Arts

Book Review – Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London

A flâneur, the masculine version of the French word designating one who wanders aimlessly for pleasure or to incorporate what is seen into artworks and writing, invariably a male of means, leaves out the possibility for a female to do the same. It first came into use in the 19th century. The feminine version flâneuse didn’t make an appearance for a very long time, the obvious reason that such behavior went against social mores. Working class women would have had access to the street but limited to certain areas—and never given to just meandering.

When my friend Linda Sohner mentioned she was reading Flâneuse, I thought—of course—women rarely ventured out of the confines of their homes back then except perhaps escorted by an “appropriate” companion, usually a older family member, husband or maid. Or, if strolling alone, were often harassed and saddled with a questionable reputation. A rare few would have had the freedom to walk solo in cities or travel alone to far-flung, often remote places. Only in the last fifty years is it more common. I don’t forget those who came before me…so I can have the freedom to flâner as I so enjoy.

This book features those explorers and adventurers. That’s what they must be called. What we may now take for granted was once uncharted waters. Such a timely reading in the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and just after the Women’s March. Females were kept under wraps in so many ways that, when it began to shift, it was those, in that first flush, that took the initial steps, who must be applauded. Their courage or maybe the “arrogance” to show that they were just done with it all…those “things that just weren’t done.”

The book opens with how these women wanted to be seen or unseen in public spaces. Did they want to merge with the shadows or stand out in the crowd to make a statement? That question may still valid to any of us but typically unconscious. During those prior times, as suggested, it would have been at the forefront.

Against the backdrop of their time, city, political atmosphere and personal struggles, Laura Elkin features writers Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf and George Sand—my personal inspiration since my 20s—filmmakers Sophia Calle and Agnes Varda. Then she adds her own present-era experiences showing what is different and what of the past remains the same.

It also points out a trend: No matter the gender or socio-economic status, the art of walking with all it brings—and freedom of movement—is again becoming increasingly lost to us.

I found the book quite interesting and learned some things I didn’t know. One amusing example: In France, a law against cross-dressing was introduced in the early 1800s, to keep women in their place. George Sand was never arrested for her blatant disregard, and the law remains on the books.

Flâneuse was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2017. Available in print, ebook and audio at Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Arts, Book Review, Travel Experiences, Women’s Rights | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Xapiri: A Matter of Spirit

In November while in Cusco I was referred to a gallery named Xapiri said to feature textiles and other artwork from the Amazon. It’s unusual to find such a collection in Cusco. So, I was quite intrigued about what they may have but also the name. I was to discover that “xapiri” is a sacred word identifying a collective of spirits consulted for their wisdom and guidance. It comes from the Yanomami people, a somewhat isolated tribe of the rainforest and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

Before I go any further I really want to introduce you to Jack Wheeler, who is the one responsible for birthing the gallery and its work. His story is compelling. He’s an example of someone who received a calling…paid attention…and followed it. Jack and I have corresponded and agreed a full-blown video interview will take place when we can both fit it into our calendars. In the meantime, I can share a shorthand version of his extraordinary story directly from Jack.

As for my story, these are the main points. It’s been eight years ago now that I left my position in an English bank to explore. My first stop was Cusco. I always felt like it’s my spiritual home. But over the next five years I traveled high and wide in South America, and I’d return to live in different European cities for my work. I was never content when in Europe.

Three years ago, after a long travel, I started to get more involved with Indigenous culture, specifically from the jungle. My first inspiration was from the Yanomami lands on the Brazil-Venezuela border. I met Indigenous supporters in Brazil who helped at the beginning of Xapiri with the initial introductions and contacts to the start the fair trade with art. Now full circle, I returned to Cusco, this time to live where my mind was first opened.  The Xapiri Gallery opened its doors in April 2017.

Jack Wilson image

Jack Wheeler at the opening of Xapiri in April 2017.

