In the past 20 years or so, Mexican cartonería has opened up to participation to artisans who are not from families who have no history associated with the craft.
While traditionalists may bemoan the “lack of connection” oft these nouveau-artisans to the past, it has become clear that they are responsible for expanding the reach of cartonería both geographically and artistically.
Gabriela Diaz is an interesting case, converting herself from student to international cultural embassador in paper and paste.
For most of her life, Diaz lived an ordinary life. She was born in Mexico City, living there and neighboring State of Mexico, but not from any artisan family. Her interest came only 3 years ago, living in Colonia Roma, Mexico City and discovering the Tlamaxcalli Workshop. She began taking classes with the intention of doing cartonería only has a hobby while she worked in marketing. However, in a short time she fell in love with both the craft as with maestros Alvaro and Jazmin, who she counts as dear friends, even leaving her job to create full-time.
In 2016, she and her husband decided to move from Mexico, where they lived for 10 years to his home of Rennes, France. Instead of trying to do marketing work, Diaz decided to continue her work as a cartonera, creating her own workshop called “La Poupée de Carton” (lit. cardboard doll). The move allows her to work her own schedule, one of the attractions of being a craftsperson, but still use her marketing background to promote her projects.
But perhaps it is fate that have given her the biggest boost. Last year Disney released the animated feature Coco, which features Mexican imagery, especially that related to Day of the Dead. While not about cartonería, this craft features prominently in the making of decorative items for altars such as colorful skulls and skeletal figures reflecting attitudes and actions of life.
Diaz saw the movie in France with French friends. She fell in love with the movie (has seen it three times so far) and her friends with Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
While Diaz makes and sells purely Mexican pieces, the making of Day of the Dead decorations and the tradition of incorporating local color means that she has the freedom to mix in French elements into her work. For example, she makes a kind of Brittany Catrina…. Mexico’s skeletal grand dame, but dressed in the traditional finery of the region of Rennes.
Her work has great appeal to those fascinated by Mexican culture, selling her pieces in both art and handcraft markets in France, as well a though the Internet and special orders. This work has also caught the attention of local and regional press despite her short time in the country.
Diaz admits that she will never get rich doing this work, but the satisfaction and appreciation she has found in France makes up for it.