Agave!, which runs in Chase Gallery until April, is an expansive group exhibition that features artwork made from agave leaves that were discarded as part of the mezcal production in Oaxaca, the state in Mexico from which mezcal originates. Curated by Trine Ellitsgaard and Kiff Slemmons, the show features works by Jim Bassler, Frank Connet, Angela Damman, Trine Ellitsgaard, Maddalena Forcella, Mariana Grapain, Anne Hirondelle, Ana Hernandez, Fernando Laposse, Miki Nagamine, Huemac Olivares, Michael Olszewski, Adán Paredes, Eric Ramirez, Aaron Robinson, Jose Angel Santiago, Kiff Slemmons, Veronique Tesseraud, Francisco Toledo and Venus y Loco.
Mezcal has been part of Mexican life, gastronomy and culture for centuries. The Spaniards called the agave plant “the tree of wonders”. Agave evolved in southern Mexico over six million years ago and Oaxaca is its center of diversity. Mezcal’s popularity exploded in recent years, transforming it from a local spirit to one that is known internationally. Patrons in New York, Los Angeles and everywhere in the world were now saying “with mezcal please”, and mezcal fever exploded, causing its demand to grow exponentially. As a result, people in Oaxaca began to produce more and more of it and a thriving international market was born. Every community and hill in the state was soon surrounded with agaves that were destined for mezcal.
There was, however, a downside to mezcal’s newfound fame. Once the agave plants are cut and distilled, there is an enormous surplus of leaves that are left to sit and dry until they are reabsorbed back into the soil. As production escalated, these leaves began to pose a significant problem for local communities. They created an imbalance in the equilibrium of their ecosystems, disturbing the soil and giving rise to insect infestation. The artists in this exhibition have responded to this crisis by creating works of art from this waste, turning these leaves into rugs, garments and other forms of art. They have learned to transform agave into fantastic pieces of design. They are participating in a virtuous cycle of turning a problem into an opportunity, of turning waste into beautiful, timeless objects. Agave! explores this transmutation.
Agave! Exhibition Walkthrough with Alejandro de Ávila, Director of the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden November 7, 4 pm to 6 pm
The Ethnobotany of Agave, a Lecture by Alejandro de Ávila, Director of The Oaxaca Ethnobotanic Garden Nov 9, 6pm-8pm