I truly resonate with Jack’s story. When the calling comes, if we then sort ourselves out and step fully on the path…all begins to slot in along the way that will further the journey. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Usually not so much when it comes to breaking out of the mainstream. But through it, intent drives the process until we’re delivered⎯and beyond.

Xapiri has an important mission.

Xapiri supports Amazonian Indigenous culture by unifying ethical art, emotive photography and informative media. The vision is to increase awareness and inspire positive change.

I purchased three pieces. One small Yine textile and two larger Shipibo pieces to add to one I’d purchased years ago. As a narrative artist myself, I greatly appreciate works like these that tell stories, documenting their rituals and traditions.

About the Yine piece, Jack told me:

Yine image

 

I collected this fabric in person when visiting their communities a few weeks ago. Their community is in the Madre de Dios region, 10 hours from Cusco by bus. Then a 2-day boat journey from Puerto Maldonado… then you reach their community called Monte Salvado! By buying their art you are helping maintain their rich culture and identity.

We have only started to work with the Yine people recently so still learning all the time about their fabrics. The fabric is dyed the brown colour by using mahogany and then painted using clay. The Yine have 31 different designs, with this being one. In the next few weeks I hope to have a full collection of these graphics with their meanings! 

Of the Shipibo textiles I bought, he said this:

 

 

Shipibo image 1

Shipibo image 2

 

In the two Shipibo pieces, you can see the leaves in both. This is the chacruna leaf, influential in the Ayahuasca brew.

The Shipibo people live along the Ucayali River in the Amazonian rainforest of Peru. These pieces were created through a hand printing process that takes about a month or so to finish. Such textiles are central to their culture and show their communication and merging with the spiritual world of the jungle, particularly through the traditional ritual engaging Ayahuasca.

I’ll leave with this for now until Jack and I can get together for a video chat. If you’re in Cusco, be sure to drop by Xapiri. Aside from the art and film events, they also invite Amazonian artists and shamans to share their traditions. Xapiri’s website is also a wealth of information on different Amazonian tribes.

******

Join me for The Heart of the Andes, our spiritual travel journey to Peru this September 2-12. We’ll be dropping by Xapiri for sure.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: Quantum Creativity

There’s an annual tradition I hold as a year closes. I find something to read that I think will set a meaningful frame for my personal transition into the next year. This time I found that in Amit Goswami’s Quantum Creativity.

Quantum Creativity Image

You may remember this author as one of the researchers and physicists featured in the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know? Dr. Goswami was also a senior scholar in residence at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and has taught at Pacifica, Philosophical Research University and elsewhere as well as written a number of books for the layperson on quantum physics related to consciousness.

If you’ve ever had the experience…

…of teaching and suddenly find that something has overtaken your vocal chords and words are being delivered at a depth you wondered afterward where they came from…

…or you’re writing a book and find it all laid out in front of you as though you’re watching a movie and realize your job is to merely scramble and write it all down as fast as it’s happening…

…maybe you’re painting and enter a space where the subject matter itself seems to be directing your brushstrokes and effect of the colors you use…

…then you realize this is one of the great wonders of the Universe.

The experiences I mention are mine. But most of us have had such things happen to varying degrees. And it brings a sense of true reverence and awe to the creative space. When it happens to me I know I’m touching something much larger than myself. That I’m somehow communing with the Collective Unconscious. I define these occurrences as one of the Great Mysteries. And I want to fine-tune my capabilities to open that portal more so.

I don’t know that it’s possible to call upon such a gift by will. But I am sure we can all develop ourselves to be in a state of readiness for when it does insert itself.

In Quantum Creativity Goswami goes a long way in explaining the quantum physics that informs the creative process.

…when subtle energies engage with consciousness, then creativity is possible, even likely. In their quantum aspects both the brain and the mind consist of possibilities from which consciousness can create the endlessly new…The presence of consciousness in itself does not cause potentiality to actualize. Collapse [manifestation] occurs when an observer with a brain is present as well, with the intention to look…

 He also confirms that having a consistent intention to look is like exercising a muscle. It develops strength to support the endeavor. It supports the wisdom of ritual. You have to religiously show up with your readiness. It’s not a sporadic thing, not something for dabblers.

