Alebrijes

Alebrijes

Alebrijes, one of the most interesting and fascinating Mexican handcrafts! They are rare and unique animal sculptures. Most of the time these are of fantastical creatures however, you can also find alebrijes of real animals. In this blog I will explain a little bit more about one of the most representative handcrafts of Mexico: Alebrijes

Alebrijes were created in 1936 by Pedro Linares Lopez. The story goes like this… Pedro Linares became really ill one day. As he lay in bed with a high fever, he dreamt of a very strange but interesting and peaceful place. This place seemed like a forest, full of trees, rocks and animals. Whilst walking and enjoying himself in this calm and happy place, all of a sudden the rocks, the clouds and the animals started changing into strange creatures he had never seen before. He remembered seeing a donkey with wings, a rooster with bull’s horns, a lion with a dog’s head! If this by itself it’s not strange enough, these fantastical creatures shouted at the same time one single word: ‘Alebrijes, alebrijes, alebrijes!

Pedro, kept walking in his dream until he came across a man that told him that it was not his time to die yet, and that he needed to continue walking as he needed to reach the exit. He found a little window ahead and managed to sneak out of his dream! Amazingly, when he woke up he was fully recovered. He then realised that his mission was to bring the creatures he had dreamt about to life using cardboard and papier-mâché. And this is how, in 1936 alebrijes were born in Mexico City.

Alebrijes became so popular that they even caught the attention of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, making them some of Linares loyal customers. Little by little, alebrijes became a cultural symbol and in the year of 1975 they became internationally recognised due to a documentary made by Judith Bronowski, a British filmmaker. Because of his contribution, Pedro Linares received the National Prize of Sciences and Arts in the ‘Arts and Popular traditions’ category. This is the highest decoration for artisans granted by the Mexican government.

Whilst Linares’ alebrijes where becoming more and more popular, in Oaxaca, a man called Manuel Jimenez was the first one to create alebrijes out of the local wood - copal (Bursera glabrifolia) instead of papier-mâché. Manuel Jimenez was the pioneer of incorporating Linares’ creatures into the existing the pre-hispanic woodcarving and hand painting tradition in Oaxaca.

It is worth noting that in Oaxaca, the art of carving wood figures did not have a name. This is why the term ‘alebrije’ was applied to any hand carved, colourful figure made out of copal. On our website you can find an alebrije in our logo! This jaguar alebrije is inspired by those from Oaxaca, with dots and geometrical patterns.

One interesting fact is that we still don’t know what alebrije means as this was a word that Pedro Linares dreamt of. Some people suggest that alebrije comes from three different words: Alegría (happiness), bruja (witch) and embije (the action to paint with vermilion). Therefore it has been said that alebrije means ‘witches painted or dyed with joy’.

One thing is for sure, whether they are made from papier-mâché in Mexico City or copal wood from Oaxaca, alebrijes are a product of a dream that became part of Mexico’s identity. So much that in Mexico City, a parade of monumental alebrijes is carried out during the last weeks of October. If you go to Mexico City this time of the year, don’t forget to check it out! It’s a unique and fantastic experience!
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