Monday, January 14, 2013

A Gust of Wind

Marie sketching in Oaxaca
January 9th was the two year anniversary of Marie's "Moving On". I am fortunate to be in Oaxaca now, one of Marie's favorite places, working on a book about her life and her sketches. It was just minutes before her death that I promised her that I would do something with her sketchbooks. I believe that it was one of the things that gave her permission to leave. It has not been an easy road for me, and my progress has been very slow. But Oaxaca is the place to be as I write. It is the place where most of Marie's Mexico sketches were done. So for this blog entry I have decided to share a bit of what I have written so far, nothing finished or polished, but a work in progress. Much like Marie's sketches, these excerpts are not written with publication in mind. They are my interaction and memories of moments we shared together. They are my verbal sketches, just as her sketches were her visual journal. [Click on images to see full screen]
The working title for this book is: A Gust of Wind. Last February I received an e-mail intended for Marie on my account. It was written in English by Ana, a young Mixe woman that Marie had sketched in the zocalo in Oaxaca in 2002. 
Ana's portrait on left side
 She wrote that she had come across the sketch Marie had done of her and wanted to reconnect with her. When I answered her that Marie had passed away, she wrote me back a long e-mail expressing her regret for not having written earlier. She wrote, " Dick, I am so sorry about what happened. It is such a pity, and at times like this, one asks, “Why did I wait so long?” But it is at times like this that one also realizes that someone has been very important to them, even if they passed through your life like a gust of wind, as is the case with me." Ana was not the only person that Marie had touched in the intimacy of sketching them. Marie was indeed a "gust of wind", and the lives she touched bear witness to that.
The following words are taken from the preface that Marie had done for her book proposal:
 "Sketching while traveling is like having a passport of some kind. Being there with your sketchbook and a pen, recording what you see and feel gives you some kind of a “raison d’être” wherever you are. Sketching gives you the opportunity to communicate with people for a while, to listen to their words. In other words, sketching allows you to travel differently and behind every page of a sketchbook, behind every face, there are stories. ..... I trust that what words cannot convey, the drawings will. Words can weasel and betray meaning and truth. These drawings can’t. They are as direct, as nakedly truthful, as the movement of the hand that obediently notes down what the eye perceives.”  
ProOax-Toledo Collage
In 2002, McDonald’s began procedures to open a franchise on the zocolo in the city of Oaxaca, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Oaxaca is the state with the highest percentage of indigenous population in Mexico, and is known for its strong ties to its prehispanic roots and traditions, one of which is its culinary tradition. A spontaneous citizen’s movement began, lead by a community organization, ProOax (Patronato Pro Conservación del Patrimonio Natural y Cultural de Oaxaca), and spearheaded by Oaxacan artist and activist, Francisco Toledo. The purpose of this group was to protect the rich cultural patrimony of Oaxaca. The group organized a tamaliza (a fiesta where tamales are eaten) in front of the site selected to be the future McDonald’s. Over ten thousand signatures in opposition to the opening of a McDonald’s on the zocolo were collected. The end result was a denial of the request and a victory for ProOax.

On December 21, 2002, Marie came across an article in the Mexican daily, La Jornada, about the ProOax victory. She cut out the article and pasted part of it in her sketchbook. She wrote,”A proof that people can win against cultural invasion.” Later that day she came upon the graffiti painted on the red wall. The words were foreign to her, perhaps in Zapoteco or Mixe or another indigenous language. She went on to comment, “That red terra cotta wall has a dramatic quality that fits Toledo’s struggle, and I want to believe that somehow they are connected to what just happened, even though I don’t see the words “McDonald” or imperialism!

I still clearly remember the first time I went to France with Marie in 1978. I was very impressed by the French customs regarding their food. She emphatically told me, “McDonald’s will never set their feet in France, never!” Despite the fight that many French put up, McDo’s is now securely rooted in most French cities.

Francisco Toledo and IAGO Collage
She came across another article about Toledo and the IAGO (Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca), a cultural center started by Toledo to make knowledge and art accessible to everyone, not just the privileged. This was a perfect fit with Marie’s philosophy that we are all artists, with a small “a”. Voila! Another collage, filled with the morning greetings of parrots in a tropical courtyard.

While I was in Oaxaca last spring, I tried to contact Toledo to give him copies of the collages that Marie had done, but to no avail. So the other day when he passed by me in the La Merced Market, I decided to stop him and ask how I could get the sketches to him. He kindly took time to listen to me and told me how to get the sketches to him.

