Axolotl. A masterpiece of evolution
The Axolotl is a type of salamander originally from Xochimilco, Mexico city. It has the ability to regenerate parts of his body if they are hurt. Limbs, tail, even heart and spine.
A master on survival mode and the Aztecs knew it! When we were thinking about the photoshoot, we were inspired by the Nahuatl legend where two gods in Teotihuacan, Nanahuatzin and Tecuciztecatl jumped into the fire to become the Sun and the Moon, respectively. The new celestial bodies where still, so Ehecatl, god of the wind decided some other gods needed to sacrifice to give them movement. But one of them, Xolotl refused to die and ran away. He hided first into the maize fields and turned himself into corn (that’s what tortillas are made of). They found him and ran away again, turning himself in maguey (that’s what pulque is made of). They found him again and he jumped into the water turning into an Axolotl.
So yeah, that’s a lot of information for a single character! Then our idea evolved in the combination of strength and ability to survive and regenerate. Muscles, tendons, and bones because Sara Gabriela Ugalde is an aerial artist and instructor at Aracnation. Her job is empowering women. Body and face painting with airbrush by Andrea Hows since we are talking about aerial artists as models and the Prehispanic god of wind is involved in the story. And me, taking the photos celebrating my ability to regenerate my career, do what I like and what I’m good at.
Jaguar & Black Panther
First I thought about a design by mexican painter whom I admire very much, Miguel Covarrubias (1904 – 1957) a world traveler. He did a lot of illustrations for books and magazines, based on archaeological sites and sculptures. In this case, he leads me to the Pre-Hispanic feline.
Later, I choosed the Jaguar representation from Codice Zouche – Nutall for many reasons. It is a Mixteca Cronic about king 8-Venado, Garra de Jaguar and Teozacualco – Zaachila dinasty. There is not an exactly date on when it was made, but archaeologists think that could be around 100 years before the Spaniards arrive to America. It is pure Mixteca aesthetic, Pre-hispanic art without any influence form other region. Nowadays it is located at the British Museum. I had a high quality facsimile of the Codice at my home library in Mexico. It was named Zouche by a British art collector who had it many years, and Nutall for the archaeologist who investigated and published for the first time about it, Zelia Nutall (1857 -1933), a woman that had to fight to pursue her career in a man’s dominated environment.
The Codice Zouche – Nutall does not have any Black Panther representation. When investigating for this project, I found out that they are the same species as Jaguar, only that with an excess of Melanin on their fur, therefore the black spots extend all over their body. Yes, they are two of a kind! That’s why I was lucky enough to find the perfect models, Emi Ning & Mitchell Pitch – Circus Artist two aerial instructors at Aracnation. In a world where humans know that Circus does not need to include animal cruelty, we don’t need to wear animal furs either, but doesn’t mean that we can’t imagine a feline costume on body painting.
Finding the Black Panther representation was not easy. It needed to have an indigenous root and aesthetic, but I didn’t want it to mix with another Codice. Fortunately I found online a magnificent sculpture made by Tsikuri Arte Huichol from Nayarit. Contemporary Art which I find sublime, it has so much dedication and technique.
I appreciate the reader understands that brining these topics to New Zealand is quite an adventure and an act of love for my country of origin, Mexico. I am an Art Historian and understand perfectly the difference between Mixteca Art – Oaxaca region and Huichol – Wixarika Art – Nayarit region. I live now in a multicultural zone and translating all this information to the artists who kindly accepted to collaborate on this project, and accepting their interpretation is part of the experience.