Fantastical, boldly-colored creatures wove their way from Mexico City’s Zocalo and through the city on Saturday.
With neoliberalism’s stronghold on Mexico, combined with 60 percent of workers forced to sell goods informally in the streets and on trains, consumerism in the country can be overwhelming. But cultural traditions like the production of these giant paper mache alebrijes help to combat consumerism’s dominance and bring communities together.
Pedro Linares invented alebrije in 1936 after he fell unconscious and had an intense dream about strange creatures. There was a donkey with wings, a rooster with horns, and a lion with a dog’s head, and the animals shouted together, “Alebrijes!” Linares eventually woke up in the middle of his own wake, and went on to create the creatures, exhibiting his work in Mexico and abroad. He died in 1992, but his family, along with thousands of others, have continued the tradition of creating the fantastical animals.
While Linares came from Mexico City, people in Oaxaca have developed their own version of alebrijes, molding them out of wood instead of paper mache and wire. People there had already been carving wood and copal to make masks and everyday objects. They add animal hair and cactus spines to their alebrijes, and artists are clear that each alebrije is unique – not something to be made en masse.
The art tradition is a source of pride for Mexico: it represents enormous creativity, life, beauty, and joy, and the alebrije parades are one of the few mass celebrations that aren’t based on historical events or religion.
Many of the 200 plus unique creatures in Saturday’s parade were made by collectives and communities from around the country. Among them was a dragon with a Trump head in its stomach and worm-like monsters coming out of Trump’s mouth, a happy wheelchair with feet, a seahorse-snake, and bike-powered fish. Taking months to create, the artworks will now be on display for the next two weeks.
Tamara Pearson is a longtime journalist on Latin America. She is the author of The Butterfly Prison.