VICTOR JAVIER BUSTAMANTE HERRERA
“Winning the FOFA/MEAPO concurso [contest] gave me the confidence to know that what I was doing…love to do…that is born within me…is appreciated and good, and that it is supported with prizes.”
The 27-year-old winner in woodcarving in FOFA/MEAPO’s 2011 competition for young artists – exemplifies the impact of this experience on a young talented person’s self-image as an artist.
At the same time, Victor’s artistic trajectory is unusual in many ways. He is a native of Miahuatlán, a pueblo far more distant than the Central Valley craft villages from which contest participants generally come. And he was not raised within a family craft tradition.
Victor learned about FOFA/MEAPO’s August, 2011 contest from a young woman who visited the workshop in which he worked. Because time was too short to begin a new piece, Victor decided to submit a carving in pochote wood that he was preparing for the annual, state-sponsored Benito Juárez competition. He had won a 2nd place cash prize in this competition in 2010. Victor was attracted by FOFA’s award of a scholarship to art school to enhance his technique. “This gave me an intention, a purpose,” he noted.
Miahuatlán, from which Victor comes, is one of four districts in the Sierra Sur region of the state of Oaxaca, a mountainous area south of the Central Valleys. The region’s inhabitants include a variety of indigenous groups: Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Chatinos, Amuzgos, Triques, and mestizos [mixed indigenous and Spanish origin], as well as emigrants from other parts of Mexico.
While there are many artesanos in this area, individual pueblos do not specialize in particular crafts as they do in Oaxaca’s Central Valleys. In any given pueblo, some work in pottery, others weave with palm and bamboo as well as wool in the mountainous areas, and yet others carve wood and bone. Victor has experimented with several of these art forms, wishing to gain as much diverse experience as possible in preparation for his eventual goal of teaching.
Victor’s exposure to art as a child was rather limited. Inspired by the drawings of his five-year-older brother, he began to draw his favorite television characters, e.g., Felix the Cat and the Muppets. Victor and his best friends in secondary school, who were also invested in being excellent students, enjoyed drawing and painting in their spare time.
Upon graduation from secondary school, Victor tried several forms of work, none of which truly satisfied him. In the course of doing so he intermittently encountered artists whose work he found intriguing. After a brief experience in construction in Miahuatlán, Victor spent three months in Oaxaca City where he thought he could find better opportunities. On his travels to and from long hours in a bakery, he noticed a wood workshop whose maestro permitted him to visit several times. Returning to his home, Victor worked as a polling official in the 2006 presidential election.
In the course of his activities in a rural village, he learned about pochote wood and began to carve “just to kill time.” Maestro Agudo, a local expert miniature carver to whom Victor showed his pieces, admired them and offered him the opportunity to join his taller (workshop), in which other art forms were practiced as well. This arrangement, exactly what Victor had been looking for, lasted approximately four years.
When the municipal administration changed hands in 2007, Victor was asked to become an instructor in papier mâché classes for children in the local Casa de la Cultura.
Impact of Being a FOFA/MEAPO Contest Winner
Awarded a scholarship by FOFA as the winner in woodcarving, Victor attended the Taller de Artes Plásticas Rufino Tamayo from September, 2011 through June, 2012. For Victor, participating in the Taller “revolutionized my head.” It was eye opening to be with young people who were university students during the day, and continued to work on their art at night. This brought about his realization that, if he wished to be a serious artist, he would have to work at the same rhythm. At times, this experience was a challenge for Victor, who was aware that he was not prepared with a level of theoretical knowledge comparable to that of many other artists attending the Taller. In addition, he could not attend every day, because of the distance between Oaxaca and Miahuatlán, where he continued to earn his livelihood. Nonetheless, Victor resolved, “I can do this!” Moreover, he felt just being in this environment was “a real achievement.”
Victor greatly appreciates FOFA’s support that enabled him to acquire new tools and to learn about new techniques and materials, as well as how to use familiar materials in additional ways. He has been able to make pieces that are larger, and to combine them with techniques for making miniatures that he had already learned in the taller in Miahuatlán. Alberto Velasco, the maestro in sculpture with whom Victor studied at the Taller, quickly recognized Victor’s great talent and enthusiastically mentored him. In this climate, Victor discovered “there are no limits to what one can create.” Victor is extremely grateful to Maestro Velasco for giving him confidence, contacts, space to work, transportation assistance, and “hanging out with him.”