There’s also the argument for daydreaming, mind wandering⏤something many of us were probably chastised for in school.  And for time in nature or meditation. Creativity shows up in the space between the thoughts.

Consider the composer Richard Wagner’s account of his discovery of the overture to Das Rheingold. Wagner came home after taking a walk and went to bed, but could not sleep for a while. His mind wandered through various musical themes and eventually he dozed. Suddenly, he awoke and the overture of his famous Rheingold came to him in a creative outpouring.

 As much as this book is a primer for quantum physics in general it also offers the relevance to the creative process specifically and how to set yourself up to receive it. If you want to enhance your own process, then this is a book to assist your development. Of course, you still have to do the work involved yourself. The first step is showing up for that exhilarating ride.

Quantum Creativity is widely available in print and ebook. Here it is on Amazon. Highly recommend if you’re interested in self-development of any kind.

 

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Sacred Reciprocity, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review: The Alma Drawings

You may have heard of the psychic phenomenon automatic writing. But what about automatic drawing?

In her later years Alma Rumball felt the urge to pick up a pen, and her hand began to move on its own. She said, “My hand started to move and I started to draw.” In that moment these creations took over her life and home. Eventually when paper wasn’t enough, her walls, floors and even bathroom fixtures became crowded with repetitive motifs.

Alma Rumball

Automatic drawing by Alma Rumball.

As I watched the film I became fascinated by the remarkable similarity of the symbols and figures in Alma’s work to those in Maya, Tibetan and other world religions. I also noted some resemblance to the technique called automatism introduced by the Surrealists meant to give the subconscious mind free range.

But those don’t appear to be the influences here. Alma was raised a devout Christian and had always led an isolated life in a rural area of Northern Ontario, with very little exposure to the outside world. She never studied art and took no ownership of what she produced. She allowed, “The Hand did them.” And sometimes there were spirits that lived near the ceiling who gave her messages. The Hand—being in charge—would let her know when she was done with a piece when it ceased to move. When The Hand came into her life at the age of 50, she withdrew even more so and claimed to know nothing of religions elsewhere in the world.

Filmmaker Jeremiah Munce covers Alma’s origins, later life and artwork, much through her own words thanks to a recorded interview. The question it puts forth—as ascribed to a number of artists—was Alma’s work directed by a higher consciousness…or the result of mental illness?

Alma Rumball passed in 1980 but left a rich collection of work. Go to the official website to view her art and read articles.

View The Alma Drawings in its entirety on You Tube. Highly recommend not merely as a curiosity but also as a question regarding the creative portal. Released 2005 in Canada, 46 minutes.

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Film Review, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Our Visible Wings

I came across the inspirational short Invisible Wings when it was first featured on Karma Tube in 2015 and have watched it several times since. It touches a soft spot in me. It opens my heart, and I feel the flow of my own life moving through me. It generates reflection and gratitude…all channeled through the words of a 65-year-old tea seller named Vijayan against visually beautiful backdrops.

His use of the metaphor ‘journey’ in the film is important as well as the way he validates it. A bona fide journey isn’t over smooth ground but fraught with challenges along the way. If we meet those obstacles eye-to-eye, it encourages our growth, nurtures the spirit and frees our dreams…to manifest. If we don’t, it harnesses the soul.

All this from a man many may overlook: the owner of a small stall in India where he pours tea, his wife Mohana working beside him. They appear to have little in the way most would see them. But Vijayan carries a dream— to travel the world, to open his heart and mind to other lands and ways of living—and his wife shares that dream. They have traveled the globe. Even though, at the start of their marriage, she’d never been out of her own hometown.

