|Our study abroad program is focused in a small town in Oaxaca State, Mexico where we study weaving, basketry and ceramics with Trique and Mixtec peoples. Professor Paul Dresang (ceramics/glass) and Associate Professor Laura Strand (textiles) developed the program and guide the journeys.
Mexico City, Oaxaca and the many museums and archeological ruins all contribute to our learning. Yet the most remarkable experiences come through our study of weaving, ceramics and blacksmithing with indigenous peoples in a small town in rural Oaxaca State called Tlaxiaco. This contact with Trique weavers from nearby San Andres Chicahuaxtla, Mixtec potters and local blacksmiths allows us to learn from their expertise first hand and also offers us a glimpse of their lives and culture.
We find ourselves in contact with a mode of artistic expression that is astonishing to American artists. We experience art making through individualistic self-expression. Ours is a culture that strives to break tradition, to react against it. The Mixtec and Trique cultures, by contrast, engage both physical and visual tradition as guides to making. These are cultures within which making and using an object form a seamless circle, one guided by the other. Through our experiences in Tlaxiaco we are forced to step outside our own art making and closed cultural experiences to see our lives and artwork from an altered perspective.
The return semester is a continuation of the travel experience. Throughout the Fall semester the students write and make artwork in response to their experiences in Mexico. They develop a catalog of artwork and have it printed, produce a full-scale art exhibition complete with opening reception, and design, print and distribute an invitation to the exhibition. This project involves each student in the full range of the responsibilities of an artist, to make and exhibit their artwork, effectively write about and publicize their artwork and produce and exhibition.
The exhibition of artwork influenced and inspired by our experiences of Mexico, displays far better than my words our primary purpose in taking the journey. We strive to expand the intercultural awareness of our students, to expose them to other modes of living and other ways of thinking about and evaluating artwork and artistic production. They return to their own artwork with new ideas and influences that alter not only the artwork produced for the exhibition, but all of their subsequent art work.