Vochol: Huichol Art on Wheels
BY Annie Waterman | May 10, 2012
Beaded bold statement
What does it take to adorn a classic 1990 Volkswagen Beetle? Just a mere 2,277,000 glass seed beads and nearly 35 pounds of fabric, paint, yarn, and resin. As part of an international tour, Vochol: Huichol Art on Wheels, will travel from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. and be on display at the Denver International Airport from May 21st through August 31, 2012. The exhibition is not to be missed, as it celebrates one of Mexico’s indigenous communities.
With skill and wit, the beaded VW Bug makes a bold statement because it touches upon the merging of traditional Huichol cultural heritage and modernity through an icon of pop culture. Leonda Levchuk, public affairs officer at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institute, where the vehicle was exhibited, explains “Vocho is a name that derives from 'Vocho', a slang term for the VW Beetle in Mexico, and 'Huichol', the common name for Mexico’s indigenous Wixaritari ('the people'), a community of approximately 26,000 who live in the mountainous region of the western Sierra Madre.” This project took about seven months to bead and design, not missing any details, including the steering wheel, console, interior seats, and dashboard. “Two families of Huichol artisans devoted more than 9,000 hours transforming the ‘canvas’—a 1990 Volkswagen Beetle—into a stunning juxtaposition of modern machinery decorated with bright, psychedelic patterns and colors.”
Over the past 30 years, thousands of Huichol Indians have migrated to more urban areas, leaving their once nomadic existence behind. It is these urbanized Huichols who are drawing their attention back to their rich culture and expressing themselves through visual arts. To help preserve their ancient beliefs, they have been making detailed yarn paintings and intricate beadwork, a modern spin-off of the traditional ritual artifact known as the nieli'ka. This is a square or round tablet with a hole in the center that is covered in a mixture of beeswax and pine resin. Threads of yarn are pressed, creating vibrant and sacred relics. The beadwork’s prominent patterns and symbols are embedded with meaning.
According to Ms. Levchu, “The Vochol’s bead work and embroidery illustrates powerful symbols, milestones and stories from this deeply spiritual culture, including images of deer—the most revered animal—and a two-headed eagle marking the four cardinal directions, as well as the fire, drum, squash and corn used in a traditional maize-offering ceremony. For the Huichol, creating art—in the form of beadwork, textiles, stone sculptures, ceremonial objects, and pipes—is not merely decorative. It is an expression of faith, evoking centuries-old shamanism and peyote rituals that are still practiced to this day.” Depictions of historical events are also intertwined, including imagery of the Mexican Revolution and Independence from Spain.
This one-of-a-kind vehicle is presented in collaboration with the Association of Friends of the Museo de Arte Popular and the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City, the Embassy of Mexico, and the Mexican Cultural Institute. Catch the Vochol as it makes its way around the globe, exhibiting at esteemed institutions, including the Musée de Quai Branly in Paris Vochol. Ultimately, it will be sold at auction by the Friends of el Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City to support the work of Mexican artisans.