It takes courage to face the Unknown, to step out of your comfort zone. But the comfort zone so quickly widens when you do…no matter that others think you’re crazy or try to hold you back. There is so much beauty to be experienced when you ignore those who remain in the corral.

Whether you take the initiative to make life happen or sit back and let life happen to you, it’s a choice—even if you don’t think the latter is. And while the title of this tribute to Vijayan and Mohana is called Invisible Wings, the wings any of us wear are visible and how we wear them: fully extended, clutched to the side, or somewhere in-between. Others easily see them if they pay attention. And we ourselves can feel them.

Nothing is more valuable than the felt presence of your own unleashed spirit, intimacy with family and friends…and a life fully lived…however you travel. I’m sharing this little film here—short in time but saying so much—with intent that it brings to you the sweetness and consideration it has for me.

Categories: Film, Gratitude, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe

GeorgiaI’ve read biographies on Georgia O’Keeffe. But this is different. You might think because this is a novel it’s a poof piece. It’s not. The author portrays the relationship between O’Keeffe and her patron-photographer-husband Alfred Stieglitz from the first enchantment to its lingering disintegration. It’s written from the painter’s perspective. While no one can ever get completely inside someone else’s head, it’s evident that Dawn Tripp has done the extensive research necessary that makes the book plausible. Believable. This is essentially a book about the precise care and manipulation Stieglitz gave to the creation of O’Keeffe’s public persona from the point she was moldable to when she was not. It’s a story laid against the backdrop of their great talents and marriage—the play between Steiglitz’s control and O’Keeffe’s internal conflict. It’s about the position women were historically placed and their treatment … and how this woman claimed her rightful recognition as one of the greatest American artists. Perhaps there’s an argument that O’Keeffe wouldn’t have made it there without Stieglitz. But I don’t find merit in it. She was a force all her own.

As an artist myself I appreciate the way the author wrote from an artist’s sensitivities on the form. That, too, made the book believable.

…It occurs to me now that art is exactly this: making what’s unseen but all around, visible. Having that sort of faith…

And it pained me to read what she wrote of O’Keeffe going blind. She enlists the gardener’s help:

…to lead my left hand onto the first sheet of paper… He leaves and I’m alone. I paint shapes—a wave, a circle—the circle slides like grace over the page. I make forms that echo those early abstract forms I made when I was no one, and it occurs to me that art is a separate country, outside the body, outside time, like death or desire, an element beyond our physical selves we are traveling toward…

 

Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Dialogue of Creative Intelligence

Ann Hamilton describes herself as a “maker” rather than artist, and characterizes the start of her projects this way: I just try to listen for what something needs to become. Michelangelo relayed a similar process so long ago: I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Delivery doesn’t come in an instant but evolves in a process ⏤ bit by bit. It’s about being patient with the unfolding. It takes a dialogue with what wants to emerge, creating space for the communication. Sitting with it.

If what emerges has depth then it isn’t formulaic. For me, it’s about synthesis. In what form does this communication want to be held? Two-dimensional? Three-dimensional? Oil? Mixed media? Or written form? I introduce options to the conversation and question the best fit ⏤ and am open to changing directions in mid-stream because it’s suddenly called for.

I’m not a person who has one way of doing things. That would bore me to tears, limit flexibility and impede problem-solving. I enjoy stockpiling choices at my fingertips. It fuels my creative energy. Ongoing learning, adding this and that to my repertoire, inspires me. I believe this strategy sparks a type of creative intelligence. I wouldn’t fit on an assembly line and abhor restrictions. It sucks the life right out of me.

I’ve written before about the expectations establishment galleries and publishers hold. Recording companies, too. They want what they call ‘consistency’ which translates to limitation of subject matter and form. Of course, they’re invested in bottom line dollars. But what they’re doing in the process is obstructing artistic growth. The artists I revere most are those who deviate.

