Food for the soul: that’s what art is said to be. U Janal Pixano’ob, the full name in Maya for what we know as Janal Pixan, on the other hand, means “the Souls’ Feast.” In Yucatán, this doesn’t seem to be a random coincidence. Several works of art, in theater, painting, and music, are all about remembering the deceased. Are you familiar with them?
Janal Pixan in theater
“But don’t be sad. Remember, people die when they’re buried by oblivion.” These are the words of Conchi León, a writer, actress, and director in “Historias del Janal Pixan.” Actor Raúl Niño had just recently passed, taking with him Salma Salomé, a character that was also an icon for the Yucatecan regionalist comedy theater. The play is an intimate experience, a glimpse into the deep fondness Conchi felt for her colleague and friend. Soon, we’re witnessing an homage and a drama. A three-layer altar, its shape and green cross dimly lit by a fire’s glow, evokes the yearning for a reunion as the curtain falls.
The play is available to stream in its entirety on the Yucatán’s Department for Culture and Arts YouTube channel: www.yuc.today/ConchiLeonJP
Janal Pixan in literature
There’s also an evocation in Pedro Uc Be’s words: “On the banana leaves, your mother places your Jícara: / It’s the new Atole where your heavenly corners rest, / In the home of Xibalbaj lies the sweetened yucca, / And in the Iswaj, the gods’ flesh sleeps, / On their knees, your blood’s blood prays in a stone oven, / You’re the memory that rises our spirits in passing.” This is a fragment of Pixaan, written in Maya by Uc Be (Spanish and French translations are available thanks to Nicole Genaille), and it introduces the altar, drinks, and food through the bodies that are resting, and those who join this stroll down memory lane. Find out more about Pedro Uc’s work here: https://yuc.today/pedrouc
Janal Pixan in Painting
One of the altars that most vehemently call to our souls was painted in oil. The piece’s title is more than a promise: Hanal Pixán, by Fernando Castro Pacheco, fills this bright ritual with warmth and purity. The work itself is like a candle that flickers and parts with its smoke. It’s a bit like the feeling of a very well described yearning. On the left side, there is a beam of darkness that shades the body of a woman standing in front of the food offering. But Castro Pacheco highlights the timeliness of the fire and the flowers, creating a feeling of peace and introspection. The food seems to come from the incense, and suddenly we can’t tell whether the woman is expecting her loved ones to arrive, or if it’s her who’s back through the power of love and remembrance.
Janal Pixan in Music
María Moctezuma’s guitar faces death in a song devoted to the ritual. The fear of pleasure, celebration, and food is lost. “Oh, should death take me here, in Yucatán, for Janal Pixan. And so, among the living, I’ll come back and grab a highball from the altar.” Moctezuma’s musical style is surprising, very particular, and parallel to traditional music. Acoustic, cheerful rock to bring life back? That’s exactly what she proposes. Check out the song here: www.yuc.today/JPMM
There are surely many more works of art than the ones listed here. These, however, are all available for free either at the links provided or at the Fernando Castro Pacheco Permanent Exhibit at the Museo Contemporaneo Ateneo de Yucatán (MACAY).
By Dave S. Mayoral
Dave Mayoral (1998) thinks it’s difficult to write in the third person without laughing in the attempt, but his background in Modern Language and Literature, Contemporary Art History, and Cultural Management tends to help him a lot…
Photography by Dave S. Mayoral for its use in Yucatán Today.
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