Alebrijes: history and meaning of this Mexican folk art

The history and meaning of the alebrijes is intermingled in the syncretism, mysticism and materialization that human beings can demonstrate to counteract their own evils, even from the most humble but sublime point of their existence, in this case, with the refuge of art.

History and origin of the Mexican alebrijes

It happened in 1936, which makes this fusion of art – popular mysticism a contemporary expression, already close to a century of existence and socio-cultural and economic value of the Mexican people.

The paper mache artisan Pedro Linares, was a humble craftsman in a market located in the center of Mexico City. He was not a very wealthy person and, as fate would have it, that was part of his blessed creation.

pedro linares mexican folk art
Pedro Linares, creator of this Mexican folk art: alebrijes.

One night when he became seriously ill, the high fever brought him down, causing him to fall into a deep and uncomfortable sleep. According to what he narrated and founded as the basis of the history and meaning of the alebrijes, the fever made him delirious and had nightmares of a dark forest.

In it, the trees, mountains and clouds were turning into multicolored monsters that shouted a strange word, unknown to him: alebrije!

After a short time, Don Pedro recovered, but his mind and soul still repeated that strange word. He went to his workshop and began to reproduce the figures that already lived in his mind.

His creations quickly became the most popular attraction in Mexico at the time, with the support of artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who became fanatical buyers of Linares’ works.

For him it meant the sound of his being that showed him how to trap the evil that could contaminate the noblest and most beautiful things of existence, for which people had to have how to capture and dominate them, enclosed within an art as beautiful as existence itself.

In addition, it was for Pedro Linares a vision of the place where the evils gathered to demonstrate their power, hearing a voice assuring him with cryptic words “this is not your place or your time”, which shows that in his delirium he entered the underworld and all those horrible creatures saw him as a threat.

What if alebrije was really his way of saying that Pedro was the fear of those evils? It is a guess we have, based on all that came to result.

Meaning of the alebrijes

With the passing of time, Linares’ work became a new cultural icon of Mexico, which conquered several countries and became a reference of Mexican identity.

The oral tradition, based on the story about the history and meaning of the alebrijes told by their creator, has taken these small multicolored monsters to a higher level of mysticism.

mexican folk art festival
Mexican folk art festival in Mexico. Pixabay / cesarbuenrostro

For many, they are a reminder of the beauty of things, that all forms can be blessed by the affection and dignity that others bestow upon them if they deign to eliminate their prejudices and belligerence.

That is why alebrijes are the most aesthetic beauty over the ugliness of monsters, since it is the way to appease them and numb the evil that resides within them.

Yes, because for the humblest people, the history and meaning of the alebrijes is nothing more than trapping the evil that was lurking on beautiful things.

alebrijes mexican folk art

And so that nightmares no longer dwell in the minds and souls of people, a place must be found for them where their ugliness will be reformed by art, so that they will now live the eternal punishment that they -nightmares and other nightmares- wanted to create in human beings.

Because the nightmare of all evil is to see victorious and also to have as jailers those who profess good.

Alebrijes today

The history and meaning of the alebrijes continues to be written with the passion of mysticism for many and the artistic and socio-cultural value for others.

Their originality, extravagance, colorfulness and the breaking of patterns between beauty, ugliness and forms, make them fantastic and go beyond being a mere ornament in millions of homes in Latin America and Asia, where they represent the milestone between the supernatural and the triumph of good over evil that unites both cultures.

It is equally at home in an art gallery as in a street stall. It is the ability to reinterpret the world and a place to trap all the evils that afflict us for eternity.

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