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Speaking Without Words

Wherein We Meet The Artists

The first time we met them, they were sitting on the sidewalk, at the Sunday Art Walk on Paseo de Montejo. Under the shade trees, these two young artists were showing some of the most original art we had seen in months… years, maybe. Her art was whimsical and colorful, but with just a tip of the hat to darkness. His art was geometric, crystalline, straining towards the light. They were so penniless that they had little money for supplies… his most striking work was done on a cardboard giftbox, sides flattened and incorporated into a strangely-shaped canvas. That day, we had no money to spend on art, sadly, and we talked, but walked away without buying anything.

Fast forward to the second or third AANY show. The two young artists were still here in Merida, still making their art. Now they were painting on cigar boxes, jicaras (hardened gourds) and other objects. This time we had a little money and bought a few small and creatively precocious objets d’art. When we saw their work again, it was her work. Her canvas was hanging in a gallery, begging to join our collection, but alas, more expensive than we could afford.

mural at Habla, spanish language classes in Merida MexicoWherein The Artists Turn Up in Another Space

And so it has been for us with Viviana Hinojosa and Manuel Taure, just a few words here and a longing glance there, until the other day when we were invited to sit down and talk with them at Habla, the language school in Colonia Mexico. It is here that they have just completed their most ambitious work to date, a mural. This 6.4 meter by 4.2 meter painting spreads its colorful wings over the central enclosed courtyard hall inside the Habla building. Every student, teacher or passerby must pass through this space, and now when they do, they are treated to an artful delight.

Viviana’s Story

Viviana and Manuel weren’t always a couple, of course. Viviana Hinojosa was born in Mexico City and went to UNAM (National University of Mexico) there as well. She was studying literature when the student strikes of 1999 closed the campus for ten months. Not wanting to leave her apartment or her studies, she continued living there, and when boredom inevitably set in, she started painting for fun. By the time the University reopened, she had decided that painting was all she ever wanted to do. She graduated and immediately set off for Barcelona, following an inclination to learn about Spain and to learn to draw. She enrolled in night school, studied for six months and finally came up against the rather solid walls of poverty and immigration. She lost her job in a boutique because she didn’t have the proper visa to work, and she had no money to fly home until a stand-by seat opened up. She decided that her best hope was to sell her paintings on the street, which she proceeded to do.

This simple and desperate act turned out to be an act of liberation for her, giving her the understanding that people liked and would buy her art and the experience of total freedom… you know how the song goes: “nothing left to lose”.Viviana Hinojosa, artist in Merida Mexico

With this act and these revelations, she felt freed from the Mexican middle class in which she had grown up. She was ready to approach her life in a more creative way. When the airline finally put her back on a flight home, months later, she had a plan. She moved in with her family, who now lived in Puebla, and picked up any job she could find (teaching, as it turned out…) while she tried to get her work shown in galleries. Finally, after a year and a half, she realized that the only thing she wanted to do was paint, and that if she wanted to do it, she had to do it completely.

She proposed to her father to let her live rent-free for a year and a half while she painted and built up a body of work. He agreed, and she spent the next eighteen months painting, morning, noon and night. One night, when taking a break, she walked into a local jazz bar, and saw a young man sitting and drawing. She liked his drawings and decided to sit down and talk to him.

Manuel’s Story

He was Manuel Taure, born and raised in Barcelona, where Viviana had just returned from. He came from a family of artists, and had gone to University in Spain, eventually acquiring a degree in graphic arts. After a few years in a traditional graphic arts job, including his favorite job painting sets for television and film, he decided that his creativity should not just be applied to his work, Making a woodblock by Manuel Taurebut to his life as well. He reasoned that he should design his life the way he wanted it.

In service to a more interesting life, the next few years found Manuel (Manu to his friends) traveling to and from Pipa, Brazil… a beautiful seaside haven, a preferred surfing destination and a place filled with his father’s fond memories… “like Ibiza in the 70′s”. Manu was bitten by the surfing bug, and at one point decided to surf the entire coast of South America, starting on Mexico’s West Coast. He started at Sayulita in Nayarit, eventually making his way down to Puerto Escondido, where he surfed and painted until one day, a wealthy patron from Puebla bought all his paintings. pen and inks by manuel taure

This gentleman promised him a show in a gallery, if he would only come to Puebla. He promised him support, advertising and assistance. Worried about his visa status and hoping for a patron whose largesse might allow him to get a more permanent visa, Manu followed him to Puebla… only to be disappointed. The patron was wealthy and gave him a place to stay, but he had no connections and no motivation to help Manu, who found himself wandering the streets in a strange town with no surfboard, no waves, no money and dwindling hope.

One night, he decided to go listen to music in a jazz club, and as he always did, he brought his paper and pencils to draw while he was listening.

And So It Begins…

Two weeks later, Manu was living with Viviana in her parents home. Viviana’s father was not happy with this situation. Viviana’s mother found out Manu was from Spain and bought him olive oil. No one had a clue what came next.

