Dzán is a small green town in the heart of the south of Yucatán, where citrus-smell perfume gets into every corner. Upon entering, an abundance of Flamboyan trees (Royal poinciana) greet you. Once you’ve passed them, you’ll see hundreds of orange trees on the side of the road; there are also ditches and holes that, as the legends go, were once tunnels that protected the Maya rebels who fought in The Caste War of Yucatán (1847–1915).
In the heart of Dzan, after passing roads interspersed by plots of land, Maya houses, small businesses,semi-sunken parks, and houses renovated by Dzan’s citizens who have migrated to the United States, you’ll arrive at Ko’ox Túukul Ko’ox Boom (Let’s think, let’s paint), José Chi Dzul’s contemporary art workshop.
A very special workshop
There, you will see a large wall that states “This is the first contemporary art workshop in southern Yucatán,” signed by José himself. And he is not wrong. As it sounds, José’s atelier works as such, sharing the knowledge and techniques that José has learned at the University of the Arts of Yucatán (UNAY), in the art residencies that he has carried out abroad, and, above all, within the core of the Maya conceptual wisdom.
It’s important not to imagine a luxurious or extravagant workshop. José’s work area is at the beginning of its development, and its sophistication stems from direct contact with the artist. The mission of the atelier is to share the artist’s knowledge with the students he has in Dzán, and to develop the work that he later exhibits in museums and institutions nationally and internationally.
In neighboring towns, such as Ticul, there are renowned artisans and masters of ceramics. José’s work follows a different line, given the art currents he has learned in the various resources to which he has had access. José, in parallel, unites the art workshop with a “rótulo” (a very Mexican kind of sign painting) production center, a trade that he highlights as the angular axis of his technique.
José’s works have a series of original symbols; he has developed his own archetypes. The calligraphy, the statement of his texts in the Maya language, and the technique he has been developing make him a complete artist. The workshop shares its space with José’s family house.
As in the old-fashioned Yucatecan way, there are chickens, pigs, and even cows. José’s place combines the three fundamental axes of a traditional house: a home, farm for self-consumption, and a workshop. In this way, when you arrive at José’s workshop, you feel far from the hustle and bustle and sometimes, the pretentiousness of a city. Here, things are simple and slow-paced. The peacefulness stands out, in harmony with José’s artwork, which awaits in the walls of the art center.
Condiments can also be art
The artworks are made with acrylic and oil paint, but also with black Recado, red achiote (the condiment you use for Cochinita Pibil) and soil from the artist’s backyard. These last elements began to adhere to his works during the pandemic. He says that during that period, income was limited and purchasing paint became difficult. Hence why he began to work with things he could find in his natural surroundings. This way, the condiments of the Maya vernacular cuisine ended up on his canvas.
A grateful community
In the afternoons during the week, a group of students, gather to attend an art course at José’s workshop. José teaches them drawing and painting techniques. The community of Dzan is very grateful to him for being an artist who shares his knowledge, as he is the only artist in the municipality who works with open doors, allowing anyone to attend his classes.
To make an appointment with José, you simply need to email him in advance. During the visit, José will share his works and show you the municipality of Dzan. It is, without a doubt, an intimate, simple, but profound experience recommended to anyone looking for authenticity, quality, and deep rooting of the Maya in the creation of contemporary art.
By Raúl Gasque
Raúl Gasque is a multidisciplinary artist, who also writes.
Photography by Raúl Gasque, and José Chi Dzul for use in Yucatán Today.
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