It’s no secret that most Mexican designs are rich in indigenous traditions, and Huichol art is no different. The beauty of the ancient religions and symbols woven into rich colors and textiles lends to the commercial appeal of authentic Mexican artwork and fashion. But few know where the patterns and designs originated or their significance to the culture that created them.
Huichol art is often recognized by it’s colorful decorations using sacred symbols and designs. One of their most familiar pieces is known as “yarn paintings” and are created by pressing yarn and beads into boards that are coated with wax and resin, to create bright and intricate designs. They also use small, commercially made beads to decorate objects, like masks or candles.
Although Huichol art is now commonly found in tourist driven areas, like Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, the work still holds deep religious and symbolic meaning. From the designs to the colors to the symbols incorporated into the pieces, each are derived from ancient practices of the Huichol people.
The Huichol are an indigenous people who live in remote areas surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains in the Jalisco and Nayarit states. Their isolation has protected them from most Western influence, keeping their ancient traditions and beliefs intact through the centuries. However, economic constraints have forced the Huichol people out of their remote areas and into busier cities to sell their works.
Their namesake is derived from the word Wirriarika, which translates to soothsayer or medicine man in the Huichol language. Their traditions are seeped in religion, mostly based on the “trinity” of deer, corn and peyote. Deer and corn were their primary sources for food, and peyote is held sacred in their culture due to its hallucinogenic properties that give shaman visions.
Each year, Huichol families, individuals and shaman take pilgrimage to the desert area of San Luis Potosí in order to worship and commune with the deities. During their journey, shaman will take peyote and replicate their visions onto nierikas – small discs or boards with a hole or mirror in the center. The nierikas represent the religious communication between the Huichol people and the deities, and would be left in a cave or temple as an offering to the gods.
The significance of this pilgrimage and the deities is represented in the decorations of almost everything the Huichol create. The “yarn paintings” are commercialized versions of nierikas. The decorated masks and candles imitate the sacred items they offer to their deities.
Since their written language was only recently developed, the symbols were the Huichol people’s primary form of communication and continue to preserve their sacred traditions, myths and religion.
A little knowledge goes a long way and knowing more about the beautiful origins of Huichol artwork will gives us a higher appreciation for their designs!