintings of a Huichol Shaman, a
new exhibition opening November 8, 2003 at the University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, features 31 yarn paintings
by renowned shaman-artist José Benítez Sánchez.
Text, photographs of the Huichol people, and other Huichol art and
artifacts provide a rare glimpse into the complexities of the Huichol
people's worldview. The exhibition runs through April 30, 2004.
Sunday, November 9, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., the Museum offers a FREE
public celebration of the new exhibition, with live Mexican music,
children's activities, tours of the Mesoamerican gallery, and a
talk by Huichol scholar, UPM Research Associate and Mythic Visions
exhibition curator Dr. Peter T. Furst. For a complete schedule
of the afternoon's activities, click here.
Though Huichol people have been using yarn or string to convey prayers
to their deities or to create protective amulets for centuries,
"painting" with yarn is a relatively new art form. The
practice started in the 1960s when Huichol artists were searching
for new arts and crafts to sell to tourists. Today, yarn paintingsvivid
works of textile art in which strands of brightly-colored yarn are
applied to boards thinly coated with beeswaxare an important
source of income for many Huichol artists and their families.
Visions focuses on the work of one shaman-artist, José
Benítez Sánchez (shown here on left), considered the
leading Huichol artist currently using this medium. He is well known
for the fluid, curvilinear style he pioneered in the 1970s. His
skillfully rendered yarn paintings offer a seamless flow of interlocking
elements that fill the entire space. According to curator Peter
T. Furst, Benítez's wide-reaching fame comes from his unique
ability to translate his ephemeral religious visions into a two-dimensional
art form. "These fleeting visions are of the Huichol world
as it came into creation in a mystical natural environment that
has no boundaries between the present and the ancestral past. It
is the otherworldly visions, triggered by the use of the sacred
peyote cactus, which inspires shaman-artists like Benítez
to 'paint' in yarn." Though his work has been shown at art
galleries in Mexico, Europe, and the southwestern United States,
this is the first time that Benítez's art has been exclusively
featured in a museum exhibition.
Despite the fact that peyote is not native to the Huichol heartland,
it is essential to Huichol spirituality and cultural survival. Each
year, small parties of Huichol people make a 300-mile pilgrimage
to a desert in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi to gather peyote,
whose complex chemistry mediates their visions, when the plant is
ingested. Huichol people call this desert Wirikúta, sacred
home of their ancestors and the multitude of deities in their pantheon.
The exhibition's narrative text provides information about the Huichol
people, their spiritual beliefs, and the pilgrimage to the sacred
peyote that is so central to their ceremonial practice. About a
dozen related Huichol objects from UPM's collections, including
votive bowls, back shields, prayer arrows, and small votive figures,
help set the art form in cultural context.
Exhibition text will be translated into Spanish, available as a
handout. For groups with advance bookings, Spanish-speaking and
English-speaking Museum docents will offer combination tours of
Mythic Visions and the Museum's recently renovated Mesoamerican
gallery, which features Precolumbian materials from Mexico and Central
America; for more information on group tours contact the Education
department at 215/898-4015.
new 120-page, large-format hardcover book, Visions of a Huichol
Shaman (shown on right), written by Peter T. Furst, accompanies
the exhibition. The book, which provides cultural background and
perspective on the Huichol people as well as analysis and interpretation
of the vivid yarn paintings, is richly illustrated with more than
68 full-color figures and two maps ($29.95, University Museum Publications).
Visions of a Huichol Shaman is available in the Museum Shop,
Publications' website, or from University Museum Publications'
distributor at 800-537-5487 (phone) or 410-516-6998 (fax).
A Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania Museum since
1987, exhibition curator Dr. Peter T. Furst has conducted field
research in Mexico among the Huichol people, Venezuela among the
Warao Indians, and throughout Mesoamerica in Precolumbian art and
archaeology, religion, and shamanism. In 1968 he curated the first
exhibition of Huichol yarn art at the Los Angeles County Museum
of Natural History. He is author of more than 120 books and scholarly
articles, including many on Huichol art, religion, and mythology.
Mythic Visions: Yarn Paintings of a Huichol Shaman will be available
as a traveling exhibition beginning in the fall of 2004.
This exhibition and its related programing have been made possible,
in part, through generous contributions from the Eugene
Garfield Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation, the Wachovia
Foundation, the Mexican Society of Philadelphia, and Theodore and
Nancie Burkett. El
Hispano and Al
Dia newspapers are media sponsors of the exhibition.