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Sacred Ground / Tierra Sagrada: Art Education & Cultural Exchange in Antigua, Guatemala

colored sawdust and flowers in traditional alfombra

Between Palm Sunday and Easter each year, the picturesque city of Antigua, Guatemala hosts the largest Holy Week celebration in the Western hemisphere. During this time, referred to as Semana Santa, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the city to celebrate and observe elaborate processions commemorating the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the center of these events are the colorful and intriguing alfombras, carpet-like creations that pave the streets of Antigua and provide a sacred ground for the processions that pass over them.

Alfombra are handcrafted and traditionally composed of organic elements: dyed sawdust, pine needles, flowers, fruit, and vegetables. The yearly tradition of assembling each alfombra in celebration of Semana Santa brings together families, friends, and coworkers. Together, they plan, arrange, and display these beautiful creations in front of their houses and businesses and, in this way, preserve a rich heritage of art, family, religion, and culture.

In April 2017, 10 students and 3 faculty from the graduate program in Art Education traveled to Antigua to participate in this special, annual tradition that has occurred in Guatemala since the sixteenth century. The group from UT worked together to create an alfombra to display on the cobblestone street near Casa Herrera, a research facility in Antigua that operates as an extension of UT’s Mesoamerica Center. The students prepared the alfombra designs ahead of the trip, spent several days collecting and preparing their alfombra materials once they arrived in Antigua, and completed their alfombra on the street in a period of eight hours. The finished work was twenty feet long and eight feet wide, transforming the cobblestone street near the Casa into an ephemeral collaborative landscape of color, heritage, ritual, symbolism, and artistic expression.

This exhibition is organized by Dr. Christina Bain, Associate Professor of Art Education, in collaboration with current students, alumni, and faculty of the graduate program in Art Education.

Students: Callie Anderson, Claire Williamson, Danielle Grenier Cossey

Alumni: Clare Donnelly, Amelia Fleming, Maggie Exner, Carrie Williams, Ariel Spiegelman, Kathryn Farkas, Hannah Reed

Faculty: Christina Bain, Paul Bolin