In the heart of Mexico City, fabulous creatures stride among throngs of spectators. The strange and colorful beings make an annual appearance at a parade honoring Mexican folk art and crafts. Born from a dream and passed along through generations, alebrijes are as varied as the minds that make them.
Alebrijes (ah-lay-BREE-hayse) are fanciful, often larger-than-life sculptures. They’re made from a sturdy type of papier-mâché that uses paper or cardboard over wire. These brightly colored creatures have become a celebrated form of Mexican folk art.
Pedro Linares López, a cardboard artisan from Mexico City, originated the alebrijes. As a young man, Linares dreamed of strange animals with the features of various beasts combined in startling ways. The creatures in his dream shouted the nonsense word “alebrijes” over and over.
When he awoke, Linares sculpted the creatures from his dream. They included a winged donkey and a rooster with the horns of a bull. Alebrijes quickly became popular. Other crafters began creating unusual creatures from cardboard and other materials. Today, alebrijes show up in shops and galleries all over Mexico.
Each year, the Mexico City Alebrije Parade features hundreds of large-scale alebrijes. During the event, the giant animals traverse the streets. Clowns, musicians, and costumed revelers take part too. But it is the colorful alebrijes that steal the show.
Israel Mondragón is one modern artist who makes such curious creations. His Señor Travieso depicts an iguana standing on two legs. The six-and-a-half-foot lizard carries a cake and walks three dogs. Mondragón’s alebrije is meant to promote care for stray animals.
The tradition of making fantastical creatures from discarded objects has been carried on by many exuberant artists of Mexico. But none seem more passionate about the folk art of alebrijes than the Linares family. Several generations of Linareses have crafted piñatas, carnival masks, and other figures from discarded cardboard. After Pedro Linares’ dream-inspired invention, his son and grandson took up the alebrijes mantle.
Leonardo Linares Vargas is Pedro’s grandson. He explains that every true alebrije must display three of the four classical elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. A lion might represent earth, a bird wind, long tongues fire, and fins or scales water. Each alebrije artist combines or interprets the elements in a different way. That makes for nearly infinite variety.
Today, the Linareses are globally recognized artists. They have won awards for their extraordinary art and devotion to their craft. It’s no wonder the family has often been called the “guardians of folk art.”
Why? One image-bearer’s bizarre dream led to the creation of a popular folk art in Mexico. Using creativity with wisdom is a blessing.