Welcome to the Alebrijes Exhibit

This exhibit, which will remain open until November 8, presents original Mexican folk art in the alebrijes tradition. It includes 22 pieces created by five artists from Mexico City. The DuPage Mexican Cultural Center in West Chicago selected the pieces and provided them to Northern Illinois University Library.

The History of Alebrijes

Alebrijes are brightly colored folk depictions of magical beings. Many people believe alebrijes represent a long Mexican folk art tradition, but in fact they only began to appear in the 1940s. The well- known Mexican artist Pedro Linares (1906-1992) invented the form, and its name. He often told a story about how he came to create alebrijes. While in bed with a fever, Linares dreamed of incredible creatures combining the features of different animals. The creatures began chanting a single nonsense word: alebrije… alebrije… alebrije! This frightening scene awakened Linares and when his fever subsided, he began constructing what he had seen in his dream. He called these sculptures alebrijes.

Linares had already built a career working in paper mache, creating pinatas, masks, and Judas figures used in Easter celebrations. He built his first alebrijes with this material. Observers found his original pieces disturbing and they attracted no buyers. After a time, a prominent art gallery owner noticed Linares’ creations, and went on to market them successfully. Linares’ alebrijes then became very well-known, and the celebrated Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo commissioned pieces for their private collections.

Today, alebrijes created in many regions of Mexico can be found in private and museum collections around the world. Alebrijes also appeared in the 2017 Disney film Coco. As the alebrijes tradition has developed, Mexican artists have continued to construct them in a variety of media, including paper mache and wood. This collection consists of materials developed from the tradition of paper mache, which produces pieces at a larger scale than woodcarving. Many artists working in this medium now incorporate additional materials, such as acrylic, in order to enhance the pieces’ durability.

Sneak Peek of the Exhibit

Content courtesy of Cantigny Park. For exclusive use by Northern Illinois University.