UNCLE RABBIT & THE WAX DOLL
9 March - 8 April, 2023
Catalyst Contemporary presents “Uncle Rabbit and the Wax Doll” a solo exhibition featuring the work of Inocencio Jiménez Chino, a corn farmer and self-trained artist from the Nahuatl (Aztec)-speaking village of San Agustín Oapan.
This community, and a few nearby villages, are at the center of a genre of “tourist art” iconic in Mexico and known throughout the world as amate or bark paintings. Inocencio was twelve years old when this form of painting first emerged and soon took over village life, with virtually every family learning the skills necessary to produce dozens of homogenized and highly stylized works every week. He was eighteen when the 1968 Olympics were held in Mexico City and the government ordered hundreds of thousands of drawings, small and large, to meet the demand of the influx of visitors to Mexico.
Over the following decades, Inocencio continued to paint for the mass market. But at the same time, and mostly for his own pleasure, he strove to innovate and excel in painting works that had no immediate market but rather started to adorn his house, a small private collection tacked to the brick walls of his modest home. Unfamiliar with the possibilities of high-quality commercial brushes, he made his own out of the hairs of donkeys tied to small hollow reads. Despite these rudimentary tools, Inocencio developed a skill with detail that rivals that of any academy-trained artist.
The first of Inocencio’s works to reach a wide audience are two line drawings that he made as part of a visual narrative to protest the proposed construction of a hydroelectric dam that would have inundated over a dozen villages in the Balsas River valley of central Guerrero, Mexico. The works were developed in collaboration with the anthropologist Jonathan D. Amith and originally planned to be given out at protests and roadblocks to raising money to support opposition to the dam. Yet the works were so striking that they became the centerpiece of an exhibition at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (Chicago) and Parque La Villette (Paris). At the same time they were published in a book entitled The Amate Tradition: Innovation and Dissent in Mexican Art.
Jonathan and Inocencio became close friends. Jonathan now has a house in San Agustín Oapan and Inocencio and his wife, Florencia, have visited the United States and both helped Jonathan with a Nahuatl summer course he taught at Yale University.
These illustrations will be published in a bilingual (Nahuatl-English) children’s book and the original artwork (13 pieces) on April 25th, 2023, and are on view now at Catalyst Contemporary. The works come together to not only tell the tale depicted by also the numerous tales and art-making process of both Inocencio and of the village of San Agustin Oapan.