Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan´s speech at the inauguration of the "Vochol" Exhibit
Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC


Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian;

Marie Thérese Arango, Founder and President of the Association of Friends of the Museum of Popular Art;

Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian;

Dear friends, Amigas y amigos,


Thank you for joining us here this evening to present “Vochol”, a fantastic example of the incredible cultural diversity of Mexico, as well as a dazzling display of the artistic and cultural richness of its indigenous communities.

Octavio Paz once wrote that “any contact with the Mexican people, however brief, reveals that beneath the Western forms throb ancient customs and beliefs.” These traditions, alive and kicking today, attest to the contemporary dynamism of our indigenous cultures. Our national identity and cultural strength are proudly rooted in a profound awareness of Mexico’s singular history, and in its culture, ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Mexico is a true global cultural superpower, characterized by a proud blend of indigenous and European roots which continue to generate myriad cultural expressions in Mexico today.

The vitality of indigenous artists and their contributions to the contemporary art scene are truly remarkable. Far from abandoning their traditions, and in a direct challenge to notions of indigenous identity as static and stuck in the past, these artists are using their culture as a reference point, incorporating timeless elements and symbols into decidedly contemporary art.

I cannot think of a more appropriate demonstration of this new and exciting trend than the “Vochol”, which displays the fabulous talent and creativity of Huichol artists, who incorporate traditional cosmology and symbolism on the surface of a ’98 VW Beetle, or “vocho”, in Mexican slang, in a completely unique and cutting-edge way.

The Huicholes, who predominantly live in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico’s western states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango and Zacatecas, have fiercely protected their tradition, culture and religion since the Spanish conquest of the 16h century.

Huichol art, with its intricate designs and vibrant colors is aesthetically exciting while at the same time replete with symbols that make profound statements about the community’s beliefs and culture. It is also a labor of love; it boggles the mind to consider the amount of work, time, and talent that goes into producing such an elaborate piece of art as the “Vochol”.

Huichol bead art has served as an economic boon to the community and has provided a means to achieve better standards of living while safeguarding Huichol traditions. The development and presentation of a project such as this one serves to introduce Huichol culture to broader audiences while functioning as an important vehicle, pun intended, for the validation of the role of traditional art in economic and social development.

It is particularly fitting to display this amazing piece at the National Museum of the American Indian, as it complements the collection of Huichol art that is on permanent exhibition and enhances knowledge about this fascinating culture. “Vochol” is the result of impressive collaborations between institutions in both the private and public sectors in Mexico. Among these, the Association of Friends of the Museum of Popular Art stands out as a major driver, pun reloaded, for the development of this project. Unfortunately, indigenous art has not always enjoyed the level of recognition and appreciation that it deserves. The Association’s dedication to supporting, promoting and preserving indigenous art traditions has been critical to reversing this trend, both in Mexico and internationally through traveling exhibitions.

We are thus thrilled to be joined this evening by the Association’s Founder and President of the Board, Marie Therése Arango. A Mexican by choice, Marie Therése is the driving force both the Museum of Popular Art and the Association of Friends of the Museum of Popular Art. Her enthusiasm and dedication to preserving and promoting traditional art in Mexico is contagious; she has been instrumental in fostering support for this cause in the both the public and private sector.

It has been a real pleasure for this Embassy, and its Cultural Institute, to work closely with the Smithsonian over the past few years. The Smithsonian Institution is an incredible resource for advancing knowledge about science, art, history and culture for visitors and residents of Washington DC, and is one of the most pre-eminent institutions of its kind in the world.  I would like to thank Secretary Clough and Director Kevin Gover and his team for all their efforts in bringing “Vochol” to Washington.

The Huicholes are famous for the long pilgrimage to Wirikuta, their sacred site in the high in the mountains of central Mexico every year, so it is only fitting that this “Vochol” will travel afterwards across the U.S. to Denver, Colorado. Have a safe journey.