Meet The Aguilar Sisters

The Aguilar Sisters

The Aguilar sisters, from top-left CW, Conception, Guillermina, Irene and Josefina.

I first heard of the Aguilar sisters… well, actually not he sisters collectively but whichever one bravely created the “Nativity in a Taxi Cab” piece, which I can’t locate anywhere on the internet now. Then a FLICKR contact recommended we track the sisters down. Turns out that the sisters live just beyond the town where our arebrijes are made, so we decided to seek them out on our way towards Colima.

Once we got close to Ocotlan de Morelos, we had a feeling we would find them even without directions. It wasn’t too far into the outskirts when we passed a sign that had the Aguilar name on it, so I immediately pulled a u-turn and went back. Down a dusty road behind a repair station, we found the home of Conception Aguilar.

Victoria usually announces our arrival and hence our desire to enter the home or workspace of whoever we’re visiting. Good thing, if I were doing this on my own, as they say in Brooklyn, FUGGEDABOUDIT! But her subdued and culturally proper manner of announcing our arrival is usually met with a smiling face and warm welcome. The home of Conception Aguilar was no exception.

On the way in to the display area, I noticed from my eye’s corner (how can something round have a corner?) a young man sitting at a table with a fine paintbrush in hand, and Conception was assisted by a young woman who seemed to be both an assistant and a security guard. This was the first inkling of the “passing of the guard” phenomenon that would reoccur throughout our visit to the sisters, but it wasn’t so obvious at that moment.

I didn’t take too many images at Conception’s home, in fact I only took photos of her. We did buy quite a few pieces from her collection including a few of the bugs in the background, followed by mermaids and calaveras (skeletons). We still had three sisters to go, and since Conception was at a distance from the others me thought me should be conservative. She and her daughter were quite reassuring that the pieces we selected would get wrapped up and taken over to ship collectively with whatever was to follow. We bid farewell and headed for the Aguilar Trifecta.

Irene Aguilar & Sons

When we arrived at the location of the three other sisters home/workshops, we could see that they were clearly decorated and adorned in differing styles. Irene’s was probably the most ornate, and a bench outside for visitors was ladened with a number of pasty-white visitors. Her’s being the first in the line of the three, we stepped next door to Guillermia’s place. After Victoria gave the appropriate announcement call we were greeted by a woman maybe  in her 40′s, who guided us and invited us in. This would be her daughter, who like Conception’s daughter earlier, stood by her mother’s side during the entire visit. Well actually, she did step back when it was appropriate, when we were simply talking and not necessarily talking business. The next sign of the “changing of the guard” vibe.

All that aside, Guillermina was absolutely precious. As you might be able to tell from the image of her (upper right), her spirit exudes from her eyes, her mouth, her very presence. Even without being privy to the conversation going on between her and Victoria (and I’m not getting too much translation these days), it reminded me the times when Lupita (Victoria’s mother) and I can have a totally incomprehensible (regarding language) conversation with one another, yet understand each other completely. Guillermina showed us into her room that held her collection of creations, a variety of sizes and themes. From the playful “Mujeres de la Noche” (Ladies of the Night) and the nuns stripping themselves of their hobbits, to the grand creations that entailed panels and little outboard attachments. The Catarina (feminine icon of the calaveras) to the Serina (mermaid), both large and complex pieces had been sitting on the shelves for 2-years, as Guillermina said the tourists only want to take photos of their work and then leave. We bought both of them and took pictures of Guillermina instead. Aside from those two amazing pieces –which I don’t think we will sell– we bought probably a dozen more. I’m pretty sure that she was responsible for the Nativity in the Taxi Cab piece but it never came up. We chatted for quite some time; family matters and finances, earthquakes and loss of pieces, drinking Mezcal, her travels over the years, raising her sisters as daughters… we covered a lot of ground but not enough. We were feeling a bit pinched for time (still two sisters to go), so we bid farewell and headed down the line to visit Josefina.

Josefina Aguilar Josefina was actually the only one of the sisters working while visiting. Again, we were greeted by a woman, presumably her daughter, who whisked us past Josefina right towards to table of goods. It was a totally different vibe there, perhaps too many visiting gringos gawking at the goods and walking away with nothing more than photo-memories, perhaps a number of things, but Josefina never took her eyes from her work at all, until our purchase was completed and we were on our way out.
Guillermina had earlier mention how uncomfortable she was in juried competitions, being pitted against her sisters. I had the feeling that there may have been some tension within the row-of-three living next to one another for how long? One may have received more accolades than the others, one may have had less opportunity to travel, who knows. But the feeling was not one of being welcomed, or trying to accommodate us (not that we’re high maintenance), it was a feeling of indifference towards us.
All that aside, we did find Josefina’s works highlighting Frieda Calo to be interesting, so we bought some of them, along with some calaveras pieces and a few street scenes. Even after placing our order, there seemed to be a bit of resistance from the Josefina House when we told them that the shipment of goods was to be consolidated with the other three. But on our way out, Josefina did shift her position and speak with us a bit. She seemed gracious for our purchase and thanks us and we exited. Time was getting even shorter, as I needed to drive through the Oaxaca valley to the state of Chiapas.
Unlike our previous greetings, at Irene’s home/workshop we were greeted by a man. The sign outside her place stated such, Irene Aguilar and Sons. We only met with one of them, but he was a very nice fellow, and shortly afterwards, Irene came into the scene. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but after a few minutes we were sitting in a room which had (what seemed to be) ancient taxidermy displayed on the upper part of the walls. Foxes with broken tails, a variety of birds of prey, one with a wing missing. When asked about it, Irene said one of her sons used to make these, but it was a long time ago. Could have fooled me.
Looking at the body of Irene’s work was immersive. I had the feeling that she and Guillermina had reached a degree of acclaim that eluded both the others. We looked at quite a few pieces, some of which were not available for purchase, others that were on display for immediate purchase (and seemed to be geared towards those pasty-white tourists), and others that, after some time began to sink in. There was a theme working somewhere in her work, and it seemed to be an homage to women. In the area where completed works were, there were a number of pieces that depicted women in customary roles as well as her series (like Guillermina’s) of Ladies of the Night.
But back in the taxidermy room there was a collection of greenware, unfired clay figures all depicting women and all quite prominent. Each of these figures had women with their hands quite full, carrying a fish or food basket, holding a child, many of them balancing an item on their head at the same time (not an unusual sight in rural Mexico). She said that this was indeed her tribute to what she basically called “multitasking”, the plight… or role maybe, of women in general. Aside from the body of her work that was on display, I felt that this is where Irene was here, today, this is what she wants to preserve in three-dimensions. Some of these ladies are coming home with us.
So we finished our tour of the Aguilar Sisters and were on our way to Chiapas, where I am writing from tonight. I cannot help but think of Guillermina and the idea that her works are sitting stagnant, that her son needs to work a menial job because her pieces are not being sold. I think of Irene, who’s “multitasking women” series are just in their infancy. We have decided to return to Ocotlan de Morelos and visit these Living Treasures again. If nothing more than to listen to Guillermina speak of the virtues of drinking Mescal, maybe share a few sips.
Excuse the typos, my editor is on vacation.

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