Shawn Phillips is a case in point:

…The mere fact that he was a musician as much as a singer and songwriter made him stand out, and helped him attract a dedicated following. His refusal to shape his music — which crosses between folk-rock, jazz, progressive, pop, and classical — to anyone else’s expectations allows him to hold onto a large and dedicated cult following, without ever achieving the stardom that his talent seemed to merit…He never courted an obvious commercial sound, preferring to write songs that, as he put it, “make you feel different from the way you felt before you started listening”…

My respect for Picasso grew exponentially when I was in Paris last year and went to the Picasso Museum, which houses representations of all the journeys he’d taken. I’d known him mostly as a Cubist, and for his Rose and Blue Periods. I discovered he was not only a painter of many diverging techniques, but also a sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright.

 

PicassoGoat

She-Goat. Picasso, 1950. Constructed of found objects then bronze cast.

Picasso’s ability to produce works in an astonishing range of styles made him well respected during his own lifetime. After his death in 1973 his value as an artist and inspiration to other artists has only grown. He is without a doubt destined to permanently etch himself into the fabric of humanity as one of the greatest artists of all time.

There’s something to be said for being unorthodox. Especially if you don’t care about mainstream success. Although it may come unexpectedly…precisely because you deviate.

In this round-about way I’m now introducing my latest venture. For a while I’d felt the pull to move into more three-dimensional artwork and had been casting about to see what drew me. Then I discovered the separate works of Jan Huling and Nancy Josephson…unlike anything I’d seen before…which spoke to my unconventional soul. They’ve both had their artwork featured in a multitude of galleries, museums, newspapers and magazines. I decided to go study with them for a week in April in Puerto Vallarta at Hacienda Mosaico and came away with a treasure trove of new knowledge from their generous teachings. And they’re good people.  No affected airs there despite all their accomplishments.

Das Bug

Das Bug. 8′ long. Jan Huling. Currently showing at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis and slated for the Art Market + Design Fair in Bridgehampton, July 7-10. Photo used with permission.

In her artist statement Jan says:

In a recent review, the New York Times dubbed my work “oddball assemblages,” and aptly so. My three-dimensional collages combine found objects with surface design, sometimes touching on narrative themes. I’m also drawn to religious and political icons, inspired by a continuing fascination with indigenous or popular culture and world religions…Czech seed beads adorn objects in colorful patterns, camouflaging their original circumstance, allowing us to see them as pure form without their usual connotations. The process is slow and meticulous, Zen-like, with the choice of forms motivating color schemes and iconography.

Bird Goddess

Erzulie Kouvez, Bird Goddess. 10′ tall x 6′ diameter. Nancy Josephson. Exhibiting at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore until September 4. Photo used with permission.

Erzulie Kouvez

Erzulie Kouvez, detail. Photo used with permission.

Musician, artist, Vodou priestess…Nancy shares this:

I started in music. I only wanted to do ‘real’ music…rootsy, soulful and elemental. I wanted to get to the core of what music is in the way it lifts the spirit from the inside…Then I started using my hands instead of my voice. Visual art gave me a more solitary way to explore how to surround myself in physical beauty and meaning. Trial and Error was my alma mater…Then I went to Haiti…My first trip opened up questions about physical home, one’s spiritual ‘home’, how one ‘gets by’, what one must risk during the creative process, what IS the creative process. With every trip I found more questions as well as a few answers.

Here’s the piece I’ve thus far created since returning home. A plethora of ideas hover in the ether nagging at me. I believe most of them will get their turn over time. I’ll integrate what I’ve learned into both two and three-dimensional pieces, an extension of my meditation practice. Indeed, I’d been describing the process as Zen-like before I read the same in Jan’s artist statement. But then there’s a bit of obsessive quality to it, too…

Rain God Front

The Rain God. Carla Woody. Mixed media: Czech glass beads, resin clay, found object, acrylics. 7.5″ tall x 14″ diameter.*

The Rain God

The Rain God, side view.

On another note, I’ve been asked about my artwork: How can you let them go?

