Mythic Visions: Huichol (Wixárika) Yarn Painting Exhibition at Penticton Art Gallery

Event Dates:
  • Sun August 1, 2021 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM
  • Tue August 3, 2021 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Wed August 4, 2021 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Thu August 5, 2021 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Fri August 6, 2021 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
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The yarn paintings are the continuation of a variety of ritual arts long practiced by the Huichol with the emergence of this art form beginning in the late 1950s. The art form builds on the rich history of Huichol iconography, translating the imagery to a flat surface. They are created through the application of beeswax on a board where the artist sketches out a design and carefully pressing brightly colored yarns into the wax. The first paintings were largely decorative, sold in government craft shops creating an industry and bringing in some much needed income into their communities. It was not long before that the shaman-artists realized the potential for these paintings to tell the stories and myths of the Huichol, and to record their sacred visions recording the stories of the creation, the peyote/deer hunt, the journey of the soul after death, and the origins of Father Sun and Tatewari, Grandfather fire. Stylistically these early yarn paintings resemble brightly coloured petroglyphs and considering the relatively new adoption of the materials they show an extraordinary degree of sophistication that can only be achieved through the transference of generations of knowledge that comes.

Thanks to their isolation in the mountains and canyons of the state of Nayarit, the Huichol, alone among the indigenous peoples of Mexico, were able to largely resist conversion to Christianity by the Spanish conquistadors. They have maintained their pre-conquest religion and traditions nearly intact. The Huichol practice a nature-based religion guided by shamans, which the anthropologist Peter Furst calls, “a powerful everyday spirituality that seemed to owe nothing to the religion of the conquistadores.” The religion and the sacred arts which serve it are directed toward communication with a pantheon of “numberless male and female ancestor and nature deities” and in so doing finding the causes and cures of illness. 19th century ethnographer Carl Lumholtz called the Huichol a “nation of doctors”, for an extraordinary number of Huichols (an estimated third of adult men) are mara’akámes or shamans. Furst adds that an even greater number of the Huichol, male and female, are also artists.

A central aspect of the religious life of the Huichol, and an essential rite of every shaman, is the peyote pilgrimage to Wirikuta, a remote desert region 300 miles away in the state of San Luis Potosi. After the twenty day walk (now sometimes shortened by a ride on a truck or bus) to Wirikuta the Huichol pilgrims “hunt” for the sacred hikuri or peyote cactus. They shoot arrows into the first peyote they find, just like the sacred deer with which it is associated. The pilgrims consume some of the peyote in rituals in Wirikuta, and the rest is brought back for the consumption of the community.

Exhibition runs from July 3, 2021 to September 11, 2021 at the Penticton Art Gallery