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Prisciliano Jiménez

Building Identity through Cultural Exchange

Prisciliano Jiménez is a sculptor, cultural promoter, and businessman. He holds a degree in Visual Arts from the Universidad Veracruzana. He has been performing La Manda since 2003, in which he carries a self-made metate (a traditional stone grinding device used in Mexican cuisine), with walks made in Serbia, Slovakia, France, Spain, and Japan. In 2015, he presented the solo exhibition La Manda y otros llamados (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Alfredo Zalce).

Building Identity through Cultural Exchange: Prisciliano Jiménez with Juan Carlos Jiménez


Prisciliano Jiménez: Before I went to school, everything was intuitive and out of an interest in learning, but I didn't really know what else was there. Then, I started in the professional field and discovered the history of art, which was a mystery to me. The only information about art I could access was through mass media, but here, I actually discovered lines that opened my mind a little more. I had very good teachers who guided me and my interest began to focus mainly on stone sculpture. When I discovered the stone, I immediately connected with the material, and so began my journey of understanding exactly what I wanted to do.

At one point, I realized that many of the things I was doing were very specific knowledge: techniques, the use of materials, and things that I had learned along the way, which I then understood were cultural or regional knowledge but applied to plastic arts; then it began to make sense as a language. Contrasting my regional culture allowed me to understand more precisely the differences on which I was situated or seated.

My whole artistic process has always been about understanding who I am and where I come from. The indigenous P'urhépecha identity that runs through my veins from my paternal side has determined much of my thinking. Art helped me discover the core elements that compose my P'urhépecha being. So I began to use all these symbols in my work, as well as those of working the land.

Juan Carlos Jiménez: Along these lines, we could say that the learning and teaching processes in your work have not stopped, as we are not only talking about your artistic practice but also about your involvement with agricultural production processes and management. No agricultural production is developed individually, there is always a social framework to support it. The same goes for other material and cultural practices of the Purepecha and Tierra Caliente regions, which have been a subject of your personal research and also with the fabulous duo you have with Tere Quezada.

Can you tell us how your own search as an artist and a farmer becomes a shared process? And I would also like you to talk a little about your experience regarding the research and proliferation of the P'urhépecha ball game of Uarhukua Chanakua.

You see, all this construction and reconstruction of my identity has led me to these stages, which might seem like many timelines, but actually, they have all been part of my life from childhood to the present time. For instance, I used to wear huaraches1 since I was a kid; I liked them a lot. I used to buy them in a huarachería for my everyday use, but I had never given them much thought or realized that they were objects whose trade was in a moment of decline and that they were made in workshops with very specific techniques and knowledge. This example of the huaraches eventually jumps out at me, sparking a need to work around them. I did a project when I was in France at a school of design. I was wearing my hair as usual, and every day a girl would arrive with skates to this school where we were doing a sculptural project. Then, one day, I suddenly turned around and saw, or imagined, that my huaraches could have wheels and become huarache-skates. It was a vision of cultural exchange that made me question what would have happened if we had decided to design from our traditional objects? Had we been the first, then it would have been our aesthetic. And that came about because I was precisely in a school of design, so I was seeing how they played with shapes, with objects, how they transformed them and made them functional.

Prisciliano Jiménez: Rolling Huarache. Courtesy: Prisciliano Jiménez.

The same thing happens with this game. Together with my wife, who always accompanies me in all adventures and endeavors, we decided to form a P'urhépecha ball game team. As this game and its knowledge are transmitted orally, my wife would always grab the microphone when we went to play an exhibition game with the teams, and she explained to the public what they were watching. In a way, she was a kind of referee inviting people to support one or another team in the spaces that asked us to develop a cultural sports activity, or as it can be read or understood. Then, in that process, my wife decided to transfer what was in the oral tradition to writing. The idea was to produce a manual that could explain how to play, a more pedagogical tool, to be able to transmit this knowledge through methodological teaching. So, we began building all these mental projections and putting them into a written document that would allow us to pass it on, so that this knowledge could continue beyond orality.

A Material Culture

Sculpture allowed me to achieve what was first an idea in my mind but lacked the elements to build it. I remember that, at some point in my life, I thought of architecture as an option to build things, but I realized that I would not be able to actually materialize them because I could become a designer but never an executor. It was a strange mental process; I mean, this is an idea that only came to my mind, but when I discovered that I could create with my own hands what I imagined in my mind, that was when I made my first sculptures. It was a decisive moment for me because I understood that I had the ability to build from a mental projection, that I could create tangible things that were in my mind. And then suddenly seeing them materialized, even if they were small objects of one or two meters... The fact that you can bring things to life from a design, a sketch, or a mental projection, began to spark in me the idea that we could do whatever we imagined.

Ivonne Reyes, Prisciliano Jiménez, and assistants to the 1st Simposio Internacional de Escultura en Cantera Gris, at Parque Cerro Hueco in Tacámbaro. April 2013. Photo: Juan Carlos Jiménez.

I have many dreams. I often dream that I‘m somewhere else, I don’t know what place it is, but curiously, I always end up there. So, in my mental construction, I have come to realize that I can project myself in other spaces, and I always end up in those places. In the beginning, this gave me a vision that everything can be done, that we have a destiny to fulfill and build. In these mental projections, I realized that this was also part of our responsibility with our culture, with our work, and with the sharing of knowledge. Traditional culture, in the case of the P'urhépecha culture, has always been like that: knowledge is shared, even though it does not always produce something tangible, but the knowledge is there. Then, there comes a time when it has to be made, it has to be materialized, it has to be built. At that point, I began to realize that we could do many things, so knowledge is meant to be shared, and we have to pass it on so that it keeps moving and continues to accomplish many things.

Social Sculpture

Would you concur with the idea of 'social sculpture' as something you practice?

Yes, actually, I would. It arises from an influence I had after completing my Arts degree. You see, I went to do an art residency in Slovakia, specifically at the University of Arts in Bratislava, and I was with a teacher called Joseph Yankovich. Incidentally, he was a sculptor of the generation of socialist realism, but in his specific case, he was one of the artists who broke away from socialist realism, so he was somehow persecuted by the State for not agreeing with the public work. But that was his life. While I was with him and got to know his life and his trajectory, I began to understand what public works and urban works meant; my mind completely opened up. That was when I started to understand the construction of public spaces and the work as such. Socialist realism was (and still is in the countries where this system still functions) work designed with State resources—which, of course, are considerably superior to what any private initiative can afford to invest—aimed at the society. It intends to create public spaces with a discourse and a cultural and ideological or political line that points towards a language of social growth.

Parangua: Stone percussion ensemble Mexico – Japan. Riuichi Yahagi, Prisciliano Jiménez and Luis Esteban Cruzaley Rojas. 26 Festival de Música de Morelia Miguel Bernal Jiménez. November 2014. Photo: FMM. Courtesy: Juan Carlos Jiménez.

I believe that a part of all these experiences has made me what I am. But curiously enough, all this fits both in my paternal and maternal cultures; all this was already part of it. It was not that I learned it in another country, I simply understood these social constructions by comparing them to the construction of the social identity of my place of origin; in all this, I discovered their similarities.