Collection

Demián Flores (1971 - )

De la serie 'La Patria II' (2010)
From the Series 'Fatherland II'

Gold leaf on wood
height: 80.5cm
width: 60cm
Mixed Media

Purchased with the assistance of PINTA Museums Acquisition Programme and Mrs. Ades 2010

4-2010

ESCALA purchased this untitled panel from the series Fatherland II by Demián Flores in 2010 at the first London edition of PINTA, the modern and contemporary Latin American art fair. Having already worked with Flores at the Colchester Campus we were drawn to the display of his works, which included several panels from the series. In particular we were struck by the curious combination of what appeared to be the outline of a fallen Christ with a parrot on his back, hammered delicately into a block of cedar wood, covered in gold-leaf.

The parrot was recognizable as an image from an Aztec painted book or codex, such as the Codex Féjérváry-Mayer, a type of book known as a teoamoxtli, or cosmic book, produced before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519 and hand-written in pictorial, or iconic, script. The parrot or toznene, in this and other codices, appears as one of thirteen ‘fliers’ which is the meaning of quecholli in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, which is still spoken in central Mexico today. Each of the thirteen quecholli have numerical values and the Aztecs believed that the characteristics of the bird influenced the fate of human beings through their tonalli or soul. The parrot is associated with the number thirteen, with the southern part of the Aztec empire, and with preciousness. According to Gordon Brotherston, among the quecholli, the Parrot, together with the Macaw and the Quetzal, was associated with “the tropical plumage that was traded far to south and north, even as currency”.

With the arrival of Catholicism after the Spanish conquest of 1521, the teoamoxtli were both suppressed and replaced by European rituals books including the Bible and Cathechisms brought by missionaries who built vast monastery complexes that still survive throughout Mexico. Feathers as currency were replaced by coins of gold, the substance prized most highly by the Spanish who bathed their church altars in this precious metal. Flores’ panel was made with the community of one of these colonial churches; that of the town of Santa Ana Zegache, near to Oaxaca. Through his cultural centre, La Curtiduría (The Tannery Cultural Centre) in Oaxaca, Flores worked with Georgina Saldaña Wonchee to teach young people the technique of water-gilding (also known as ‘gilding on bole’) in which wood is covered in red clay (bole) before gold leaf is applied. The aim was for the community to be able to continue to restore its own church and furniture as well as to create new artworks.

Despite the religious context of this piece, the fallen figure is in fact a secular image, of a man in the recovery position, apparently copied by Flores from an old first-aid manual. The same figure recurs in Flores’ first Fatherland series of prints, oil paintings and flags, along with other male figures either bandaged or being resuscitated. In this first series, the figures are physically merged with a range of gods, warriors and animals from the Aztec ritual books. Flores, however, replaces the opposing ritualised forces of nature and of warriors in the original codices with clashes between, or convergences of, the past and present; between the religious and artistic traditions of Europe and the US and those of indigenous America. The contemporary Mexican fatherland that Flores exposes in both series, then, is multi-faceted and highly mixed. Like the Aztec codices to which it refers, which themselves were often rewritten over time, this panel is also a palimpsest, embodying Mexico’s long history of physical, artistic and intellectual layering.

1. This sophisticated script combines images, words and mathematics. The Codex Féjérváry-Mayer is in the World Museum Liverpool and one of a number of pre- and post-hispanic Mexican painted books in UK museums. More information on these books can be found in Gordon Brotherston’s Painted Books from Mexico: Mexican Codices in UK Collections. London: British Museum Press, 1995.
2. At its height when the Spanish invaded, the Aztec empire (AD 1325 – 1521) stretched as far as what is present-day Michoacán in western Mexico to Nicaragua in the east, echoing the extent of the historically culturally unified area of Mesoamerica or Middle America.
3. Brotherston, Gordon. Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas Through Their Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992: 65. The Thirteen Quecholli appear as a set on the title page of the Codex Féjérváry-Mayer, which functions as a plan of the cosmos and of the Aztec tribute empire.

(Text commissioned by ESCALA for the exhibition Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, 2014)

Joanne Harwood, 2014

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