heARTbeat: A Beaded VW Highlights Huíchol Culture at the Smithsonian

ColumnMeet the Vochol Volkswagen, part of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

As globalization continues to homogenize diversity among cultural experiences, one of the victims is the arts and crafts of indigenous culture. Did you know that the Japanese used to wrap five eggs with nothing but cord?  As such, it’s heartening to see mash-ups of traditional craft with cultural iconography opening an  introduction for generations perhaps unfamiliar with the past.

On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will unveil Vochol: Huíchol Art on Wheels. The exhibit features one piece that combines Huíchol culture with a pop-cult icon, the Volkswagen Beetle. More than 2 million glass seed beads and nearly 35 pounds of fabric, paint, yarn and resin adorn the vehicle’s chassis and interior, including the seats, steering wheel and dashboard.

According to the Smithsonian:

The Vochol’s beadwork and embroidery illustrates powerful symbols, milestones and stories from the deeply spiritual culture, including images of deer – the most revered animal – and a two-headed eagle marking the four cardinal directions, as well as the fire, drum, squash and corn used in a traditional maize-offering ceremony. For the Huíchol, creating art – in the form of beadwork, textiles, stone sculptures, ceremonial objects and pipes – is not merely decorative. It is an expression of faith, evoking centuries-old shamanism and peyote rituals that are still practiced to this day.

The Vochol was created by two Huíchol families transforming the 1990 Volkswagen Beetle over the course of more than 9,000 hours. The name derives from the slang term “Vocho,” used for the VW Beetle in Mexico, and “Huíchol,” the common name for Mexico’s indigenous Wixaritari (“the people”), a community of approximately 26,000 people who have settled in the mountainous region of the western Sierra Madre.

Besides the obvious sharing of their craft traditions, the Huíchol artisans have let us in on an inside joke, while seducing our eye with the beauty of their cultural gifts, inducing a desire that more indigenous secrets be shared, and less of them be lost. The exhibit travels internationally after closing in Washington D.C. on May 6, 2012.

Inspired by a post on artdaily.org

Photos by Alejandro Piedra Buena via the SmithsonianNMAI’s flickr page.


Eco, trends, art, creativity and how they tumble through social media to shape culture fascinate EcoSalon columnist Dominique Pacheco. Her trends blog, mixingreality, speaks to these topics daily, and here at EcoSalon, she takes a weekly look at the intersection of eco and art. We call it heARTbeat.

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