Monday, May 02, 2016

Interview of Frida Larios by Xánath Caraza

 Entrevista a Frida Larios por Xánath Caraza

Agradezco a Frida Larios la siguiente entrevista para los lectores de La Bloga. Ha sido un gusto trabajar con Frida virtualmente y espero en algún momento conocernos en persona.  Lo siguiente es lo que Frida Larios ha enviado para hoy.  Espero y sea de su agrado.

Frida Larios (de padres salvadoreños), es autora del galardonado proyecto y libro: Nuevo Lenguaje (Visual) Maya que rediseña una selección de los ancestrales logo-jeroglíficos mayas para uso contemporáneo. Larios es también embajadora para la Red Internacional de Diseño Indígena (INDIGO) y el Consejo de Embajadores del Diseño Latino.

Frida Larios: I met Xánath, who has kindly opened this space for an interview, through collaboratively working with the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum and the Indigenous Design Collective, Washington, DC, which myself and Manuel (Che’) León, Guatemala, conform, for the 2015 Smithsonian LVM Day of Dead celebrations. Xánath contributed with one of her latest book’s, Ocelocíhuatl, evocative poem, titled: Weaver of Words.

Every morning, you don your white huipil, iridescent embroidering on cotton, printed symbol of the plumed serpent, evolution. Black tresses floating in the air, tangling with the threads of the voice of Ehécatl, God of Wind…
Let the maize dances begin.”

Based and inspired by her word, the Indigenous Design Collective created a digital mural that was commissioned during the 2015, national celebrations. In this sense, the process was very unique. We created this video to document it:

It turns out Xanath had been an invited to the Segundo Festival Internacional de Poesia de Occidente in El Salvador. During her visit to El Salvador, she visited Joya de Cerén archaeological park. The Joya de Cerén park museum is home to a “whimsical” (like some like to call it) intervention of my authorship on its surface walls, which uses some of the “picto-glyphs” found in my New Maya Language book. Xanath and me had unknowingly met through poetry, through the visual poetry at Joya de Cerén’s museum walls.

The New Maya Language “picto-glyphs” narrative tell the story of the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site nicknamed the “Pompeii of the Americas”, because it was preserved under 5 meters of volcanic ash for nearly 1400 years. The ancestral maya community was initially “uncovered” by UC Boulder archaeologist, Dr Payson Sheets, who up until this day has spent his life researching it.

I have given the “picto-glyphs” that special name because they are created from the modern notion of a picto-gram and the historic logo-graphic content of a hiero-glyph, together they form this new concept/word: “pictoglyph.” Each pictoglyph is a re-design, re-composition and re-interpretation that intends to respect the ancestral myths and meanings coded by the Maya artists and at the same time, make it relevant to today’s Central American society (or what was Mesoamerica: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and western Honduras and El Salvador) and the Central American in the US, diaspora. Or to anyone interested in learning the basics about this script.

The New Maya Language, 115-page art-object book, was researched and conceived, very far away from any Maya site, but very close to my heart’s roots, during masters degree studies in Communication Design at the University of the Arts London (from 2003-2005). Joya de Cerén was my case study.  But it was during our three-year community living in the Maya-chortí mountains/reserve in Copán, Honduras (from 2008-2011), that the project and book with the same name, was dialogued, socialised, read, cried, written, illustrated, designed and crafted.

New Maya Language hand-bound book containing a friendly introduction to Classic Maya writing and illustrative decoding of how the New Maya (Visual) Language system is created.

With Dr. Eva Martínez, Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, archaeologist and Jeovanny Peraza, guide and birder, at the parqueo Arqueológico de Copán in Copán Ruinas, Honduras.

Joya de Cerén was celebrating 20 years of being an UNESCO World Heritage Site. To celebrate the historic date, the Secretary of Culture of the Presidency of El Salvador commissioned these murals in 2013. After a full year of planning, designing, artworking and painting by Universidad Don Bosco design-student volunteers and even volunteer advocates within the Secretary of Culture, with ecological paints and materials sponsored by Sherwin Williams of Central America, the work of art, which was a 100% donation from Frida Larios studio (my studio and collaborators), was inaugurated on March 6, 2014.

 The Joya de Cerén archaeological park “Centro de Interpretación” before and after the walls surface “New Maya Language picto-glyphs” painted murals.


During the process, the idea and need for a child facilitation tool became palpable. The Green Child wooden puzzle, on of the picto-glyphs created during our living (with my husband and first son) between the mountains of Copán and frequent visits to my parents home in Antiguo Cuscatlán, became the main character in my first children’s book (I have since then published a second one, written by Vanessa Núñez), titled: The Village that was buried by an Erupting Volcano, based on Joya de Cerén’s archaeological findings, with collaborations by Dr. Payson Sheets, who also appears in the narrative. The text is set in Spanish, English and the New Maya (visual) Language is the link between the two languages. The book was published on the murals inauguration day. We invited children from the Joya de Cerén locality for a reading and interpretation workshop, which was genuinely led by the children themselves. While we walked around the building (i.e. the murals) they were voicing their words, thoughts and “translations”, responding to the short book reading and their senses, which were being ignited by organic forms, giant 4-meter tall picto-glyphs, vivid colours and by just touching the paint texture on the walls.

