Mexican Amate: Expressions of Art by Embassy of Mexico
An exhibition of traditional Mexican folk art on Amate paper – a type of paper made from bark that pre-dates the Hispanic period in Mexico. The craft resulted from the merging of two indigenous traditions: the Otomi people who created the bark paper, and the Nahua people who were traditional ceramic painters
The Amate paper paintings combine paper crafting from San Pablito Pahuatlan in Puebla and the Nahuatl folk painting from La Mezcala region on the Balsas river basin in Guerrero.
The Amate Paper (from the Nahuatl word amatl) is a type of bark paper which dates back to pre-Hispanic times in Mexico. Its production as a commercial craftwork started as a result of the merging of two indigenous traditions: the Otomi people who manufactured the bark paper and the Nahua people, who decorate it.
Amate although called paper is more like a non-woven fabric. The paper is created from the bark of the wild fig tree, the nettle tree and mulberry tree, each with a different tome of colour, ranging from coffee browns to silvery whites. The Amate paper is made in a traditional manner which involves crushing the bark and the resulting pulp is subsequently boiled in limewater for several hours until softened. The outcome is a vegetable fibrous sheet of colours ranging from dark brown to yellow.
During the pre-Hispanic period, Amate was used for different purposes such as ritual offerings, payment of tribute and as a surface for the elaboration of codices. During the Spanish conquest Amate production was banned, yet some indigenous groups continued with its production and distribution.
The Amate is painted by Nahuatl speaking folk artists in the region called Mezcala, on the Rio Balsas Basin in Guerrero state. The natural beauty of the area has inspired one of the most valued folk art painting styles in the country.
People from Ameyaltepec, a small village in the area, shared with their neighbours a tradition of making Barro Pintado, painted clay. From the 1950s they travelled to tourist areas to sell their crafts. In 1962, art dealer Max Kerlow who had a gallery in Mexico City invited itinerant folk artist, Pedro de Jesus from Amelyaltepec to paint some wooden figures in his store patio. Pedro did well and invited Cristino Flores Medina to go with him, at the gallery they met Felipe Ehrenberg an eclectic artist who suggested they paint on Amate paper. By the 1970s Pedro de Jesus and Cristino Flores has gained national recognition. And so the Amate gave the Mezcala folk painters the opportunity to develop their craft from utilitarian pieces to pure aesthetic painting. Soon, the Ameyaltepec artists began teaching other painters in the surrounding villages like Oapan, Maxele and Xalitla.
At first the paintings in Amate resembled the pottery figures with colourful flowers, birds and other animals like deer and rabbits. But the talented artists soon developed new styles that included village and religious scenes.
Amate paintings are made on brown and white bark. For the Otomi people, the white paper represents nature and everything that is good while brown represents evil.
Brown paper usually features colourful paintings, made with acrylic colours, depicting flowers, birds, deer or rabbits and everyday stories from the community such as fishing, hunting and harvesting.
White Amate paper is used in more intricate drawings made with pen and ink representing stories of community life.
Date: 7th to 17th July 2017
Venue: India International Centre, Lodhi Road, Delhi