In Mexico, unless you live in a cave, you know that Mexico’s new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (colloquially called AMLO) was inaugurated on December 1 of this year. Now this is not a political column, but handcrafts made their way into this event.
AMLO is one of only three president to ask for and receive the “staff of command” (bastón de mando) from Mexico’s indigenous communities. The idea behind the staff and the ceremony is to remind the government and the rest of Mexico’s population of its indigenous peoples, which are often marginalized. The staff was hand carved of cedar in Tlaxcala, and is adorned with ribbons of various colors symbolizing the cosmology of Mexico’s 68 recognized indigenous ethnicities.
Behind the stage, there were meters-tall panels in various colors and patterns. These were also made in Tlaxcala, by artisans in Huamantla which is known for the making of temporary “carpets” of sawdust, flower petals and other organic matter for processions.
These panels were made by arranging dried corn husks that were first colored with aniline dyes. The artisans worked 16-18 hour shifts for 22 days to make the 72 panels measuring 360 m2. The task required over 750 bundles of husks. This “vertical carpet” is the first of its kind and of this size, but it certainly will not be the last. The impression the panels made, along with the significance of the ceremony almost guarantees that panels like this will be created in the future.
Inaugurations are all about symbolism, representing what the incoming elected official has promised for the coming term. I’m cynical by nature, but I cannot help but hope a little that this very prominent display of handcrafted talent will translate into something good for Mexico’s artisans, especially the indigenous ones.