I recently say the movie Coco-it’s about celebrating the Day of the Dead, about family and traditions. The movie was colorful, musical and emotional. As I sat to deconstruct my understanding of this movie, I was intrigued by the characters called Alebrijes or spirit animals.
Research led to me this description: Traditionally, Alebrijes are carved and painted animal figurines that have become a form of symbolic art from Mexico. The word Alebrije means “imaginary” or “fantasy,” describing a style of animal carvings with exceptional paint schemes.
As a creative arts therapist, I found this symbolic art form to be fascinating as I came to know about its origins.
Pedro Linares (1906-1992), a renowned indigenous Mexican artist, first created vividly colorful papier mâché sculptures called alebrijes. The inspiration for Linares’ sculptures has an origin as outlandish and fanciful as the figures themselves. As the story goes, Linares became very ill when he was 30 years old. Not having access to medical attention, he laid in bed and lost consciousness. Linares dreamt of a bizarre, peaceful place that resembled a forest. He recounted seeing giant rocks, tall trees, and an expansive sky. The artist felt remarkably healthy again. His physical pain was gone and he felt happy as he walked along trails through the dense foliage of his dreamworld.
Suddenly, the clouds, rocks, and trees began to transform. The land features around him shaped themselves into animals that were familiar and yet like nothing Linares had ever seen before. There were mules with dragonfly wings, roosters with antlers, creatures that resembled gryphons and dragons, just to name a few. They had unnatural colors and patterns swirling over their bodies. These creatures began repeatedly chanting a single word: alebrije…alebrije…alebrije! Linares became fearful of these strange, powerful creatures chanting this nonsense word. He couldn’t tell if they were warning or threatening him. However, it was enough to startle him awake in time for his fever to subside.( NPS 2017)
Alebrijes, especially the monsters, have gained a reputation for “scaring away bad spirits” and protecting the home( Carlos, 1997)Some, like master craftsman Christian David Mendez, claim that there is a certain mysticism involved in the making and owning of alebrijes, with parts of certain animals representing human characteristics(Joaquín 2009)
I have drawn my dreams with my Jungian psychotherapist and believe in dream interpretations and I think this is another way of connecting our collective unconscious using the art form. Carl Jung saw both dreams and art (including paintings and poetry) as expressions of the unconscious .Pedro was able to link those two and create works of art which tapped into the realm of our unconscious that has been accessed brilliantly by this art form.It will be interesting to try and clay and make my own Alebrijes modeling my dreams into animals that resonate with me and have fantastical elements.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA