Artwork by Mexican artist José Benitez Sánchez seen on display at the Art Gallery at Vancouver Island University.

Artwork by Mexican artist José Benitez Sánchez seen on display at the Art Gallery at Vancouver Island University.

Gallery features respected Mexican artist

Artwork by José Benitez Sánchez on display at the Art Gallery at Vancouver Island University until July 15.

Colourful artwork by a native Mexican artist are on display in the Harbour City for a limited time.

Currently taking place at the Art Gallery at Vancouver Island University, formerly the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s campus location, is Wixáritari: People Walking Towards Dawn art exhibit, which showcases colourful yarn paintings covered in beeswax by native Mexican artist José Benitez Sánchez.

“Having his art here is unbelievable,” gallery curator Justin McGrail said.

Sánchez, who is of Huichol decent, was born in the state of Nayarit in Mexico in 1938 and died in 2009.

Huichol, also known as Wixáritari, people are native Mexicans who traditionally live in the western and central regions of the country. Their artwork is often extremely colourful.

“What you see is a lot of animal figures combined with human figures in a surrealist kind of way,” McGrail said. “The works are bright colours. They are really striking.”

In his mid-20s, Sánchez began creating yarn paintings and by the early ’70s he had become one of the most respected native artists in the country’s history.

McGrail says there are commonalities between the Huichol and British Columbia First Nations.

“There are a lot of similarities between the Huichol … and First Nations on the Island in the sense that art is part of the spirit journey,” McGrail said.

Wixáritari was curated by Gabriela Olmos of Artes de México and is supported by the Consulate General of Mexico in Vancouver.

In addition to the yarn paintings, the exhibit showcases other works by Sánchez as well as native Mexican artifacts and clothing.

“I think of it as a mix of both art and anthropology,” McGrail said.On Friday (July 10), Dr. Anthony Shelton, professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, will be giving a free lecture in Vancouver Island University Building 355, Room 200 at 2:20 p.m. The lecture, titled The Wixaritari and the Heart of the World Lecture, will talk about the Huichol people and their way of life.

The exhibit, Wixáritari: People Walking Towards Dawn, runs until July 15. For more information, please visit

arts@nanaimobulletin.comFollow @npescod on Twitter

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