January 30 – March 19, 2020
To get to know the land one has to get to know the life that comes out of it.” – M.S.
Maximillian William is delighted to announce Layú, a solo exhibition of new works by Polish artist Magda Skupinska. The show’s title translates to “Land”, a word originating from Isthmus Zapotec, an indigenous language spoken on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southern part of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The body of work offers a window into the process and exploration of organic materials, which the artist was exposed to when relocating her practice in the Pacific coast of Mexico over the last year.
Extending Skupinska’s investigation of the natural world and its phenomena, the exhibition presents a series of works created with two main organic materials – palm and corn. Skupinska used ground corn as the pigments of her paints in its four original colours (white, yellow, red and blue). For the basis of her canvases, leaves obtained from palm trees were woven by five women from the Zapotec community in Santo Domingo Albarradas – a traditional craft passed down from generations, solely among women. This technique is not only a collective activity; it is organic, meticulous and closely tied to nature – all expressions that point to Skupinska’s oeuvre. The essential character and process of these two plants are a translation of Skupinska’s artistic inquiry in relation to community-based crafts through her recent consideration of Indigenous cultures. During her time in Mexico, the artist was captivated by the distinctive unprecedented energy of indigenous cultures on both a social and ecological level. Their nurtured sense of unity, balance, equality and deep-rooted respect towards nature stimulated Skupinska to use organic materials reminiscent to the characteristics intrinsic to these cultures. Corn and palm were the ideal chosen medium for the artist, as they possess universal and natural abilities that underline the inextricable codependency of humans and plants – a bond that is manifested as being kin in indigenous cultures but overlooked in the Western World. Indeed, the weaved palm leaves, also known as petates, have a history of being fundamental to the life and death of pre-Hispanic cultures of Mexicans. Used to bury the deceased, as rugs to sleep on, as shelter or to celebrate marriages, the foundation of the petates for the basis of Skupinska’s canvases denotes the undeniable liaison between nature and human beings. Functioning together to create harmony, their relationship is evoked through the patterns that are formed once the palm leaves are woven together by the craft of hand. The technique symbolizes a fusion of cultures and a more unified coexistence of their rapport, which is further fortified by the installation present in the centre of the gallery. Made of Abaca fibres, the installation is inspired by ‘The Three Sisters’ – an indigenous planting technique that tells the story of the beneficial and inseparable relationship of the three most important food sources in Mesoamerican cultures – corn, bean and squash. The fibres strangely depict human hair and have been infused with bean, squash and corn oil. The arrangement and structure being held together like three heads recalls the complemented nature of these three crops. Forming a distinct companionship, the installation expands on the notion of co-dependency and togetherness between humans and nature.
Drawing from modernist traditions through her biomorphic shapes, Skupinska’s body of work stimulates the basis of our being and pays homage to the rituals and traditions of indigenous cultures. In a sensory environment of texture, colour and smell, the works as a whole highlight a closer reconnection to nature through familial intimacy. Acting as visual totems of memory and nostalgia, each painting seems as though it possesses a forgotten narrative of the natural world that we are inherently part of, and one that the artist insists on us remembering.
Petates Crafted by: María Inés Cruz Morales, Esperanza Perez Santiago, Margarita Morales Morales, Rosa García Martínez and Olivia Martinez Luis