A printmaking studio on a vibrant, sinuous street in the heart of historic downtown Guanajuato city, is the place that the Tlaxcala state born artist Jainite Silvestre calls home. And where, through a female gaze, she gives life to many characters inspired by both ancestral and modern arts in Mexico. Just looking at her work, we enter a parallel universe inhabited by wise women and goddesses, skulls and devils, animals and flowers, maize and masks, which altogether reflect her active inner world.
Techniques and work process
Originally, she wanted to study painting, but when she was in college and was introduced to printmaking, she fell in love with it. She wanted to make a living as an artist, so right after she graduated, she started to work at the studio of a colleague printmaker from Guanajuato: El Pinche Grabador, where she still works daily, in a shared space with him. She recalls: “He has taught me a lot about printmaking, it’s a very special technique that not so many people chose, due to the fact that it requires a lot of discipline. I have an obsessive personality that makes me want to be at the studio every day, because, to me, it is like home”.
In the studio, Jainite primarily works with metal engraving. According to her, she didn’t choose this technique; it chose her. She calls this process an “act of faith”, because regardless of how much manipulation you put on it, the result depends more on many other factors, such as the weather and the salt water that you use to ‘attack’ the plate. She also works with linoleum engraving and lithography, but metal engraving adapted better to her creative needs, as it allows her to get an infinite number of textures, and to have a lot of possibilities in one single image.
With respect to her creative processes, they are different every day. Sometimes she goes into research mode to create an image, sometimes the image emerges by itself. A day in the studio means working with the plates until she achieves the desired result, whether letting the plate ‘reveal itself’ or actively manipulating it to create a certain effect. These are long processes, however, she's glad to have big introspection moments when she can discover herself in different ways while engraving. During working sessions, she could be inspired by either a Mexican song, or a Teotihuacan figurine.
References in Mexican cultures
What inspires her the most, is the vast cultural heritage that Mexicans have, which she channels into her self-perception as a woman. She adds: “I couldn’t talk better about anything else”. From a very young age, she has had a fascination with Mesoamerican legacy. A long time ago, her grandparents used to take her to many archeological sites, such as Teotihuacan, where she would climb the pyramids to the very top and admire the valley in awe. Even now, she's still mesmerized by many aesthetic elements of these cultures, like the shapes of the pintaderas (clay stamps), or the colors they used to depict flora and fauna. She draws inspiration from pre-Hispanic literature and symbolisms to portray her ancestresses: the female deities that are connected to nature; and, by doing so, she embodies her own perspectives and emotions.
More contemporary expressions have influenced her as well, such as dance and music. Folk dances, and emotions always running high in Mexican popular songs stimulate her creativity. She is also very much inspired by painting; for instance, she aims to adapt the feel of the large-scale narrative in Mexican muralism to the small format of printmaking. What’s more, the work of Mexican neo-expressionist painter Julio Galán was key in the beginning of her artistic training, when she saw his art and realized that he could talk about his feelings in public as he did in private, she explains: “without even knowing him personally, just by showing his work he trusted you with who he really was. That’s what made me decide to pursue a career in art”.
Magueyes, volcanoes and animals: characters and symbols
Through an expressive line, Jainite brings to life a universe of characters that are so dynamic and engaging, it feels like they could say something at any moment. Her works appear to be taken straight out of an illustrated book; if we arranged them in particular ways, they could tell many different stories. She strives to convey different emotions through her compositions, by doing so, she humanizes the spiritual beings she depicts. She gives them flesh, bone, and soul. Her drawing excels in the creation of textures, shadows, and movement, as well as design elements such as patterns and ornaments.
In the artist’s words, the interaction between these characters represent dualities, for example: life-death, day-night, masculine-feminine. She aims to portray a balance between these concepts, in order to stress the importance of change in life. All of her characters mutate constantly, so that they can tell a different story in each image. Intrigued by the spiritual properties of mezcal, she often depicts Mayahuel, the goddess of maguey, represented with large breasts, as a symbol of fertility.
Some of the most represented symbols in her work are: rabbits, representing masculinity and feelings; tlacuaches (opossums), which represent fire; and butterflies, which symbolize memories, but also transformation and possibility. Other symbols she frequently uses are hearts, because, as she explains: “they are the great engine of existence, you have to make things with love in order to have a good life”. Lately, Jainite has been drawing volcanoes, likening the force of these earth formations with women. She says: “a woman as a volcano is majestic, though she may seem calm, a lot is happening inside. Now that I'm developing this theme, Dr. Atl inspires me so much”.
The story behind some works
“This collection is from a series of watercolors I made, it was like a journal; that day I took a flight, the sun was rising and I could see in the distance a little bit of the Popocatepetl and the Iztaccíhuatl (The Sleeping Woman); that’s why it has a little volcano. To me, everything from dawn till dusk is a woman, everything possible is a woman. I believe that a great human being is giving us the sun, the moon. This is a monotype, which is a process in which you apply color over a base of acrylic plate with either ink, roller or brushes, and then you print in paper. It’s a unique piece, you can only make it once”.
“It is a big xoloitzcuintli woman, because, in the Mesoamerican cosmovision, this dog was the guide that used to take the souls to rest, or, better said, to transcend, because life didn’t end when you died, it rather transcended to another land. Inside this xolo woman, there are two characters: a human being and death, representing the cycle of life in the harvests. That’s why a glowing corn cob is in the middle of the scene. The woman is wearing a cape that I draw a lot; in antiquity it was commonly used as protection from the rain. It was made of palm tree leaves. I like it because it looks like feathers. The xolo woman is preventing this cycle from ending, while the butterflies around her symbolize memories. When a cycle ends, there are always memories left wandering around us”.
“That work was the first of the series; I haven't explored very much the theme of pregnant women yet, but that was very special because, in the end, Pachamama is Mother Earth. She has a jaguar mask, symbolizing the woman of the earth, it’s something very common in my work. When I want to render a woman deeply rooted into the earth, I draw her wearing a jaguar or a tiger mask. We can also find the same character, with her corn cane, in the works: Armonía, Encuentro, and Anatomía Silvestre. But, when it’s a woman in transition between life and death, or a woman completing a cycle, she uses a skull mask. It’s like she was disguising in death’s clothes without having passed yet”.
Art scene in Guanajuato and future perspectives
Jainite’s work captures the lively spirit of Guanajuato's effervescent cultural movement. She believes that the artistic movement in Guanajuato has always been significant, since the School of Arts of the Guanajuato University is well known locally and nationally, serving as a platform for the young artists from across the country to exchange new ideas. While she doesn’t consider herself a part of any collective, she collaborates with El Pinche Grabador as a duo.
Looking to the future, she envisions her practice evolving. For example, she plans on integrating color in her art. One guiding principle of her work is the understanding that perspectives on history are constantly changing and that no one has a definitive answer. She wants her art to remain open to interpretations: “These characters are embodied to give life to what the viewer wants to interpret, who could have an emotional connection with the work, and therefore make them part of their own story”. Overall, Jainite skillfully creates a captivating visual universe that embodies a dynamic vision of her identity, and, most importantly, a love for her cultural heritage, and pride in being a Mexican woman.
Written by Karina Ruiz Ojeda. Karina has a MA in Art History, is an independent researcher, art and music curator. She also teaches Spanish as a second language. She lives and works in San Andrés Huayápam, Oaxaca.