But Viviana was determined at least to help Manu get his papers, and was eventually able to help him become a legal Mexican resident. Eventually, they moved to their own place, barely getting by selling their paintings. But Manu missed the sea, and remembered his intended journey along the coast to Brazil. They considered Todos Santos in Baja California, but on a whim instead followed a friend’s cajoling to go visit Merida… “You’ll like it!”

Wherein the Artists Discover MeridaViviana Hinojosa and Manuel Taure, artists in Mexico

And like it they did, the minute they got here. The next minute, they were selling their work on the street at the Sunday Art Market to make money enough to live, and that’s where we met them so many years ago.

Since then, slowly but oh so surely, Viviana and Manu have become integrated into the fledgling Merida art community. First they sold their work on the street. They gradually became friends with the more established artists at Artists in Mexico, where their work is shown alongside the work of Melva Medina and Abel Vázquez. They met the organizers of AANY and because they did some of their most interesting work painting on objects, they have been invited to the last few AANY shows where many of their smaller works of art and objets d’art are very reasonably priced.

Wherein Habla Discovers the Artists

They also met Kurt and Marimar at Habla, who fell in love with them and their work. They both were invited to work as art teachers at Habla. And often they volunteered their artistic ideas. At one point, Kurt and Marimar were given a hand-carver butter churner by a supporter of theirs in the USA. Not quite knowing what to do Churning art at Habla in Merida Yucatanwith it, Kurt gave it to Manu and asked if he had any ideas. The mini-mural and art installation below on the left was Manu’s solution… a butter churner fastened to the wall painted with the quote about churning the mind and the spirit. Over time, as a result of hours spent collaborating on this and many other small projects, the idea of the mural was born.

As dedicated supporters of the arts and believers to their core in the power of art, Kurt and Marimar gave Viviana and Manu complete creative freedom. Though they had worked on a few projects together before, this one was not only the largest but comes at a time when their art has become the most integrated. As such, it is a delightful combination of Viviana’s whimsy and Manu’s construction, with the colors and creativity that both of them share.

The artists wanted the wall to be full of life, and to have a cast of characters who were communicating, but without words. Habla, the organization, is all about teaching languages through the medium of different arts… painting, drawing, theatre, crafts, dance. Communication is the goal and there are many paths that lead there.

From Humble Beginningsdrawing board for mural at habla

Manu and Viviana collected characters and other images that they liked and began creating drafts on paper. Eventually, they had a composition that they liked, and they showed it and got approval from Kurt and Marimar.

The next task was Manu’s: translating the small 8×10 drawing to the large medium of the blank wall. His graphic art background, of course, had adequately prepared him for this, and using a grid method, he transferred their ideas to the wall. They rented scaffolding at two different heights, allowing them both to paint at the same time in different sections, and they set about painting the mural.

Viviana's boy in the Habla muralThe entire project, from start to finish, was very much a collaboration between the two artists. If you know them and you know their work, you can perhaps recognize Viviana’s little boy or Manu’s cat. But no, as it turns out, when you talk to them, you find out that that is Manu’s women and Viviana’s sailboat. Over the years they have been sharing techniques and talent, and in this collaboration, their styles have melded in a way that has produced something greater than the two parts. Something recognizably done by the two of them combined.

As they painted, the characters evolved, the messages morphed and new, interesting figures appeared. Because painting, like any other art, is the act of communicating, and in this case, the communication was definitely two-way, between them and everyone else at Habla.

Zumbayllu painting, Habla.orgSerendipitous Additions

One of the most obvious pieces of the painting that was added through serendipity is the zumbayllu, a spinning top from the Spanish/Quechua tradition. The zumbayllu is not a well-known object in English and not very well known in this part of the Spanish-speaking world either. It is a magical spinning top… not just any top but one with a name that hints at it’s powers. On the internet, we found this quote from a Peruvian novel written in 1951 by José Maria Arguedas: “Illu represents one form of music produced by small wings in flight… inexplicable music that arises from the slight movement of objects.” The magical communication of the zumbayllu was being studied in one of the multi-dimensional classes being taught at Habla when the mural was being painted. The class was reading the book quoted above, called Deep Rivers. It is a book that talks about the rivers of Inca culture that run deep in Peruvian culture. The zumbayllu is a top, a toy that is traditional in Latino American cultures. The name of this top is composed from two words that mean the same thing: to buzz. The word is zumbar in Spanish and ayllu in Quechua. The class was discussing the meanings of this toy, and when they got out of class, Donald Niedermayer suggested that the zumbayllu should be represented in the mural. Of course, everyone loved the idea of including this symbol of communication, delight, joy and playfulness. There is it now, practically Kids Drawings on the Habla mural by Viviana Hinojosa and Manuel Taurespinning off the wall and hovering in the space above you as you look at it. Zuuuumbahyoo… the sound inside your head accompanies the view.

Another time, Kurt asked a classroom of small children to paint pictures of characters they would put on the mural if they were painting it. Viviana got wind of the exercise and when the children were done, she copied their results into a conversation balloon of one of the characters in the painting. Kurt related to us the pleasure of seeing the wonder and amazement of those children when they saw their own creations so high above them on the wall. And the pride with which they pointed them out to their parents later.

