Corn is life.
To the ancient Maya, maize was everything.
Blood of the gods and corn dough combined to create humans. Maize fed civilization.
Mexican artist Aldo Martinez presented his corn-centric exhibit “Yo Tlaolli: Corn as Body, Territory and Ideology,” in the art gallery. It was a great harvest.
Sara Solaimani, a Ph.D. candidate in Art History Theory and Criticism at UC San Diego, develop an interest in Martinez’s art when he was a student. It fueled her desire to curate his art and bring voice to the Native Mexican culture.
Although “Yo Tlaolli” was the first time Solaimani curated a solo exhibition and was Martinez’s first solo exhibition, it turned out to be a successful and illuminating presentation.
Martinez traveled to 11 cities and towns across nine Mexican states to work in the corn fields. By getting his hands dirty, he learned how to create an intimate display that depicted the Native Modern Mexicans’ symbolic relationship with corn.
He collected what he learned to produce books and magazines to accompany his exhibits.
Of the 12 pieces displayed, “Collection of Corn” was a standout. It was an arrangement of colorful ears of corn that showed the diversity of colors and shapes that exist. It served as a metaphor for the racial and cultural diversity of Mexico.
“The different types of corn represent the spiritual, economical and physical diversity among the regions,” Martinez said.
Maize is indigenous to Mexico, but has long since spread across the planet. Martinez said corn is symbolic for the people who need it to survive.
He planted live corn plants across the campus. Solaimani said they were bringing the corn back home.
“It is a remnant of the Native Mexican corn back on its native territory,” she said.
Eventually, all the corn plants were brought together for the exhibition to create “The Senses of Maize.” Each corn stalk grew out of a sculpted terracotta head, some from the top of the skull, nose, left eye, mouth and left ear. Each head featured different facial expressions and were partially buried in wooden boxes of soil to reflect the cyclical nature of life and death.
“Tortilla Field Above Us” was a provocative piece. Tortillas were hung from the ceiling on string. Over time some of these once-freshed tortillas became discolored by mold. Solaimani said decay was an important aspect of the piece.
“While working with live material, you have to deal with what comes with it,” she said. “It is a living art form.”
“And Mexico Ends Where the Milpa Dies” contained different colored corn ears, glass and ground polyester resin. In the display, a baby corn stalk is in the process of growing in the palm filled with soil.
“Enlightening Cereal” is the other set of hand molding, created by glass polyester resin. It carried corn husk with light beaming in the middle.
“Documentary Interviews” contained five interviews of farmers in different Mexican states. It captured the hard work, love and dedication of producing corn and transforming it in numerous ways.
“The Presents of our Myths” was a mural by local guest artist Tizoc Uribe which showed the Mayan God of Maize. Mayans believed their people were created from corn. Some performed cranial deformation on infants so that the shape of their skulls resembled kernels of corn.
Yo Tlaolli was a heartwarming and enlightening art exhibition that celebrated the Native roots of Mexican culture – the corn roots. It provided much food for thought.