Although the time at the Taller has ended, for Victor “the benefits of winning haven’t stopped…I feel I have taken on a new level of responsibility, as a woodcarver, an artist.” When Maestro Velasco launched a project dedicating the pruned branches of Oaxaca’s ancient trees for the creation of artwork, rather than merely discarding them, he honored Victor by giving him the initial piece culled from a laurel tree. To date, Victor has only completed the head of this very large work, which was exhibited in a recent show in Oaxaca City.
Another highlight was Victor’s featured role in a ceremony honoring the restoration of the park surrounding the Cathedral of the Virgin of Soledad, the most important religious site in the state of Oaxaca because it is devoted to its patron saint. The Cathedral’s Father blessed Victor’s partially completed piece that was on display at this event. He announced Victor’s name and asked that he explain the significance of his sculpture. Victor described it as a Mexican man who, in his heart, searches for truth and enlightenment in order to be able to teach others. The public was so enthusiastic about Victor’s work that he received offers to purchase what was then an unfinished piece.
Victor has been given another piece of wood trimmed from an historic sabino tree, a type of wood finer than laurel. His work on this piece is steadily advancing. He is also in the process of creating a collection of approximately 10 wood carvings that he wishes to exhibit and sell. A collector recently bought several of Victor’s pieces, a trend that will hopefully continue. This will enable him to invest money in books and tools that will contribute to further learning.
Victor’s woodcarvings emerge very gradually. He reflects that he has to imagine them first, while experiencing a very positive emotion, in order to give them his all. He, like his ancestors, finds inspiration in nature, as he observes the structure of flowers, shells, leaves, and insects. Victor continues to run artistic workshops with children, working with clay, another artistic medium that is of great interest to him.
Future Plans and Aspirations
It is Victor’s intention to remain in Miahuatlán to pursue both his personal artistic work and the transmission to children of what he learns. In his words, “I feel I should stay and work in Miahuatlán, it is my duty.” Victor views this as a place enriched by many master artists – working in clay and wool – from whom he can learn the ancient techniques. These are still practiced in many distant villages precisely because they have been isolated. Victor cited several examples: suede made extremely soft by boiling it in a mixture that includes animal brains, and weaving dyed naturally with flowers.
Victor has great interest in fostering the artistic development of children in his region.
A philosophically reflective young man, Victor elaborated his perspective: “I feel I should do the work here. We need to return to the way of thinking, to observe nature, as our ancestors did. It is a question of returning to one’s origins. It is the children who will make the true changes. If we give them the materials, they will decide if they want to do it or not. They learn from the soil in which they place their toes, not from other cultures. If our culture is so rich, we have to work within that culture so that young people – through the idea of art initiation classes – can create centers where new artists can make their own mark…Small children…when they get something in their hands, some material, make beautiful things. If only they could have the opportunity, they would value their heritage.” He believes there should be an art instructor in each primary school who is provided with resources.
Victor dreams of creating a mobile tent that will travel from village to village to offer art initiation classes for children. His partner and mother of their baby son (Dante was born in November, 2012) plays the keyboard and sings, and could offer classes in dance and music. He greatly admires Maestro David López Vera, a musician in Miahuatlán who is in the process of developing a workshop of “art initiation” for children that includes a maestro in theater, dance, and plastic art. His classes are planned with specific objectives, an approach that Victor would very much like to learn.
Thanks to FOFA
Victor sends a message to FOFA and its supporters: “Thank you for all your efforts on my behalf.” He added, “Winning the FOFA/MEAPO concurso [contest] gave me the confidence to know that what I was doing…love to do…that is born within me…is appreciated and good, and that it is supported with prizes.”
Lucy Atkin, FOFA Advisory Board Member, was kind enough to interview Victor in depth, providing the basis upon which Arden Rothstein, FOFA President, wrote this piece.