Alebrijes, those mythical Mexican creatures

Alebrijes are brightly coloured Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures, that have a history as colourful as the art itself.

You can now find them in many regions of Mexico, especially at street markets.

This colourful tradition began in Mexico City in the early 20th century. 

An artist named Pedro Linares,  known for his skill with piñatas,  carnival masks and other papier-mâché creations,  fell ill with a high fever and had several vivid dreams that eventually inspired the creation of these unique sculptures.  While in a state of unconsciousness, he began to hallucinate and see visions of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds that suddenly turned into some kind of unknown animals who began repeatedly chanting a single word: alebrije…alebrije…alebrije! 

These mystical creatures have been transformed over decades into Mexican folk art sculptures, with vibrant colour markings. They feature detailed patterns of stripes, dots, geometric shapes, flowers, and flames. Many have bodies with exaggerated, twisted contortions. Their faces exhibit expressions ranging from peaceful and playful, to suspicious and sinister.

When he began recreating vivid, ethereal creatures that no one had ever seen before with papier mâché and cardboard to craft large, he caught the attention of a prominent gallery owner who marketed the pieces, and artists from across the country including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

He also shared his designs with artisans in his village and a man named Manuel Jimenez was the first to create alebrijes out of copal wood instead of papier mâché. Jimenez incorporated Linares’ visions into the pre-Hispanic woodcarving tradition that already existed among the indigenous Zapotec culture of that area. 

Descendants of Pedro Linares, many of whom live in Mexico City near the Sonora Market, as well as Manuel Jimenez’s family, continue to carve and paint various alebrijes to this day, carrying on the tradition of making alebrijes and other figures from cardboard and papier-mâché. 

Here you have the story in their own words:

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