En Via Events, Indigenous Culture, Oaxaca life, Teotitlan del Valle

The Universal Language of Art

Mastering a foreign language is one way to understand and communicate with those of another background, but as I discovered last week, there are many other ways to connect with a people or a culture. During a workshop we held last week in San Sebastión Abasolo, I witnessed the beauty of transcending language and culture through art.

Jill Cardinal, an art teacher and Jewel Murphey came to Oaxaca from Eugene, Oregon as part of an art tour that Jewel had coordinated. They spent a week exploring Oaxaca, learning about different art techniques, and joining Fundación En Vía for a microfinance tour. At the end of their stay they had the desire to return to a pueblo and take a turn at teaching an art workshop to some of the women in our loan program.

We held the workshop in Sebastión Abasolo, a small agricultural community of about 2,000 people located just 13 miles from Oaxaca City.  Unlike some of the other towns with which En Vía works, such as Teotítlan del Valle with the colorfully woven tapetes or Santo Domingo Tomaltepec with its tradition of leather-working, there is not much art prevalent in Abasolo. Some women hand-embroider tablecloths with flower designs but for the majority, the creation of art for arts sake simply does not exist. For the hardworking women of En Vía, caring for their family and running their own businesses simply does not allow for the time or money to make any leisure activity a priority. For this reason, and the response we received from the women in regard to hosting the workshop, we had the opportunity to hold the workshop there.    


“I was hoping to have fun, make art, and learn something about village life in small Mexican community. Also, I was interested in the women’s response to making art especially when it involved something outside the box, or different than things they have been traditionally exposed to.  All that was accomplished and more,” said Jewel ofr her experience in Abasolo.

Jill and Jewel came prepared with an assortment of art supplies for a simple printmaking project, including Plasticine clay, leaves, ferns and flowers, various paper and ink.  We set up a workspace outside of the home one of our borrowers, Juana, who is responsible for En Vía’s integration into the community and generously lends us her home for the weekly meeting and classes.

En Vía borrowers slowly began to trickle in to Juana’s yard, greeting their friends and us gringas alike with handshakes and then sitting somewhat shyly, chatting quietly. When we had a turnout of 13 women Jill began explaining the process of imprinting the plants into the clay and using the ink to stamp the image onto paper. I had come to translate, and I explained the steps as best I could, but before the words had left my mouth the women were following Jill’s hands and patting their Plasticine like small tortillas, pressing leafs and other objects into the clay.


As soon as we starting diving into the project I felt that the women loosened up and we became one big group of women trying our hands at something new, to create something beautiful. The divisions of language, or where we were born, dissolved as we shared laughter as the wind tugged at our artwork, or as we appreciated an especially crisp imprint. The prints that were then glued into small accordion books displayed immense creativity and individuality.


At the end of the workshop, the women had their creations in the form of little books and Jill and Jewel gifted all the extra supplies to the attendees so they can do the project again themselves or spread the art by teaching someone else.


“The women couldn’t have been sweeter, a little shy at first, but by the end it felt like just another group of women having a good time together.  Art making is a great way to make cross-cultural connections.  Beauty and creativity transcend barriers of language, class, and culture.  I hope they enjoyed learning a little bit more about us, just like we enjoyed learning more about them,” said Jewel.

 By Hannah Aronowitz

1 thought on “The Universal Language of Art”

  1. Thanks en via , we had such a good time doing this project. We hope to get the chance to do it again and would love to know what kind of feedback you’ve gotten from the women.

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