Review of “Oaxaca, The Spirit of Mexico” – Photographs by Judith Cooper Haden, introduction by Phil Borges, text by Matthew Jaffe; published by Artisan, 2002
All journeys of discovery have a beginning and an end. But the joyful experience of discovery itself has no limits. One of the greatest experiences of discovery is to place your self into a totally alien, foreign and perhaps an initially threatening environment and let life take its course.
The introduction to “Oaxaca” speaks to the very essence of what this book, a stunning collection of photographs and vivid narration, is all about.
It is all about the journey, all about allowing the surroundings to engulf you and your senses. It is all about becoming aware, as an animal is aware, of the life and death that swirls about every second of the day and night. It concerns all of the spirits that surround us, no matter the form – human, animal, tree or stone.
This particular journey of discovery portrays Oaxaca, the city. But this book is not simply about the architecture and people that occupy that place. It deals with history and deeply held convictions; it reveals a gift to the people who live there to use their God-given talents in creating a work of painting or sculpture, or a beautiful weaving for the floor, or a wonderful meal for the table.
Within the five different chapters to the book are five different and revealing aspects of the spirit of Mexico. The first encompasses the 2,000-year history of Oaxaca. The second reveals simple but eloquent street scenes of the city. The third details the works of art crafted by different artisans. Then we are taken to the clamor and chaos of the mercado to feast on the food and rejoice in the faces around us. The book ends with a celebration of death and life, a centermost anchor of the Mexican belief system, a festival known as The Day of the Dead.
In Corazon Del Pueblo, we see the city at dawn, during the early morning awakening when people stop, take their coffee and a shoeshine and then go about their daily lives. Along the way we encounter renowned artists such as Rodolfo Morales, to whom the book is dedicated, and many others: Francisco Toledo, Margarita Bautista, Isaac Vasquez, Juan Antonio Garcia and Dõna Rosa, all who create their work – Hecho a Mano.
We join in the creation of their contributions to the culture and history of Oaxaca and its people and begin to understand the significance of a life dedicated to the celebration of all that the past has left as a lesson and a legacy.
The photographic images of all these experiences of discovery are eloquent. The narrative examines and explains the nuances of Mexico and its people, a puzzle that is a riddle for most Norte Americanos.
One looks at this work and begs for more, for there is always more beauty in the details. There is more to Oaxaca then the city, too, but then, perhaps, that is a work that will come later. For those who love the country and people of Mexico, “Oaxaca, The Spirit of Mexico” is a book that reveals the hidden layers of a place but still leaves hope for more journeys of discovery. Let there be sequels.