Arts / Community

Mexican ‘Closer Look’ features woodcarving and painting

The machete swung overhead, missing the woman’s face by only a few inches. Suspended for a moment, the massive blade caught the light and gleamed before cutting through the air, crashing down onto a block of wood and sending wood chips flying all over the stage. The audience watched, mesmerized, as the man chipped away at a formless piece of wood, transforming it into what would soon be a wolf. His son sat by his side, intricately painting a figure that he had just finished carving.

Ventura Fabian and his son, Norberto, are from Oaxaca, a small village in southern Mexico. Their family’s livelihood is the same process that they demonstrated on the stage of Waldo on Thursday, October 24, for the Mexican ‘Closer Look’ presentation, the first this year of a series hosted by the International Students Association (ISA) that highlights the culture of a specific group. Mexican students chose to represent their country with this presentation after Donna Corrigan, Dean of Residential Life and International Student Advisor, introduced the idea a few weeks ago. Ms. Corrigan said, “I had received a flyer with information about the Oaxacan woodcarvers and asked the girls if it was something they would be interested in.”

Two of the students who helped organize the presentation, Lorenza Ochoa ’16 and Fer Reyna ’15, agreed. “We felt that woodcarving would be something interesting that not many people know about,” Reyna said, adding, “We liked Mrs. Corrigan’s suggestion because it was an interesting way to share a unique part of Mexican culture.”

The presentation was part of a series of visits that Ventura and Norberto participate in each year called the Visiting Mexican Artists Program. Their website, The Dancing Chickens, explains, “Over a three to four week period in the fall, to coincide with Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday, the artists visit schools, libraries and art centers to share the allure and vibrancy of Mexican artistic expression.”

The Fabians have been visiting schools since 2003. While they do not speak English,  Nina Hasin, a bilingual woman based in the Boston area, coordinates the presentations. Hasin is an editor and independent filmmaker and, due to a love of Mexico and fascination with the culture, she was drawn to work at the Indigenous Video Center in Oaxaca where she became acquainted with the Fabians’ woodcarving. Though currently working as a freelance editor in Boston, she is also the project director for the Visiting Mexican Artists Program and works with the Fabians when they come to the Boston area for presentations each fall. As the father and son provided the visual demonstration during the Closer Look presentation, Hasin explained the history and the process of the craft, the lives of the artists and their family, and insights on Mexican culture.

Regina Flores ’14, a Mexican student, expressed some disappointment in the narration that accompanied the artists’ demonstration. “I think [Hasin] generalized a lot of ideas about Mexican culture. For example, she stated that all Mexicans have an inner animal, which is not true. She took many ideas that, while they may apply to that specific village, do not apply to all Mexicans.” Nezzy Riaz ’14 had similar sentiments, saying, “It struck me that the speaker referred to the artists’ lifestyle as ‘primitive.’ It really created an uncomfortable, ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy which put me off. Although very interesting and visually informative, [Hasin’s] presentation prevented me from being as immersed in the program.” Riaz added, “I wanted to be more invested in the art itself because it was so beautifully rich with culture.”

Some students did have the chance to experience the art in a more personal way. Throughout the day, the wood carvings were on display in the art studio, and there was an opportunity to purchase them after school.The artists also joined Kassie Teng’s Drawing and Painting I class, Michael Frassinelli’s Advanced Architecture class, and Eric Goodson’s Latin American Studies class, the first time that Dana has hosted an interdisciplinary workshop for Visual Arts and Social Studies. Rebecca Thompson ’14, a student in Mr. Goodson’s class, comments, “They were so excited that we were excited about their work.” Thompson added, “The presentation fit in well with our curriculum and it was helpful to have a visual demonstration of what we were learning.” Caroline Joseph ‘14 agreed, “I was amazed at how passionate and skilled they were and I think it went really well overall.”

ISA Closer Look presentations such as this one began last year. In the past, ISA only held one, larger cultural presentation per year. Ms. Corrigan explained the reasoning behind the change: “When meeting with the ISA board we wanted to make it our focus to bring culture to the forefront of people’s minds. With these smaller, spread out presentations, there are more opportunities to hear from all cultures — not just international because culture comes in so many different forms.” Ms. Corrigan emphasized the importance of sharing culture beyond international students. Closer Look presentations last year included Dana culture and SHADES culture, and this year they have opened the door to all clubs and cultural groups. The Muslim group Salaam and the lesbian-straight alliance group Bridge are scheduled to present later in the year.

Allie, Regan and Norberto

Photos: (top) The painted creatures created by the Fabians; (left) Norberto Fabian demonstrates painting technique to Dana students; (right) Norberto and Ventura Fabian brought their traditional painted woodcarvings to Dana Hall for an ISA ‘Closer Look” presentation on Mexico. Photo credit: Michael Frassinelli and Donna Corrigan.


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