My brief talk with Toledo reminded me that he and Marie have a lot in common. Besides being very gifted graphic artists and print makers, they also share a social consciousness that is an integral part of their being. Oaxaca was always a very inspirational place for Marie. Much like Toledo, she loved the indigenous culture, the simplicity of the people, their creativity, and their strength in standing up against the countless injustices they faced as indigenous people. The inequalities that she saw in the streets, and the unique personal relationships that her sketching allowed her to form, were often more than just capturing the moment; they were political statements that she felt deeply about. The political is part of her aesthetic.

Lenguas Indigenas Poem
The collage to the left includes a poem from a newspaper that she found on the ground that day as she went out to sketch. The title is: Las Lenguas Indigenas Van Muriendo (the Indigenous Languages are Dying Out). She wrote on the periphery of the page about the injustices she saw that morning, about the incongruence of the tourists passing by and the six indigenous women sitting on nearby steps, exhausted. She writes, “Where do they sleep? You can see the reality of their suffering in their eyes.”
            We visited Oaxaca again in 2009, not aware that this would be the last visit that Marie would make to the city that she so loved. The popular uprising in 2006 had caused her to cancel her planned workshop there that year. She was in solidarity with the movement, and did not feel it right to bring a group there in the midst of the social struggle. When we arrived in 2009, the evidence of the struggle was evident everywhere. Political graffiti art covered many walls in the Centro Historico. Although things appeared relatively calm, the movement was still alive and active. It had been four years since Marie had been to Oaxaca. 
 The sketch to the right is one of her impressions of the city after the uprising. As she was doing this sketch, a man came over and sat next to her. His name was Antonio (left page sketch) and they began to talk. While they were talking, Marie noticed a Zapotec family sitting on the sidewalk near to them. The two children had their notebooks out and were doing their homework. As often was the case, they were curious to see what she was doing. They came over and joined Antonio. When they saw Marie’s sketch, they asked her if she would draw in their notebooks, and she did. When Marie got up to meet me for lunch, she decided to ask the mother of the children if she could sketch her. The woman accepted! Above her portrait are the words copied from one of the walls, “Morelos aguanta, Oaxaca se levanta (Morelos [leader of the Mexican War of Independence] resists, Oaxaca rises up).
 The sketch to the left was done in November 2004, one day after the death of Yassar Arafat. Marie was in Oaxaca at the time and she saw his death in a global context of social struggle and upheaval. Below the image of the Zapatista she wrote, “ In Oaxaca or elsewhere in the world, here or there, the same duality exists, richness and poverty, war and peace, beauty and ugliness, and everywhere churches and social inequalities!

            Sketching, for Marie, was capturing the moment in a social and political context. The juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, richness and poverty, was part of her observation, her perception of the moment. They could not be ignored nor separated. An article in a newspaper often became juxtaposed on an image that seemed unrelated to the event. The sketch here done during the war with Iraq, combines the portrait of Luz Maria, a beautiful, young, indigenous woman accompanied by a poem by José Angel Leyva entitled, Her Name is Bagdad
Her Name is Bagdad
In this poem a young boy asks his father the following questions: Do bombs diminish the color of the sun, or do they take people’s shadows away? Does war fade the color of the heart, or does it only dry up people’s blood? Papa, how do they kill smiles? How do you call these voices from so far away that give the order to blow up the world?

            Mexicans were very well informed of the war in Iraq. Not only the well educated, but the man and woman on the street were aware of what was happening there and very troubled by the injuries and deaths caused by the missiles and bombs we unleashed.

Another sketch that showed this juxtaposition was the portrait of Señora Estela, A bread vendor in one of the Oaxaca markets. Marie had asked if she could sketch her before, but the woman had refused. Marie decided to try one more time, and to her surprise, Señora Estela accepted. As Marie noted at the bottom of the sketch, “She even posed!” Again the news of the day, December 23, 2002, is reflected in her “capturing of the moment”. Words like CIA, Saddam Hussein, attack, and United States surround the stern face of the baker woman.
 The sketches that I have shared here are only a few of the many that I am so fortunate to have to work with. As I proceed, I hope that my words will not weasel nor betray Marie’s sketches. I hope they compliment them in a way that paints a larger picture, that the sum is greater than its parts. I have been left with a treasure of images: direct, and nakedly truthful. I want my words to be the same; Marie’s sketches deserve that. This book will be a collage of words and images, much like Marie’s sketchbooks. Her words, my words, our images, all combined to tell our story.