April 15, 2010
I’m just back from leading more community art workshops in the Lacandón jungle of Chiapas along with artist Kelynn Alder and photographer Janet Schwartz. We offered painting, drawing, printmaking and photography opportunities to three of Mexico’s native Maya communities: Metzabok, Nahá, and Lacanjá.
Traveling in a supply-laden Crossfox, our first stop was Metzabok, the smallest, poorest, and most isolated of the three settlements. It’s home to about 20 families in a pristine rain forest region, part of a federally protected nature reserve.
Our participants (mostly children) drew heavily on their environment for subject matter. The area is rich in tropical plants, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals, and is situated on the banks of Lake Mensäbok, clean enough for local residents to drink from.
Schooling is sporadic here and art-making sessions rarer still, which made it a rewarding visit for the kids and us alike. This was our first time holding art workshops in Metzabok.
Our next stop was Nahá, 30 km further into the jungle. It has a dirt airstrip, a rural medical clinic and a population roughly three times that of Metzabok. Elementary education is provided to Nahá by the government which sends teachers to indigenous communities with at least 15 enrollees. Children’s art supplies and activities remain scarce however, unless offered from outside.
This was our third visit to Nahá since Kelynn initiated the Lacandón art workshops in 1996 at the invitation of the community. We’re now working with the kids of the kids we first made art with, making it a doubly exhilarating experience!
Our final destination was Lacanjá, the largest and most accessible of the three communities we visited. Here we took the kids (and moms) on a drawing and painting field trip to nearby Bonampak, the ancient archeological site whose famous murals inspired us to historical and cultural themes.
Throughout our trip Kelynn held the drawing and painting sessions, I led printmaking, and Janet offered the photography workshops. Our objectives are to document Lacandón heritage and culture through visual art; to provide participants with the opportunity to express themselves creatively in workshop situations they might otherwise not have access to; and to create a greater international consciousness about the Lacandón jungle, its people and society.
We arrange our visits through Na Bolom, a non-profit cultural organization based in San Cristóbal de las Casas dedicated to the welfare of the Lacandón Maya and the preservation of the Chiapas rain forest. We’re also grateful to Club Balam and the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York for sharing their equipment with our photography workshops.
A project website and limited-edition prints and artists’ books are in the works to showcase our program and the kids’ fabulous creations. Proceeds and donations will fund successive Lacandón Art Workshops and benefit the communities through Na Bolom.
More news to follow as plans shape up for the next round of workshops.