Magical, strange, and fascinating beings emerged out of a dream

Jaguars with dragon wings, rosters with bull horns, rabbits, and chameleons with butterfly wings. Real, fantastic, and impossible creatures. Fascinating and terrifying, the alebrijes are one of the most representative expressions of Mexican popular art in all the splendor of their color and creativity. 

There are two main versions of the origin of these creatures. The most widespread and accepted one involves Pedro Linares, an artisan from Mexico City, who got severely ill. During his illness, he entered into a hallucinating dream, where he saw dead people, including his brother, and a series of unlikely figures, which combined physical elements of different animals and yelled out the word “alebrijes”. 

The second version tells that the origin of alebrijes is in the State of Oaxaca and the myths of the Zapotec people. According to their tradition, every human being comes to this world accompanied by an animal, which will stay by their side throughout their life. This guardian animal is known as “nahual” and is usually represented by an alebrije. 

There might be truth and fantasy about both versions. What is true is that alebrijes are made mainly in Mexico City and Oaxaca, and there are similarities and differences between the two. Each version has its own technique, style, and material. Mexico City’s alebrijes are made of cardboard since their creator was a master of the paper-mâché technique. It all begins with a wire base shaped to be the “skeleton”, which the artisan covers with layers of newspaper, paste, and cardboard. Next, the figure is sundried and given a layer of white paint, dried, and hand-painted with different colors. The alebrijes from Oaxaca are carved in copal wood and their shapes are inspired by the myth of the nahual. In both traditions, every piece is hand-painted in a variety of bright, contrasting colors, and decorated with patterns like dots, lines, and notches. Every alebrije is one-of-a-kind as molds are never made.

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