Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center fosters local community solidarity through creative collaboration between newly arrived immigrants and visiting Oaxaca artisans.

Jul 26, 2012 - 4:00 pm

New art in public places (AIPP) installation celebrated at recent presentation by ESB-MACC artist in residence, Margarita Cabrera.

MACC at night

Margarita Cabrera

MACC's first artist in residence, Margarita Cabrera.

Visiting artisans from Mexico

Our, two visiting Oaxaca Mexican artisans, Ranulfo Sergio Santiago Ibañez and Lucila Sosa Luria.

According to ESB-MACC's first visiting "artist in residence", Margarita Cabrera, "transformative" was the operative word at the recent evening event held in the main auditorium on July 19th, 2012.

searching for wood

Searching for the right wood.


searching for wood

Gathering the wood with the help of the City's arborist.

Transforming pieces of dead wood, selectively gathered at Austin's Guerrero Park (under the expert direction by one of the city's arborist).

Aztec dancer

Mexican folkloric dancers perform a ritual to honor the wood.


Aztec dancers

• Transforming discarded pieces of wood into appreciated scared objects through ancient Native-American ceremonial dances.

Artisans working on wood

Our visiting artists, Ranulfo Sergio Santiago Ibañez and Lucila Sosa Luria working on pieces.

Transforming these same pieces of dried wood into objects of great beauty under the loving direction of two masters, members of a long line of Mexican artisans.

Mexican folk art

Examples of Alebrijes style art that will soon adorn the hallway and the entry way to the MACC's educational wing.

•Transforming a simple entryway into the educational wing into a magical passageway exciting the imagination of our young students and encouraging their inherent creativity.


Artist receiving awards

Everyone involved received plaques of achievements.

Transforming the lives of 18 new immigrants into becoming proud and integral members of the greater Austin Latino community.

group picture

A group picture showing pride of collaboration.

Finally, helping to further transform the ESB-MACC into a vehicle for enhancing the sense of community that the Center has always strived to achieve.

"Uprooted Dreams"

Margarita Cabrera, a well-respected El Paso artist, explained that she believes she was chosen by the "Art In Public Places (AIPP)" selection committee exactly because of her history of collaborative community projects. She proposed using her art installation project, titled "Uprooted Dreams" as a way of giving the local immigrant community a sense of enhanced belonging.  Equally compelling is her belief that each of us individually has the ability to make substantive differences in the world around us.

Large piece of art showing colorfull mosquito

One of the finished "Alebrijes" pieces, a giant phantasmagorical mosquito.

hallway where art will be installed

Working sketch of the ceiling layout for placement of final pieces and the hallway and the entry way to the MACC's educational wing that will be transformed by the beautiful installation.

This evening's event itself was rather unique. Whereas most AIPP events are intended to unveil the finished piece, this event was formatted to highlight the creative process itself by bringing the community into collaboration with the artists themselves. By having each artist explain the inspiration behind their art work, the entire community becomes part of the creative process.

small Taco stand in MACC lobby with art work for sale

The MACC staff came up with a creative way of displaying the "Alebrijes" that our artisan visitors brought with them from Mexico. A Taco stand!

Margarita at podium

Margarita Cabrera at the podium in the MACC's main auditorium.

The first part of the evening took place in the beautiful main auditorium. Margarita showed a short documentary she produced. Shot in a small Zapotec village within walking distance of the ancient ruins of Monte Alban just outside the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, we are introduced to our two visiting Mexican artisans, Ranulfo Sergio Santiago Ibañez and Lucila Sosa Luria in their home workshop.

audience at MACC

Full house at MACC's main auditorium.

There, we were able to view the actual process of combining ancient Indian craft traditions and the newer artistic style called "alebrije" (meaning "god is content".) Utilizing the scared Copal tree's wood (a totally renewable resource), these beautiful sculptures are now sold throughout the world. This unique style was created in the 1970's and is generally recognized for its wild colors and phantasmagorical creatures.

samples of work by the local MACC artists

Samples of the "Alebrijes" created by our artists.

In the video, we are shown how the division of labor falls between the genders: women paint the wild imaginative figurines, men gather and carve the wood with sharp knives. We learned how this relatively new cooperative business venture gives local women a new and much welcomed sense of empowerment within the traditional (and sometimes abusive) "macho" Zapotec culture. Later the whole family takes Margarita to the ancient ruins to show her how centuries' old Copal trees have always played a significant role in Zapotec history.


aztec dancers

Segment from the video Margarita is creating about her project at the MACC.

We then saw two short video segments that will eventually be incorporated into a documentary about this project at the ESB-MACC. Lucila explained that while making the art, creative energy from the artisan enters the sculpture, and after completed, the same benevolent energy continues to radiate outward. I look forward to see the completed documentary when the project is done.

in Artist's work shop

Upstairs tour of the workshop area.

Once in the workshop area, each artist explained the inspiration behind their particular piece. They also spoke of their personal challenges, of separation from family, and country and the difficulties of being a stranger in a strange land. Each one spoke graciously of the kindness they found at the ESB-MACC, the solidarity they felt being a member of the team, and the hope for a better future that this project has given them.

two of the local MACC artists

Joy of Collaboration

It was very poignant and for me a real demonstration of the validity of Margarita's vision of the power of collaboration and the healing potential of this art work.

artist in work shop

Joy of exploring ones own creativity.

Artists gather in worhshop to celebrate

Joy from belonging.

Margarita working

Margarita at work.

MACC staff Linda and Herlinda

MACC staff Linda Irizarry Crockett and Herlinda Zamora, both pleased after an event well done.

We look forward to the exciting unveiling at the project's completion.

For more information on all of our Musuems, Cultural and Nature centers, please see our blog