Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Artists should be the oxygen of society"

A window in the restaurant of Casa Maria
San Agustin Etla, Oaxaca--

This morning someone posted a marvelous article about 33 Artists in 3 Acts, a book by Sarah Thornton. The article included some terrific quotes by artists who are also activists. Like these two.

"Artists should be the oxygen of society. The function of the artist in a disturbed society is to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, to open consciousness and elevate the mind."
          --Marina Abramovic

"Loneliness is a valuable feeling. Artists need to know how to walk alone."
                  --Ai Weiwei

I was musing all morning about creativity and the role of the artist. I naturally thought about Francisco Toledo.  As soon I arrived in Oaxaca 6 weeks ago, I became quite aware of Francisco Toledo, a Zapotec artist around my age whose contributions to art and social change here are impressive and very inspiring.

Some days things just naturally come together and today was like that. I went up the hill to have comida at Casa Maria, a restaurant that is part of an old hotel. It's a beautiful place, and on the walls there are 6 small drawings by Francisco Toledo.
Francisco Toledo
The restaurant was much busier than it usually is when I eat there. I sat down where I usually sit. At the next table, there sat the artist Francisco Toledo with a group of his friends. They were enjoying themselves and I really enjoyed being that close to them.  Yes, I wanted to talk with him, but it didn't feel right. What could I say? In Spanish, not much, certainly not what I wanted to say. I didn't have the Spanish words to say "Senor Toledo, I admire what you have done and what you no doubt will continue to do and I am grateful that your creativity is so generous, beautiful, practical and inspired."
At the Centro de las Artes de San Agustin
So I contented myself with feeling happy about having the chance to see him. What I noticed was his simplicity, humility and naturalness. Refreshing, especially for someone like me who has seen a lot of more ego-driven artist behavior, especially in New York City.

Francisco Toledo has done some amazing things here in Oaxaca. Through his leadership, a big trash-filled field was transformed into the marvelous Ethnobotanical Garden. He spearheaded development of Centro de las Artes de San Agustin, a spacious museum whose corn exhibit I wrote about here in an earlier essay. He was instrumental in the establishment of an art library at the Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), and was involved in the founding of the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO), among other projects.
Sunset in San Agustin Etla
 I imagine that Toledo had a great deal to do with convening an upcoming cultural event that will be held at the San Agustin Center for the Arts. It will be a gathering of poetry, narrative, song and childrens' literature-- all in the Zapotec language.

Artists can have significant effects on society, catalyzing profound changes in awareness, presenting the gift of beauty, opening up individuals, cities and cultures to their deeper music. Toledo is such an artist. Bravo.

I will be leaving this beautiful little village in two days. It is not always easy to leave beautiful places. Perhaps I will return here. Perhaps I will live here someday. It is not clear yet.  But it feels good to think that I can return. I am happy that I have had 2 weeks to relax in the midst of its beauty, to walk the dirt roads, seeing many beautiful birds and enjoying the river that runs nearby. I needed to take some time to refresh after two months in the ancient, busy cities of Guanajuato and Oaxaca. And I did. Now I am headed for La Paz, the capital of Baja. Que to vaya bien. May it go well with you.

1 comment:

  1. Liked this post -- the part about you spotting Francisco Toledo and your mulling over the thoughts of creativity -- barbara