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June 15, 2021

Christina Claassen, Marketing & PR Manager
Whatcom Museum
(360) 778-8936

New Whatcom Museum Exhibition Combines Traditional Folk and Contemporary Art in Reimagined “Mexican” Zodiac

The Whatcom Museum presents the opening of the exhibition “El Zodíaco Familiar.” Championed by Seattle-based ceramic artist George Rodriguez, the exhibition features new works by Rodriguez and thirteen collaborating artists and opens June 19 at the Museum’s Lightcatcher building. It will be on view through October 24, 2021.

Rodriguez’s large scale ceramic sculptures are a blend of traditional folk art and contemporary fine art and craft. Hand built and often at human scale, he enhances his figures with various surface patterns, colors and glazes.

For this exhibition, Rodriguez embarks on a collaborative iteration of the Chinese Zodiac. In an homage to its origins in Chinese folklore, Rodriguez has reimagined the classic zodiac animals as analogous creatures of Mexican origin, bridging cultures and creating new narratives. “El Zodíaco Familiar”—the fifth iteration of Rodriguez’s Mexican Zodiac series—invites 13 Mexican and ChicanX/Chicane artists of various artistic disciplines to respond to his animal sculptures with the forms, tools and aesthetics of their own artistic practices. Each artist has imbued their collaboratively-imagined sculpture—corresponding to the zodiac animal of their birth year—with personal perspective, folk tradition and an intimate feeling of celebration. While each sculpture is as distinct as its maker, taken together, the twelve pieces vibrate with deep resonances of the familiar.

“The Whatcom Museum is thrilled to have the opportunity to share this new body of work for the first time with our visitors,” says Amy Chaloupka, Curator of Art. “All twelve of the zodiac sculptures are joyful personal expressions and I’m sure people will have fun discovering the materials and thoughts behind each piece, as well as identifying the zodiac creature of their birth year.”

Over the last year, Rodriguez sent his ceramic base forms to artists in Arizona, California, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Texas, Washington State and Jalisco, Mexico. The artistic disciplines of each artist vary as widely as their geographic locations and include animation, ceramics, illustration, jewelry-making, photography, poetry, printmaking and weaving.

Gabriela Ramírez Michel, a jeweler-sculptor from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, utilizes different kinds of modelling wax in her hand-crafted stone and metal jewelry. For her contributions to the piece La Peyotera (Mono), she has embellished Rodriguez’s ceramic monkey form with wax-coated string in a detailed and brightly colored pattern. Ramirez Michel adapts a traditional technique of the Indigenous Wixarika people called “tablas de estambre,” which was used for many hundreds of years in sacred ritual offerings.

Minneapolis-based artist Eric J. Garcia blends history, contemporary themes and a graphic style in his work to create politically charged art that reaches beyond aesthetics. For his Iguana zodiac, Garcia worked closely with Rodriguez on defining the shape and texture of the clay animal head to maximize the “canvas” to illustrate on. The artists also purposefully carved the waddle on the Iguana’s neck to the outline of the U.S./Mexico border to depict the geographic location where Garcia is from.

Of working closely with each artist on this project Rodriguez states, “Community is a strong force that influences my artwork and life. I value the communities that I have formed and am continuing to expand on. My artwork aims to bring people closer and act as markers for people to congregate around.” He adds, “The goal of this project and collaboration is to showcase the breadth of artistic expressions within the Mexican and ChicanX/Chicane community, to give these artists a platform to express their voice and vision, and to use a familiar tale to comment on the need for human connection and community.”

Artists who worked in collaboration with Rodriguez on “El Zodíaco Familiar” include Javier Barboza, Alejandra Carrillo-Estrada, Eric J. Garcia, Jon Gómez, Carolina Jiménez, Gabriel Marquez, Gustavo Martinez, Marilyn Montufar, Gabriela Ramírez Michel, Yosimar Reyes, Moises Salazar, Samirah Steinmeyer and Christie Tirado.

“El Zodíaco Familiar” will be on exhibit June 19 – October 24, 2021 at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building, 250 Flora St. This exhibition is supported in part by the Whatcom Museum Foundation, the City of Bellingham and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsorship provided by Cascade Public Media KCTS9. 

About the Whatcom Museum: The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash., offers a variety of exhibitions, programs, tours and activities about art, nature and Northwest history for all ages. Its multi-building campus is in the heart of Bellingham's downtown Arts District. The Lightcatcher building, 250 Flora St., and Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St., are open at 50% capacity due to Covid-19 safety restrictions Thursdays – Sundays, Noon – 5 PM. Admission to the Museum is free to members, $10 for general admission, $8 for youth (6-17)/students/military (with valid ID)/Seniors (62+), $5 for children 2-5 years old and free to children 2 and younger. 

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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