When there’s a dialogue of great depth I find that I do need to keep them on the easel or table for a while, maybe even a few months, to see what else we may have to say to each other ⏤ to make sure the conversation has come to a close. When there’s a sense of finality then I can release it with the intent the piece itself will take the dialogue to others.

Sometimes that happens in surprising ways. A few years ago I painted an oil I called My Magdalen Heart which was displayed at The Gallery in Williams. On a day I was there, a French Canadian man approached me with an incredulous look saying the piece had spoken to him. It’s a blessing for me when I hear how the dialogue continues. A few days later the Magdalen went to live in New Mexico with a woman who’d had a relationship with her since childhood.

It’s important to put our expressions out into the world, in whatever way we do, without conforming to others’ rules, and then sending them on their way…so they can take on a life of their own. There may be someone just waiting to engage in the dialogue ⏤ with an anticipation they didn’t know they had.

♦︎♦︎♦︎

*The Rain God is currently available through The Gallery in Williams or inquire by email through this blog.

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Fierce Quiet Place

We give a gift to ourselves when we allow connection with our innermost being. This is the one untouched by circumstances but fierce in its inviolate sanctity. The silence in this place is so loud you can hear it, so palpable you can feel it. And yet there’s no adequate way to express the comfort and inspiration it brings. Comfort here meant as nurturing. Coupled with inspiration, it urges us on…through…and beyond…to what we can’t yet know. And the circumstances of our lives⏤the challenges⏤fall away. It doesn’t mean they’re not there but are approached differently. A state of grace through the chaos and surrounding confusion.

And that Fierce Quiet Place wants expression in any way we can. It creates a portal and finds its way into the material world through narrative art, music, poetry and prose, ceremony and ritual…a touch…complete presence we give to others. It’s funneled from non-ordinary reality that exists out-of-time to land here.

This is what I’ve recognized more and more. And knowing that when I give myself over to that Fierce Quiet Place the most beautiful things happen. I live from a deeper place. I meet people who hold similar expression. I want to introduce you to one of them through the way it happened.

In February I completed This Is My Walk in Life, an oil painting. Over the course of its creation, it came to life. The portal opened. A silent dialogue ensued and conveyed itself as best I could onto canvas. It was not a casual process.

This is my walk in life

Title: This Is My Walk in Life Oil on canvas, 20×24. ©2016 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.

This is the description I gave it.

We all have a walk in life, perhaps chosen before we set our feet on Mother Earth. And amidst hardships there’s unexpected joy. If we open our eyes to it, there’s magic in fleeting moments when we truly experience what life is. This painting is inspired by the Lacandón Maya women of the rainforest village of Nahá in Chiapas, Mexico.

Then at the end of March I met Laura Weaver. She came from Colorado to take part in the fire ceremony guided by Tat Apab’yan Tew during our Spirit Keepers Series. I didn’t know she’s an accomplished poet. I’m quite sure she didn’t know I’m an artist and writer.

Then a few weeks ago I saw a poem she wrote in March.

 A Way of Walking

There is a way of walking

from point A to point B

as if there is nothing

of significance in between.

 

We have been taught to move

in straight lines, to lay life out

along a grid of efficiencies.

But there is another way to navigate.

 

This way carves a serpentine road

full of mysterious meetings.

Along this path, the directives come

from the world itself speaking

 

through all of its voices. And because

something else is guiding us—because

we are listening—at the next crossroads

we turn left instead of right—

 

and find a never before seen village

where an old man harvests golden apples

he offers to those who pass by. And over

the silken hills, cowbells sound out

 

like ancient monk song, and the last

of the sunlight breaks through the rainclouds

so that everything is shimmering and awake.

And the oak tree that cracked in last

 

night’s storm is dripping with honeycomb

and bee hum. And as this moment swells

and blooms open with its own fullness,

suddenly the idea of Point A & Point B

 

makes no sense at all. For now

you have no idea who you are

or if you have arrived. You only know

that you are everywhere.

