“Honestly, I was really nervous,” said Eli Alejo as they thought back to the time just before they left for Art Division’s 2-week intensive in Oaxaca this August. “I had this really big sense of responsibility to really put forth my best work but also experimental work, because they have a lot of techniques that we don’t have here.”
But as soon as they arrived in Oaxaca on August 4, along with the other four Art Division students–Melissa Soriano, Gema Limeta, Jorge Perez and Rogelio Bautista–they immediately felt at home. “I felt like a body of water,” Eli said. “I just flowed.”
This group of students had been selected from a large pool of applicants to participate in Art Division’s third annual study program in Oaxaca, which this year went from August 4 - 20, offering immersion in printmaking, ceramics or crafts. All currently enrolled Art Division students were eligible to apply; criteria for acceptance included commitment to their art form, willingness to learn and connection to Oaxacan culture. All of the trip’s expenses, including travel, room and board, were funded by Art Division.
The students spent two weeks in the talleres, or studios, of established Oaxacan artists and artisans, working with them closely to create art of their own using traditional techniques. Eli and Gema studied printmaking at the taller of Fernando Sandoval. From the beginning, the program was hands-on. “I was nervous, but my teachers at the taller were like: okay, you want to do this, how can we help you execute?” Eli said. “They just helped us carry out our vision.”
For Gema, being thrown into the deep end was empowering. “I was questioning my talent before, and I learned to let go of the doubts that I had about myself and just appreciate myself and my type of art,” she said. Having to trust her intuition changed her approach to art. “I had to stop being so overly critical of myself,” she said. “I learned to just let go and make art.”
Eli agreed that the experience had deepened their trust of themself as an artist. “I’ve leaned into being more confident, being more intuitive,” they said.
Melissa, who studied ceramics with Claudio Jeronimo López at Taller Canela, agreed. Though she had only taken a few months of ceramics classes before, her teachers at the studio gave her the guidance and support she needed to grow. “I instantly felt comfortable and safe,” she said. “Everyone there did their best to help me out.” For her program, she stayed at the home of one of her teachers. The whole taller would gather at lunchtime for a community meal. “Within two weeks I already felt like I’d already stayed there for years,” she said.
Rogelio and Jorge, who studied a variety of crafts at the Centro de Artes de San Augustín, or CaSa, lived and took classes on the premises of CaSa, a former factory redesigned by Francisco Toledo as a center of architecture, design and crafts. “Living with that architecture, the trees, the sounds, the smells, living inside this cultural space really elevated us to feel more welcome,” Jorge said. Led by CaSa’s Director Daniel Brena, they toured the city and took workshops with artisans connected to Toledo’s legacy.
Like Eli, Gema and Melissa, Jorge and Rogelio were inspired by the Oaxacan artists’ intuitive approach.”It goes back to trusting yourself,” Jorge said. He was inspired by the way his teachers continued to challenge themselves, even after a lifetime of experience. “They’re still learning - they’re still exploring the medium,” he said, whether the medium was glass-blowing or weaving or printmaking.
All of the students agreed that even after coming home, their experience in Oaxaca went beyond the skills they learned from their teachers. “I know that I went there because of art, but I didn’t just learn about art, it was about reconnecting with cultural ties that had been broken. Hearing people speak Zapotec,which my parents speak at home, I felt a connection, I really felt at home. I felt like I was where I belonged,” Gema said.