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Scenes From Civic Life: Mata Ortiz

Night Kiss, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Rooster, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Morning, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Primary School Girls, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Feeding Cows, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Primary School Panoramic, Mata Ortiz, 2006 School Arrival, Barrio American, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Bugarini Family Kitchen, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Potters Tencha and Chevo Ortiz, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Potter Nicolas Ortiz and Family, Mata Ortiz, 2005 New Road, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Potters Virginia Hernandez and Eli Navarete, Casas Grandes, 2005 New Puppy, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Still-life, Mora Ranch, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Graduation Rehearsal, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Courtship with Dog, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Afternoon, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2004 title_here Baling Hay, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Home Construction, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Barbie, Barrio American, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Tourists, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2005 The Crowd at the Ballgame, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Mauro Tena and Horse, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Funeral, Barrio Lopez, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Birthday Party, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz,  2006 Hay Storage, Barrio Iglesia, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Men at Rodeo, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Independence Day, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Potters Goyo and Gloria Silveira, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Independence Day, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Guadalupe, Mata Ortiz, 2008 Return from School, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Christmas Dinner, Colonia Cuahtemoc, 2006 At the Rodeo, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Street Fair, Casas Grandes, 2006 Girls in Shop, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Potter Chevo Ortiz, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Men Socializing, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Independence Day Dance, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Dance, Mata Ortiz, 2005 Night Games, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Chevo and Eli, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Rodeo, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Ride to School, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Olivia, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Night Games, Fiesta, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Sunday Night in Plaza, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Parade Queen, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Christmas Day, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Day of the Dead, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Storing Hay, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Desert Road with Truck, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Matachine Dancers, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Nicolas Ortiz, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Independence Day, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Mata Jary, Mata Ortiz, 2004 Christmas Interior, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Playground Fountain, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Pottery Vendors, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Susana, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Storing Hay, Barrio Iglesia, Mata Ortiz, 2006 First Communion, Barrio Iglesia, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Branding, Mora Ranch, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Plaza, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Nighttime, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2006 View, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Mora Kitchen, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Moonrise Over Arroyo, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Gero, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Drawing Water, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Companeros, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Dancers, Barrio Central, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Vaqueros, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Fighting Rooster, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Corralling Horses, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Horse Race Crowd, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Socorro Working, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Bull Butchering, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2006 Before the Race, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Corralling Horses Panoramic, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Before the Race Panoramic, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Laundry, Barrio Porvenir, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Cemetery Panoramic, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Rooster Fight Panoramic, Mata Ortiz, 2007 Barrio Porvenir Scene, Mata Ortiz, 2007

This work is a photographic study of the ongoing transformation of a number of heretofore isolated northern Mexican villagers into a community of world-class ceramic artists. This transformation is having a profound historic impact on their lives, the life of their village and on the social, economic and cultural life of the surrounding region. I began this project three-and-a-half years ago with the ambition of depicting the harmonies and paradoxes shaping these artists and their village as both are inexorably compelled, by virtue of an event in the history of art, to confront the modern economic and cultural world and find and take their place within it.

The village of Mata Ortiz is located in the high Chihuahua Desert of northern Mexico. Until the 1970s this region might as well have been called “Forgotten Mexico”. Fifty years ago, inspired by ancient shards from the Paquime civilization, a teen-age boy, Juan Quezada, set about to re-invent ceramic technology. Through 16 years of experimentation, without any input from the outside, he succeeded in creating polychrome pottery that was structurally and artistically the equal of the originals. In 1976, an American anthropologist with a fine-arts background discovered some unsigned examples of Quezada’s work. Today, in this village of not more than 3000 people, more than 400 potters are engaged in the practice and development of what is now recognized worldwide as a high art form.

This pottery art is the clay-based economic engine that is changing life in the village and bringing Mata Ortiz into its place in history. The Chihuahua state government recently paved the dirt road that leads south from Nuevo Casas Grandes to Mata Ortiz. The paving of the road represents a defining moment for the village and is, as such, a defining moment for my project as well. The government is also involved in marketing the artistic product of the village and developing a tourism-based infrastructure throughout the region.

These pictures are unsentimental observations whose clarity of description and accuracy of detail will also make them in a certain way documentary. However, I am not primarily interested in making documents. Rather, the documentary style serves as a point of departure toward a mixed style that already includes elements of the sketch—for its immediacy and lyricism—and a certain tense method of composition, that is, I believe, appropriate to the expression of a place so singularly situated in history.

I am working to depict the village as an experience, physical and emotional, including the emotions of the photographer where appropriate. My subject is not art but, since I am depicting a place that exists in its present form because of its art, artists and art objects are inescapable themes. My intent is to populate a Homeric Ithaca, a Faulknerian Yoknapatawpha County, a village in the tradition of Breugel with the residents of Mata Ortiz, in their daily lives, during this period in their history. It is my ambition to let the rhythm of the place, the people, and the life define the scope and character of this body of work.

As Charles Dickens said in Bleak House: “And thus, through years and years, and lives and lives, everything goes on, constantly beginning over and over again, and nothing ever ends.” So, too, in Mata Ortiz.