I couldn’t help but note the strong similarities in the titles of our respective works and common message. Then yesterday I read her poem Making Passage which reaches an even deeper platform. I urge you to read it. It will speak to your soul.

I don’t think I’m presuming. When the Fierce Quiet Place is fully expressed we all say the same thing. Only the variation in our medium is different.

Earlier I described Laura as an accomplished poet but that’s not quite sufficient. Her words have a way of gently, persistently making their way inside us on a path all their own and touches the universal. And—in my experience—I feel heard. Even held.

 ♦♦♦

♦︎ The reprint of A Way of Walking is used with permission. Subscribe to Soul Passages and receive Laura Weaver’s poetry as she publishes.

♦︎ My original oil This Is My Walk in Life is currently available. Inquire for more information. Archival prints are available here.

 

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review – The Red Queen: A Mayan Mystery

In 1994 a tomb was excavated in Temple XIII in the main plaza of Palenque, the large Maya ruin complex in Chiapas, Mexico. It was the finest thus far uncovered, even more so than the great ruler Pakal II’s in the Temple of the Inscriptions just a couple of doors down. The quantity of jadeite, sacred objects and two skeletons on either side of the sarcophagus indicated someone of the highest standing. And a very curious thing: The remains were completely covered in a powdery red substance that turned out to be cinnabar.

A physical anthropologist determined the remains to be female. The temple richness  pointed to the final resting place of an esteemed ruler. But for women to attain such a capacity was unusual. Thus began The Red Queen. And then it immediately garnered my attention when archaeologist David Friedal took the screen saying, “The history of the past is not the history of men but men and women together. And at times women change the course of history. Not men.”

The Red Queen is not a boring historical documentary. Rather it entertains the question: Who was the Red Queen? She was nicknamed so because of the cinnabar. Attendants carefully covered her in the toxic powder at burial. It made its way into her very bones. We’re on board as the film tracks the mysteries, technical methods and data that lead to a conclusion from the three likeliest candidates.

  • Was it Yohl Ik’nal, the grandmother of Pakal? As far as we know she was the first Maya female to rule on her own…for 21 years.
  • Was it Sak K’uk, who took over the throne when her brother was killed? She held rule until she was able to put her son Pakal on the throne when he turned twelve. Likely she guided him from behind for some time after that.
  • Or was it Tz’akbu Ajaw, the wife of Pakal? And sometimes called Lady Conjurer as noted in Carol Karasik’s book The Drum Wars where she devoted a chapter to the Red Queen.

Those who know me are well acquainted with my love for Palenque, having been drawn back regularly since 1995 when I first had the pleasure. So the story of the Red Queen was an interest on that level. But more so, I found it heartening to have women recognized for who they are, their accomplishments and learn something of their story—not quietly influencing behind the scenes but front stage center.

Produced by the Discovery Channel, 2005. Watch it free on You Tube.

The Red Queen 1

Part One: View it here. 1 hour, 9 minutes.

Red Queen-2

Part Two: View it here. 24 minutes.

*****

For more information on our next scheduled Maya Mysteries spiritual travel program in Chiapas…where we visit Palenque and pay respects to the Red Queen, go here.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

An Inspired Life: Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

In late 2013 Xavier Quijas Yxayotl—Huichol composer, musician and artist—shared his life story with me. It was a real privilege to hear of his origins, struggles and inspirations. The thing about Xavier is that you’d normally never know the details of his backstory. But maybe you would pick up there’s something deeper. He carries a sense of humility that typically only comes by having gone through hard times…survived…and having instilled great meaning in his life, touching others through his craft and presence.

Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

Portrait of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl with one of his handmade ancestral flutes. ©2015 Barry Wolf. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

With permission I turned his disclosures into a narrative that was picked up in 2014 by Still Point Arts Quarterly for their Fall 2015 issue. I thank editor Christine Cote for giving this important story space. I can now share the story in its entirety here as Xavier told it to me. I hope you are as inspired as I was.