Why We Love It

So now there is a mural on the wall inside Habla. Viviana says that for her, the greatest pleasure she derives from her effort is seeing people walk in, turn around, look at the painting and smile. That smile is her reward. Marimar looks and sees stories, dreams, journeys and the joy of imagination. We see fantasy and magic, possibilities and promises. We also see planning and technique and dedication and love.

We also hope we see the beginning of a culture of murals in Merida. Murals are, of course, a Mexican tradition. As every grafitti artist knows, Mexico, and Yucatan is no exception, has a wealth of walls, a panoply of panels, a cornucopia of canvases! These blank occasions for opportunity are waiting everywhere for artists like Viviana and Manu to bring them to life. In fact, Viviana and Manu themselves are hoping that there are more murals in their future. Kurt would like to see this mural, and others like it, contribute to the patrimony of Merida. And why not?

Completionamazing mural at Habla in Merida Yucatan Mexico

The monumental task of this particular mural is done. The last characters have been created and the last manos (coats) of varnish have been added to preserve the work of art. The scaffolding has been brought down and the artists have retired to their studio in Santiago to begin dreaming of future projects. There will be an official opening reception for the mural on Friday, May 27 and then it will become a part of the daily life of the students, teachers and visitors to Habla’s building.

There is one word on the mural. That word is “amazing”. It is a word that Kurt uses a lot in his communication and it is a tribute to his vision and commitment to art, to the school and to the role of art in learning. As the artists tell it, when they painted the bird from whom the word is escaping, he sort of looked like Kurt. So the Kurt Bird says “amazing” and the mural makes it so.

And New Beginnings…

Viviana and Manu are already thinking about future projects. In their home, which is their studio, everything from shoes to cutting boards are painted and transformed into something playful, provocative or both. On their Studio of Hinojosa and Taure in merida mexicodrawing boards are spoons and cigar boxes painted with bright colors and shadowed whimsy. There are sketches for a children’s book, blocks carved to create prints on the pages of old books, antique furniture waiting to be sanded and painted into a new life. On every wall and in every corner is another creative project, a composite of thought, intuition, intention, desire and mystery.

We imagine they will continue to do that to the world around them…sanding, painting, designing, carving, transforming. Alchemists of the every day object, Viviana Hinojosa and Manuel Taure are artists in the true sense of the word… creating one thing from another thing, teasing delight out of other peoples’ discards and coaxing beauty from the light of blank canvasses.

Lucky us… They are doing it, for now, in Merida.


Habla’s website and the Opening Event for the Mural

Like this art? Take Manuel’s Word As Image workshop or Viviana’s workshop on Drawing Characters From Your Imagination, both at Habla of course.

Email Viviana and Manuel at perroazul [at] live [dot] com [dot] mx

The excerpt of the unpublished book that mentions the zumbayllu (Google translated into English)

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10 Responses to “Speaking Without Words”

  1. I don´t know whom to congratulate more – Viviana and Manuel (Vivi and Manu), for being the fabulous creative artists they are and among my most beloved friends here in Mérida, or Ellen for her superb article on their major work, the mural at Habla. Ellen, this is one of the best articles of yours I have ever read – you have perfectly captured the essence of these two wonderful people – their personalities, their goals and their art. I feel very priviledged to be among their friends and to know that they are an important part of the AANY family.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!


  2. Thank YOU, Joan.

  3. What a wonderful story and incredible piece of art. Can’t wait to get down there and see it myself one day. Professor Wootton… you and Marimar continue to make the world a better place through your support of magical people… very proud of you and the work you do.

  4. I love the phrase “On every wall and in every corner is another creative project, a composite of thought, intuition, intention, desire and mystery.” It is a beautiful piece.

  5. It is a great work of art. You could stand for days and not take it all in. The colors are alive. It is a piece of art you really need to take the time to go see…It makes the child in you come alive again…it is truly magical. You want to dance with each character and run free within the painting….CONGRATS to Vivi and Manu.

  6. Wow. Great article about two very talented artists. We are proud to own a couple pieces of art and to consider Vivi and Manu friends. Habla, already a great creative place is enriched by the mural. Congrats all

  7. Kurt and Mari are really a blessing to the children and families of Merida, and to educators from across the world. Now, they have brought the great Mexican tradition of mural artistry into their space — it will be wonderful to see the wall. Thank you to the two artists, and to the author of this lovely article which supports art in everyday places and imaginary spaces.

    James McLaughlin

  8. Kurt and Marimar, this is an amazing article, and amazing work of art. What you two have accomplished and are living is, in itself, the art of which many of us dream but few aspire to make a reality. You are an inspiration. Thank you. Y gracias a Manu y Vivi tambien por tener la voluntad, consciencia, y visión de seguir sus talentos y crear más belleza en el mundo.

  9. Thank you all for all your very kind and generous comments. Thank you Joan for your support, and thank you Ellen for such a wonderful wonderful article. We could not be any happier!

  10. [...] their invented characters. If you want to know more about Viviana and the art at Habla, read our article about the artists Viviana and Manuel here. Location: Habla, Calle 26 No. 99 B x 19 y 21 Col. México Time: 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM Admission: [...]


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