The alebrije is a type of Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creature. These crafts are made from a cardboard technique, which are painted with colorful and vibrant colors. The alebrijes are imaginary mythical creature conformed by physiognomy elements of different animals or a combination of several.
The technique that is used to create the alebrijes it´s called “Cartonería” or “Papier- mâché” which consisting of paper pieces bound with an adhesive such as glue or starch. It´s usually form by newspaper sheets.
There are two main methods used to prepare papier-mâche; one makes use of paper strips glued together with the adhesive, and the other used paper pulp obtained by soaking or boiling paper with the glue then added. In the technique used a chicken wire, balloon or lightweight shapes may be needed to reinforce the figure and finally painting with different methods.
There are several theories to explain the meaning of alebrije; one of them is that it´s form by the words: joy (ale- alegría), witch (br- bruja) and paint or dye (ije- embije o embijar)
-ale- br- ije : witch painted with joy.
The word “alebrije” was created by Pedro Linares López, he was an artisan from Mexico City. At the age of 30 Pedro fell ill and fell into a deep sleep, which revealed strange creature that would change his destiny as an artisan of “La Merced” market. His family didn´t have the money to pay for a medical consultation and his sisters tried to help him with home remedies and they didn’t have any result.
When Pedro was in bed unconscious he dreamed of a strange and interesting place, it was very peaceful and it look like a forest in which there were trees, rocks, and animals; he remembered it was a magical scene where he saw a beautiful sky with clouds.
He was very happy because he did not experience any pain and felt that everything was calm; however, suddenly the rocks, animals and clouds became strange creatures. There were animals that he could not distinguish because they were very strange. The animals had different body parts from each other, he saw a donkey with wings, a rooster with bull horns, a lion with a dog´s head; and all of the animals were shouting at him the word “alebrije”.
Pedro followed the path in that fantastic dream and while walking down the road he saw a man walking and asked him to help him get out of that place. The man replied that he shouldn´t be there yet and that he had to keep going because a few meters away there was an exit. Pedro found a window through which he could barely escape, moment in which he woke up.
When he woke up he was in the middle of his own funeral and his family couldn´t believe it. Pedro was fully recovered and he began to remember his dream. He wanted that his family and all the people could meet these fantastic animals. Then, taking advantage of his cardboard skills, Pedro took a piece of paper, molded those figures, painted them just as they were in his dreams and gave the alebrijes an identity.
In the region of Oaxaca the alebrijes are very popular, however the technique they use is of craving wood, in which the alebrijes are sculpted and later painted.
Pedro Linares received the “National Prize of Sciences and Arts” in 1990 for his great artistic career and for his creation of the alebrijes.
Since 2007, the Museum of Popular Art of Mexico City has made a parade of monumental alebrijes, known as “The Night of the Alebrijes”.
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