Oaxacan Figurative Ceramics
Ocotlan de Morelos, a typical rural town in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca is the home of the four Aguilar sisters, renowned nationally and internationally for their imaginative and innovative ceramic figures. These delightful pieces are a celebration of the indigenous culture in their portrayal of the tableaux of daily life, from food to dress to customs and mythology. Radiating a warmth that is quintessentially Mexican.
The four Aguilar sisters, Josfina, Guillermina, Irene and Concepcion, received their experience and training with clay from their mother Dona Isaura, the first woman potter to lift her work from the everyday need of pots for the household to the realm of imagination with evocative, ornamental figurative images. Although Dona Isuara received no recognition for her work, her daughters have achieved international renown with her legacy.
Producing these delightful works is a difficult and labor-intensive process that involves the entire family. Many steps are involved from digging clay, drying sifting and kneading, hand holding, firing and painting.
During the dry season, in Josefina’s household the day begins very early in the morning, when the difficult work of digging the clay is done. The really good clay lies deep down 10 to 15 feet below the surface and must be dug through layers of dirt, rock and sand. Enough must be stockpiled to last through the rainy season when digging is dangerous. Sitting on the floor, Josefina shapes the figures by hand, using a maguey thorn to etch fine lines of expression on the faces. Her husband, Jose Garcia Cruz, paints much of the work after it is fired. Her son Sergio’s task is to knead the clay that has already been dried, pulverized, and mixed with water. Working with his feet, the task can take 4 to 5 hours till all the water has been absorbed. Josefina is supported in her work by a household of 25 people that includes sons and daughters, daughters-in-law and grandchildren as is the custom in the region.
The art is greatly influenced by the traditions, religions, the myths & legends, the celebrations and the rituals that are the foundations of daily life in Oaxaca. Many of the art pieces relate to the important festival of the Day of the Dead (Dia De los Muertos). This art is an important means of economic survival in one of the poorest states of Mexico, but it is also an important means of self-expression in a culture where “proper” women are quiet, humble and longsuffering. Despite their struggles, these women mold exuberance and jubilation into their clay!
For more information about Day of the Dead visit our Life After Life page.