The Spun Universeby 228
"It can be understood as mirror, likeness, face, aspect, image of Otherworlds, and conversely as the doorway or portal into 'non-ordinary reality', the realm of the divine, creation and transformation." Among the Wixàrika people (also known as the Huichol) of Western Mexico, there is a beautiful artistic tradition called nierakate. It involves using yarns of various colours to ‘paint’ vivid patterns onto a wooden board, before fixing the design with beeswax. Humans, spirits, animals, plants and other beings may be depicted in a stylised form. As animists, the Wixàrika believe that every part of the living world has a human soul. Nierakate are directly influenced by this cosmology, and take inspiration from indigenous mythology and the stories and visions of shamans. It would be redundant to talk about Wixárika art without mentioning the role that the peyote cactus plays in the creative process. Peyote is a powerful hallucinogen, and taking it is a highly ritualised and important act to Wixárika and other indigenous groups in the Americas. Taking the drug allows the shaman to experience visions and the artist to translate those visions into the yarn painting. Peyote is one of the four principal deities in Wixárika religion, and it is through the drug that the other three deities can be reached. Peyote and painting are both ways for humans to become connected with the spiritual world of supernatural beings and ancestors, so it makes sense for the two things to also be connected in a ritualised artistic process. Yarn painting is an old art form, but only started to be recognised internationally in the 1960s. Since then, it has gained more attention as a beautiful, as well as significant part of Wixárika material culture. The Fowler Museum, UCLA is currently holding an exhibition of nierakate. It is a unique opportunity to experience the evocative power of these art works in the flesh, and learn about Wixárika spirituality. Fowler In Focus: The Spun Universe: Wixárika (Huichol) Yarn Paintings Until 4 December 2016.
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