Muñecas y Mascáras:
Symposium Abstract

Cleveland Symposium
Cleveland Museum of Art
April 15, 2005

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Muñecas y Mascáras:
The Zapatista Dolls of Chiapas

Masked and anonymous the Zapatista dolls appeared in Chiapas, Mexico simultaneous with the 1994 indigenous rebellion. Now, entering their second decade, the Zapatista dolls remain a fascinating mystery. Traveling deep into the jungles of Chiapas this project unravels the origins of the Zapatista doll in terms of intersecting global cultures.

Beginning in the markets of southern Mexico, traveling to the Zapatista headquarters at Oventik and winding up in the highlands of Chiapas this paper locates the birth of the Zapatista doll in non-Zapatista community of San Juan Chamula, a municipio of San Christobal de las Casas. With the exception of the signature ski mask, this paper explains, the Zapatista dolls are identical in material and technique to the traditional Chamulita doll. Contemporary doll making in Chamula will be used to illustrate adaptability of this specific indigenous community as it absorbs and responds to the politics of globalization.

Interviews with the Chamula craftswomen prove they have been affected by the Zapatista movement although they express little sympathy for it. During the course of the paper, it becomes apparent that the influence of international tourist is critical to the contemporary Zapatista incarnation of the ancient Chamulita doll. Amongst the doll makers, the unanimous explanation for existence of the Zapatista doll is “para vender” or “to sell”. Evidence from the craftswomen suggests that the original idea for the masked Zapatista doll came from an Italian woman visiting the region in 1994. Somewhat disappointingly, the dolls are more a product of Capitalist demand than they are model of Zapatista resistance.

The union of traditional craft and capitalist ingenuity may, however, be the key to peace in Chiapas. While catering traditional dolls to suit the demands of the international consumer, this paper suggests, the Chamulan craftswomen have been able to preserve traditional methods of sewing, felting, and dying in a time of cultural crisis. Although they are not Zapatistas, the artists have recorded an extensive history of contemporary Mexican politics from an indigenous perspective. The identity and mythology of the Zapatista dolls is explained in terms of their historic, political and geographic location. In addition to explaining the craft of Zapatista doll making, this project traces the art of doll marketing. From ancient Chamula into the webs of cyberspace, the Zapatista doll will be presented as living survival model for traditional voices amidst the current rush towards globalization.