Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Inspired by la Naturaleza for the March CelebrARTE

Despite intermittent snow showers, day by day, the sun is getting warmer, and light is lasting for longer. In my bones I can always feel springtime approaching. It makes me feel energetic, nostalgic, and creative. It makes me want to hike, plant gardens, soak up sun, and remember the days that I sat in the grass just watching the clouds and plants. I was raised to be very attuned to and respectful of the natural world around me. My mother spent her career advocating for environmental justice, because as a public health worker, she recognized that the health of our environment affects our community’s mental and physical health. The interconnection of our communities with the world around us was a worldview passed from one generation of my family to the next.

Regardless of whether we are leading modern, urban lives, most Latinos I have met agree that a strong sense of place and connection to the environment is a cultural trait that extends across the Americas. It’s not surprising that we share this strong feeling. As I walk through our pre-Colombian collection on level four of the North Building, I can see that this connection has been part of our heritage for thousands of years. I am not sure that there is anything in the collection that does not have some sort of reference to our place in the natural world. Tucked in the corner of the gallery, visitors rarely notice an incredible piece in our collection, one I like to spend quiet time honoring.

Wall Mural Fragment: Goddess Holding Flowering Branches, Teotihuacan, about AD 650–750, Mexico. Lime plaster and polychrome paint. Denver Art Museum; Department acquisition funds, 1965.202.

It is a mural of the Prince of Flowers, Xochipilli, from the ancient and sacred city of Teotihuacan.  Xochipilli is the god of springtime, agriculture, and also all of humanity’s artistic expressions. As I spend time with Xochipilli in the quiet gallery, I am inspired that our antepasados honored human artistic creativity as part of the cycles of creation in the natural world.

I am equally inspired when I find that the spirit of Xochipilli lives in us today.

A dancer from Dancing Across Cultures performs during the Denver Art Museum's debut of the monthly bilingual artmaking program, CelebrARTE, in September 2012.

This spirit lives in the projects for this month’s CelebrARTE as we make floats inspired by Medellín’s Feria de Flores and Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. It is most especially expressed in the work of Xiuhtezcatl Martínez and the Earth Guardians. I happened upon a video of Xiuhtezcatl, and was moved by this youth’s work in advocating for the environment. He explains his duty to protect the natural world for his and future generations developed from his Nahua worldview. I am proud to be able to partner with him as he performs throughout the collections, including in our Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land exhibition. O’Keeffe probably would have understood Xiuhtezcatl’s connection to the land, as the beauty of the New Mexican landscape became her muse.  As a New Mexican, I can relate—that is also the landscape that inspires me, and as I walk through the exhibit, I feel home.

Madalena Salazar is the Latino cultural programs coordinator in the education department at the Denver Art Museum. Madalena has been at the DAM since 2011 and her favorite artwork that has been on view here is Mud Woman Rolls On. This piece reminds her of home, family, and community and serves as inspiration for her practice as a museum educator at the DAM.