 La Aldea que fue Sepultada por un Volcán en Erupción, Spanish, English and Logo Maya Languages, children’s book.

 Workshop with Colegio Alfonsina Storni, Sitio del Niño, elementary level children.

Taking the project to Central American children had been my vision since the cold London days. But it was only then that it became a reality. The children brought the project to life. Since that day, when I was already living in the US (first Berkeley and now Washington, DC), I haven’t stopped facilitating talks and workshops, for children, youth, design-students and general audiences, alike.

By the end of 2015, a wonderful text was published in Scientific American about Joya de Cerén’s new research findings. A sak be’ [sacred path] leads the way to a “yuca” parcel and other parcels with diverse crops. One of the many distinctive facts found at Joya de Cerén is that agri-cultural methodology seems to have been preserved to our day by local campesinos, the other one is that through the investigation of these crops, it was found that they had an independent, self-sustainable, social system. The data at the excavation site tells the story of a community that seemed to have plenty of freedom to make crucial decisions about family organization, religion and food crops...”*

 Joya de Cerén archaeological site excavated structures. Temascal hit by a lava bomb at far back.

Joya de Cerén, is a vivid example of the spiritual and natural functioning of an ancestral community. Dr. Payson Sheets kindly forewords in my little children/youth book:

"At Joya de Cerén we see the roots of Salvadoran families of today. And the basic needs of yesterday’s families are much like those of today, as parents need to feed and clothe themselves and their children, and provide shelter. They need to store and process food, and they need to cooperate with their neighbors for the betterment of all. It is my hope that this compelling book be widely available to Salvadorans and others that visit the archaeological site, and in many other venues all across the country."

Xánath Caraza: Who is Frida Larios?  How do you define yourself for your audience?
As a mother, Indigenous designer, “culture as cure” activist, sports advocate, typo-graphic designer, anthro-designer, illustrator, toy creator and huipil designer. Some people, like friend Dr. Payson Sheets said: “you are a humanist, Frida”, and a dear Australian Indigenous illustrator, Anthony F. Ward, said I was a: “propagator of culture...” My husband, a Kentuckian/Honduran, in his frank style says I am a “starving artist.” For some reason, maybe because my training and eye comes from the typo/graphic design discipline and not art, I don’t consider myself entirely an artist, even though everyone here in Washington, DC calls me: “artist.” The New Maya Language project is open-ended (multi-disciplined) so it has potential to grow into (almost) any branch–it just needs a pictoglyph as a seed (!).

XC: As a child, who first introduced you to art?  Who guided you?

My mother. After becoming the mother of three girls, me the eldest, she decided to study interior design at the same local San Salvador art school where, a decade later, I started studying a bachelors degree in graphic design, the Escuela de Artes Aplicadas Rosemarie Vásquez Liévano, but I ended up finishing it in University College Falmouth in England. Because she was a full-time mother by day, she ended up staying awake at night to finish her university projects. I used to watch her paint endless pieces on paper and illustration board using tempera, the same technique I know use for my works on paper. Brush paint is the technique used on the Joya de Cerén Museum (Centro de Interpretación) murals, too, not spray. Somehow, there is an unconscious continuity.

 Frida Mabel García de Larios, QDDG, mother.

My father has been my best friend, and now in his elder years, my mentor. Before having to retire because of the advancement of his Parkinson’s disease, he was a practicing phytopathologist (the study of plant disease), which is very uncommon in El Salvador. His scientific background and research excellence, subconsciously led my interest in organic systems, and in ancestral design systems that intrinsically integrated the earth we stand on and live from.

Thereafter, there have been key people like Andrew Haslam, head of the masters at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Type and Language pathway, and typographer. It was during the weekly group sessions led by him and fed by my multi-cultural peers in London, that I developed the seed idea for this now New Maya Language project, but that I had then, probably more aptly titled: New Maya Hieroglyphs. I say more aptly because now some people get confused between a spoken language and a visual language, which is what it really is, entirely picto-graphically oriented, an interpretation and re-design of selected Maya logographic/hieroglyphic vocabulary that allows to create new narratives.

Another important guide has been Dr. Alexandre Tokovinine, who kindly spent much time in workshop sessions while we were living in the mountains of Copán at Hacienda San Lucas.

XC: How did you first become an artist?

I consider myself a cultural typo-grapher/ a visual activist. The nature and visual form of my typo-graphic works has allowed me to play in the art realm, where there are no scripts--just the open mind of viewers without expecting to literally understand what they are seeing, as opposed to design.

