A life-changing photo exhibition 46 years in the making

Juan Felipe Unity Poem Fiesta
Juan Felipe Unity Poem Fiesta – source: U.C. Riverside 

A long time ago, while he was a 21-year-old social anthropology student at UCLA, Juan Felipe Herrera embarked on a journey to Mexico to meet his people. It would change his life.

“My interests had to do with the question of identity, endangered indigenous cultures and social change,” Herrera said. “It was also part of my larger project as a Chicano poet.”

Funded by a grant from the University of California at Los Angeles’ Chicano Studies Research Center, Herrera made three stops while on that journey in 1970, visiting Yucatan, Veracruz and the Huichol nation. There, he documented what he found in a collection of photographs and also brought back samples of “Nierikas” or yarn paintings.

“It was quite a whollop,” Herrera said. “I wanted to meet my people, … to get to know them face to face, record their stories and take photos and art to bring back to the States, for all of our communities. The effect was life changing. I attained a hemispheric and global vision and most of all, established a sense of profound community with the indigenous people of Mexico, where my parents had origins. As an artist, I began to see poetry as a communal process and voice related to the life-sources of the village and cosmos – and as a way to offer many gifts to all.”

Now, 46 years later, those photographs and relics are on display to the public for the first time ever. 

Fresno State’s Center for Creativity and the Arts presents the “Elotes con Sangre, the Journey Home, Photographs and ‘Neirikas’ (yarn paintings) of the Land of The Wixáritari, First Peoples, the Huichol Nation of Mexico” exhibition through Oct. 21 at the M Street Graduate Studios.

Literally, Elotes con Sangre translates to corn with blood. Herrera explains the name of the exhibition.

“When I returned from the trek to Mexico’s remote and abandoned Indian villages, in particular the Huichol, I wrote a 40-page poem as my report on the voyage south. It had to do with Huichol notions of life and their experience in town and village. The corn was central to their life. And the blood – which the chickens offered at the sacred hut on the celebration of the First Corn – was the very essence of the Huichol’s life, its agricultural cycle and the  harsh life they lived as marginalized Mexicans. Yet, it was also their vitality and resilience.”

An artist’s reception for“Elotes con Sangre” will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, honoring Herrera, a former Fresno State professor now in his second term as the U.S. Poet Laureate.

“Elotes con Sangre” is part of the Center for Creativity and the Arts’ 2016-17 arts programming theme, “Native Communities: Tradition and Innovation.” The Center for Creativity and the Arts serves a hub for arts in which artists from a variety of backgrounds can work to stimulate public engagement through inquiry, discussion and understanding.

Herrera calls seeing his work on display so many years later “a miracle.”

“I am humbled by the kindness of the peoples in those images, their strength and vision,” he said. “I’m thankful to Cindy Urrutia, Dean Sandoval and all involved.”

“We must stop our day-to-day rush,” Herrera said, “notice the people in our lives and our greater self and rethink our relationship with their dire and vibrant lives.”

Related Links:

Blog from Arts & Humanities at Fresno State, 09/30/16: New exhibition shows poet laureate Herrera’s indigenous perspective

Fresno State News, 05/18/16: U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera to receive honorary doctorate at commencement

Fresno State News, 06/09/15: New US poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera praised as humble, champion of voices

N.Y. Times, 06/10/15: Juan Felipe Herrera, From Farm Fields to Poet Laureate

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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