By ERIC MINH SWENSON October 29, 2023
I drove nearly a thousand miles to see Porfirio Gutierrez’s traditional textile weavings at the Chinati Foundation’s opening weekend in Marfa, Texas. I spent time with Gutierrez at his opening in short walking distance to the aluminum and concrete works of Donald Judd and the unique conceptualism that defines the art ethos of Judd’s Marfa.
From the intricate to the minimal, Porfirio explained his weaving and textiles in a short film interview I produced alongside art advisor, Veronica Fernandez through the auspices of the Chinati Foundation. Porfirio explains in the film the difference between his traditional free-hanging textiles on a painted blue wall in reference to daytime sky, while explaining the non-Indigenous framed textiles inspired by modern artists, Agnes Martin and Anni Albers.
You can see the YouTube film I produced here:
During the early October weekend, Porfirio gave a talk with curator Ingrid Schaffner in front of a captive audience at the Crowley Theater. He spoke intellectually on environmental ecology, the science and chemistry of natural dying, the contribution of indigenous cultures, the symbolism and motifs cycle of life and Zapotec Meso-American architecture.
Gutierrez maintains a studio in Ventura, California where he produces modern day textiles as art and functional design rooted in the 10,000-year-old historical practice from where he grew up as Zapotec, an indigenous people of Mexico who are concentrated in the Southern state on Oaxaca. His woven line works adopts embroidery techniques on top of the weaving in kinship with historical art giants such as Agnes Martin to Anni Albers.
Gutierrez contextualizes art within frames and believes his work has “symbolic links to the underworld” and the fact that he is based in California (though travels to Mexico frequently) leads him to an understanding that “home is where nature is” where “DNA information is borderless.”
“What Porfirio is doing is not just honoring his ancestral work, it’s synchronously provocative: he is contributing to a greater, critical conversation that aims to re center indigeneity. What’s more is that, while he wholeheartedly believes in the tremendous cultural and spiritual values of his Zapotec roots, he openly acknowledges that he could not make this work if he hadn’t migrated to the U.S. It is his life experience, the multiplicities of identities, that is reflected in these weavings; they’re guided, respectfully, by tradition, however, Porfirio grants himself the freedom to imagine a new direction for Mexican design and craft by pushing it, uplifting it” notes Los Angeles / Mexico City based art advisor, Veronica Fernandez.
In the gallery text, exhibition curator Ingrid Schaffner writes, “Porfirio Gutiérrez was raised in a traditional weaving community, where he started working at the age of twelve—first as a shepherd and later at the loom. A decade after he migrated to the United States, he returned to his village and the revelation of things that were vanishing, such as the original integrity of traditional designs and techniques of natural dyeing. These are among the forms of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that the Zapotec have developed over centuries of living in close relationship—spiritually and physically—with the natural world. His parents, however, retained their local knowledge and from them he began to learn. Principle sources for dyes are pericón, or Mexican tarragon, for yellow; marush, a native Oaxacan plant, for green; huizache, a tree whose pods and bark make black; and, of course, añil, an indigo for blue. Nopal cactus paddles are also essential for the farming of cochineal, the tiny insects that produce such intense shades of red after they are harvested, dried, and ground like corn on a traditional metate.” On view October 2023 through July 2024. Chinati Foundation. Marfa, Texas. WM