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'We were the masks'

SU Professor displays his 40 year-old Mexican art collection at the Community Folk Arts Center on East Genesee Street.

What began as hobby for Dr. Alejandro Garcia has become an entire gallery full of vibrant photography and Mexican folk art.

Garcia, professor of social work at Syracuse University, has collected Mexican masks, clothing and pottery for the past 40 years. As a child growing up in Texas, he was told that Mexicans lacked culture. Garcia knew that this couldn’t be true. In his youth he made his first trip to Mexico, where he bought his first piece of art while serving in the military.

Photo: Christine Mehta
García tells his audience the stories behind each unique piece in his collection.

He collects and shows these pieces to let others connect with his cultural roots and have a better understanding of his background. “This collection, in essence, represents who I am, my pride in the richness of Mexican culture, and my celebration of the artistry of Mexican individuals who, in their carving, painting, sewing, and molding, present all of us with precious gifts," Garcia said.

Garcia’s favorite pieces are his masks. He has collected over 150 masks in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Garcia’s most prized mask is the parachico mask. The parachico is a ceremonial outfit designed to emulate a Spaniard for blessings from God. The indigenous choose to resemble the Spanish because of a deep-held belief that God favors those of European decent. During the Day of San Sebastian, men don the parachico and celebrate a tradition that combines both indigenous and Catholic traditions.

The gallery also includes several photographs that Garcia took during his travels in Mexico. One of the most striking pictures was of a dancing woman in a brightly colored dress. Another illuminates the old and the new that is today’s Mexico City, with two Volkswagen bugs from different eras idling side by side during a traffic jam.

During the Third Thursday event, Garcia showed off his collection to a fascinated crowd. Biology major, Michelle Sansky was very impressed with the gallery and the cultural impact it brings to Central New York. “I think it’s interesting that he started doing this to explore his background and it’s really part of his identity,” Sansky said.

The showing also featured the documentary, “Blossoms of Fire” directed by Maureen Gosling and Ellen Osborne about the hardworking women of Oaxaca, Mexico. After the movie, Garcia facilitated a discussion about the film.

Tesoros del Pueblo: El Arte Folklórico de México/Treasures of the People: The Folk Art of Mexico exhibit has been on display since January 23 and will stay open until May 5 at the Community Folk Art Center at 805 East Genesee St.


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