Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Rochelle Noblett, executive director of the Madera Arts Council, holds photos of artwork for the Coyolxauhqui Madre Cosmica exhibit created by Madera born and raised artist Gloria Osuna Perez who passed away 20 years ago. The artwork will soon be on display with a reception is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Sometime during the 14th Century, Aztecs established the city of Tenochtitlan and then brought surrounding cities and villages under their control to form a great empire. Eventually, Mexico City, the capital of modern Mexico, was built atop the once-powerful Aztec metropolis.
In 1978, the government decided to excavate parts of Mexico City in order to extend its underground public transportation system. During the process, El Templo Mayor (the Main Temple of the previous Aztec city) was unearthed, along with Coyolxauhqui, a massive stone that bears the image of Madre Cosmica (Cosmic Mother).
When artist Gloria Osuna Perez viewed the monolithic image, she was inspired to produce her own interpretation of its message. She wrote, “By creating a clay facsimile in a stylized interpretation of Coyolxauhqui, (I could show how) her vital force could be felt by others….”
She reports, “The image is that of a woman, lying on the ground, dismembered in five sections with serpent knots on various parts of her body.” According to the artist, the expression on the face of the image is unforgettably beautiful, even as her life’s blood pours onto the ground.
Feminist writers Jennie Luna and Martha Galeana of UCLA believe the image represents a woman “engaging in cycles of menstruation, reproduction, labor, and birth.” This is consistent with Osuna Perez’s statement about her interpretation, “I sought a clearer symbol of the ultimate sacrifice of women: the source of the gift of life.”
Osuna Perez points out that the stone monument, like many pre-Columbian works of art, is also an astrological map which has religious overtones. For example, the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, and the moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, struggle with each other. Eventually, Coyolxauhqui falls to earth, creating life and establishing a harmonious relationship between earth and sky.
So, it is no coincidence that Teotihuacan, the remains of the Aztec city just outside Mexico City, is anchored on one end by the Pyramid of the Sun and on the other by the Pyramid of the Moon.
Osuna Perez encountered great difficulty in attempting to fire the clay pieces that would eventually be brought together to create a replica of the stone wheel. It seemed that every time she placed a clay section into the kiln (oven), it either exploded or was ruined in some other way.
She assumed that the problem lay in her working during the daytime hours, when the Sun was dominant. She writes, “… I decided to represent her (Coyolxauhqui) with respect and dignity and not show her in a grotesque manner as others have done. So I decided to fire her only at night when the moon was watching over my fire.”
Later this month, Osuna Perez’s work will be brought to Madera County Arts Council’s Circle Gallery at 424 N. Gateway Drive. It consists of her clay interpretation of the Coyolxauhqui wheel, along with ten paintings of women who the artist claims are “direct descendents of Coyolxauhqui’s sacrifice.”
Osuna Perez chose five women from south of the Mexico-USA border and five from the United States for the exhibition:
Eulalia Arrila de Perez, who worked in the mission villages of Alta (upper) California; Jovita Idar, a journalist in South Texas; Maria Hernandez, co-founder of Orden Caballeros de América; Virginia Chacon, who worked to obtain equal pay for women miners; Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America; Leona Vicario, who was a key figure in the fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain; Dolores Jimenez y Muro, a colonel in Zapata’s army and advocate for women’s rights; and Nahui Olin, an artist and model for Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist.
Gloria Osuna Perez was born in Madera on Nov. 21, 1947. Before completing her education and, later, becoming a self-taught artist, she worked in the fields picking fruit with her migrant farm-worker parents.
Although she still has family in Madera, she moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1985 where she worked on a line of pottery, called Pottery en Espanol. Former First Ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton both own pieces of her work.
In 1995, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and told that she had only three months to live.
While she continued to work on other projects, she made her own funeral urn. She was the featured artist in Latina Magazine in 1996, the year that she debuted her Coyolxauhqui Madre Cosmica exhibit.
In early 1999, she began illustrating a book with her daughter Lucia Angela Perez. She died on June 25, 1999, and her daughter finished the illustrations for the book, Little Gold Star/Estrellita de Oro. Her husband, Roberto Perezdiaz, has made Madera the first stop on the California tour for this exhibit on the 20th anniversary of her death.
In 2001, Osuna Perez was inducted into the El Paso Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2008, the National Museum of Mexican Art displayed her work, and earlier this year, the El Paso Museum of Art featured her paintings in a celebration of her legacy, titled “Beyond Portraits.” A fund in her name continues to support art through the El Paso Museum of Art Foundation.
• • •
If you go…
What: El Dia de los Muertos Preview of Osuna Perez’s art
When: Sneak Preview, Friday, Nov. 1, 6-7:30 p.m., Opening Reception — Coyolxauhqui Madre Cúsmica, Thursday, Nov. 7, 5:30-7 p.m.
Where: Circle Gallery, 424 N. Gateway Drive, Madera
Refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome. Admission is free. For more information, contact Rochelle Noblett, Executive Director, 661-7005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.