XC: In which city? When did you start to present your work?  And, what impact did seeing your first art show have on you?

In London. At the Embassy of El Salvador in London, I was given my first solo exhibition opportunity and was motivated by the Ambassador at the time to do it. Every pictoglyph was hand-painted in tempera on paper and that became art. This is when I became an “artist” without consciously wanting to.

XC: Do you have any favorite artist / artists? Could you share some of your reflections of what drew you toward him or her or them?

Frida Kahlo will sound a like a cliché. Frida Kahlo is one of them. Not because she is named Frida, but because of her connection to her Indigeneity, mainly through her self-styling, through her huipiles. Her German background probably allowed her to navigate between the modern and the Indigenous found in the Mexican land.

XC:  What is a day of creative writing like for you?

Today is a day of creative writing. I write because I have to. What I enjoy is visualising words, visualising thoughts, ideas, emotions, history, myths. I write to complement what cannot be said in pictures.
XC: Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 
Culture shapes the value of a society. I consider myself a cultural activist. Without culture, society is empty. Without knowing where we come from, which land is ours and our ancestors’s, we cannot imagine. Imagination is our symbiotic union with the spirit of the land. Imagination is the food of the world, it nurtures poor and rich alike. We, Centroaméricanos, can be rich in the preservation of our imagination, to be able to comprehend our past, to be able to understand the future. 

XC: What projects are you working on at the moment that you would like to share?
I have just been commissioned to create an installation for the American University Museum at Katzen Arts Center. The supernatural monster that is being designed into the doors is part of my new, post-New Maya Language, catalogue series and scroll book, titled: Animales Interiores.

 Museo de Arte de El Salvador, MARTE, August-September, 2015, exhibition. Entrance to exhibit via underworld monster.

I am working on an Autumn 2016 exhibition and community/children’s programme, with la Casa de la Cultura de El Salvador (the new El Salvador Cultural Institute at the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington, DC), which involves itinerating the Animales Interiores solo exhibition collection from the Museo de Arte de El Salvador (MARTE) to Washington, DC.

 Museo de Arte de El Salvador, MARTE, August-September, 2015, exhibition. Bats.

 Museo de Arte de El Salvador, MARTE, August-September, 2015, exhibition. Embossed wooden infographic presenting Animales Interiores.

With the Indigenous Design Collective we are designing pictographic pieces and facilitations for the Maya Creativity and Culture Milieu taking place at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC in September 2016.

We are on the initial stages of working in a Spanish learning kit to facilitate the language cognition through empathetic Central American pictograms (using New Maya Language picto-glyphs as a starting point) in collaboration with Ellen Shapiro, Alphagram author and creator.

XC: What advice do you have for other artists?

Look in the forest to create a city. 
Look inside to create outside. 
Look back to create forward. 

“Codices burn, buildings decay, language can be lost, a narrative once told lives forever.”

Frida Larios (de padres salvadoreños), es autora del galardonado proyecto y libro: Nuevo Lenguaje (Visual) Maya que rediseña una selección de los ancestrales logo-jeroglíficos mayas para uso contemporáneo. Larios es también embajadora para la Red Internacional de Diseño Indígena (INDIGO) y el Consejo de Embajadores del Diseño Latino. Tiene un BA (licenciatura) del Falmouth College of Arts en Inglaterra y un MA (maestría) en Diseño de la Comunicación del Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, Universidad de las Artes de Londres. Ha sido educadora desde el año 2000, en universidades como el London College of Fashion y Camberwell College of Arts en Londres, y más recientemente, en tres escuelas secundarias de Maryland (en sociedad con CASA), con un alto porcentaje de jóvenes inmigrantes  de origen centroamericano, de una zona vulnerable, con quienes está co-creando murales culturales basados en el sistema del Nuevo Lenguaje Maya.

Ha expuesto de forma individual en el Centro Cultural de México en Guatemala, el Museo para la identidad Nacional en Tegucigalpa, la Embajada de El Salvador en Londres y la de Paris, entre otros; y colectivamente en en el Dongdaemun Design Park en Seúl, Corea (selección de 20), la Academia Central de Bellas Artes en Beijing, China (selección de 80 tipógrafos internacionales), entre otros museos y centros de arte a nivel internacional.

A través de su proyecto, Nuevo Lenguaje Maya, Larios ha sido facilitadora, consultora y/o colaboradora de las siguientes instituciones culturales en Washington: el Indigenous Design Collective, el Smithsonian Latino Center, el Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum, el Museo Nacional del Indio Americano, la Embajada de El Salvador, CASA de Maryland, American University Museum at Katzen Arts Center, DC Public Library, entre otras organizaciones nacionales e internacionales.

Larios y su trabajo han aparecido destacados en la BBC2, BBC Radio 4, Getty Images, la Agencia France-Presse (AFP), Print Magazine, The Daily Telegraph, Courrier International, TASCHEN, Thames & Hudson, entre otros.

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