Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Backlog: Answered prayers (Mexico City)

It's Sunday and we're combing la Lagunilla (a market) for ex-votos. Ex-votos are images of an event and and the accompanying narrative, the successful outcome of a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe or to a saint. The paintings, executed on thin metal plaques, are somewhat primitive, the stories sometimes amusing. I'm not sure when (1800's, maybe) or where (Oaxaca, perhaps?) they became popular, but you can find some antique ones at a price I can't afford. Artists imagine, paint, and sell them today, and some will even take on commissions.

After wandering for over an hour through buildings and alleyways crammed with vendors displaying raw cow and pig innards and outards, new and used clothing, vintage furniture, and just about everything you can and cannot imagine, we locate our first contemporary painter of ex-votos. A. is really the one in the market for them, and she buys one of the young man's pieces. The story and image give thanks to the Virgin for having prevented the supplicant from being bitten by a dog.

We continue looking around, happening upon another artist with a wonderful sense of humor. A. buys my favorite ex-voto: I thank you Virgin of Guadalupe because after my husband left me for that hussy Amalia and came back to take the pig you gave me the courage to stand up to him. She purchases a second, as well, in which the (fictitious) writer thanks the Virgin for saving her two daughters from being bitten by wild animals while they were sitting on the banks of a river.

I convince A. that she should commission her own ex-voto, so we retire to a nearby plaza to brainstorm. We determine that it would be difficult to picture something to do with A's highly successful acupuncture practice; however, after less time than one would think necessary, she comes up with the following: I thank you Virgin of Guadalupe when after a dream I awakened able to speak perfect Spanish and dance salsa. The artist makes a rough sketch, and I suggest that he add in a handsome salsero for A. to dance with.

In Oaxaca, I find my own (mini) ex-voto, appropriate because of the knee problems that I've been having : I give thanks to the Virgin of Guadalupe because when I fell , I only broke my leg.

A little over a week later, after we return to Mexico City, the artist and his wife meet us in our hotel lobby. A. is depicted lying in her bed. A bubble, indicating her dream, frames her saying, "¡Es un milagro!" (Translation: "It's a miracle!"), as she salsas in a daring red dress. The Virgin appears at the top right of the plaque, as she usually does in such works. The piece is wonderful, from the misspelled word (not atypical of antique ex-votos) down to the Tom Jones V-neck shirt that reveals the hairy (according to the painter -- "sexy") chest of A.'s dance partner.

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