 ***

 Through the Dark

 The boy fidgeted. He was in foreign territory, held prisoner by his mother’s hand on his arm. They sat side-by-side in matching chairs before the great divide of a massive desk. His mother’s voice rose and fell. Words tumbled over each other as though, if she didn’t get them out fast enough, the man considering them would summarily swat them out the door, no different than pesky insects.

An hour before, his mother pulled him along inner city streets into a massive building. They finally stopped in front of one door among several down the long hall. She smoothed her skirt and combed fingers through his black hair. With a deep breath, she opened the door. The secretary looked up.

“Please, I would like to see the director,” his mother said.

“Do you have an appointment?” The secretary appraised them, noting their dusky skin and worn clothing. When she shook her head, the secretary motioned them to a row of chairs against the wall and picked up the phone. They waited.

The man behind the desk was impeccably dressed in a gray suit matching the color shot through his dark hair and mustache. The lines in his face softened as he listened, shifting attention from the Indian woman before him to the boy, eyes downcast, clutching a notebook in his lap.

“Maestro Caracalla, I am Señora Isabel. This is my son Xavier. He’s different, a good artist. In school he always fights because no one understands him, not the teachers, not the other kids. He’s always thinking. Since he was old enough to hold a pencil, he always draws and writes about everything. He’s like an old person in a little boy’s body!”

The woman continued at length relating how, in the last two years, her son kept running away to live on the streets. Xavier slept in parks, skipped school, survived by selling newspapers and shoe shines. Terrified, she would search and drag him home, if she was fortunate to find him. But the next day he’d be gone again. He wouldn’t do what his father wanted: to set aside these silly pastimes, to work making shoes to help support the family.

“We have seven children. Xavier is the youngest boy. We are very poor. But he is so different and I’m afraid what might happen to him. Is there something you can do?” She finished softly.

Maestro Caracalla gestured to the boy’s notebook, “Is this your work?”

Xavier froze in his chair and prayed to disappear. He didn’t think the Maestro would hit him like his father did, but he dreaded the reprimand he knew would come. He whispered, “Yes.”

“Show it to me then.” The room was silent save the sound of Maestro Caracalla slowly turning pages after scrutinizing each one. Finally he closed the book. Looking over wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes seemed to bore into Xavier’s very soul. He gazed at Señora Isabel then back at the boy, whose reddened face was moist with sweat. “Señora, I don’t think you have any idea what a beautiful child you have. What ideas! His writing doesn’t match his age. He’s not a normal child. You have to do something with him. We have to help him!”

Maestro Caracalla told her to bring the boy back the following Monday, handing over a long list of art materials to buy. There’s not enough to eat! How can we buy art supplies? Guilt flooded Xavier’s mind. He was certain of a dead end. But at the appointed time his mother delivered him to the Maestro. She could only muster a clean new drawing tablet and 6B pencil, keeping even that small expenditure hidden from her husband. The secretary ordered a sandwich for Xavier, although he said he didn’t need anything.

“Ah, there you are,” the Maestro swept in from his office. He took Xavier by the hand and led him down the hall. They stopped in all the classrooms where he spoke to the teachers, “I want to introduce Xavier. He’s coming to take classes.”

That is how an eleven-year-old Huichol Indian boy from the streets came to attend Escuela des Artes Plásticas, the art school in Guadalajara, Mexico—the youngest pupil ever to sit alongside regular university students. They became his peers and friends. Maestro Caracalla continued as his benefactor for six years, making sure he had all the classes he needed: writing, painting, art history and more…

Xavier Painting 1

Painting by Xavier at the age of 18. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

 

Xavier painting-2

Xavier with one of his painted pow wow drums. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

Continue reading Xavier’s story here and find out how he returned to the Huichol roots denied him as a child, and went on to resurrect ancient instruments lost to time through visitations from his ancestors.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Interview, Music Review, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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