Mar 5, 2017


The climate of hate growing in the U.S. seems to have its exact opposite here in San Cristobal de las Casas. Walking the streets, whether in centro or in the neighborhoods, most people greet and are greeted with a smile, if not a buenos dias, tardes or noches. This is not because they feel the need to be friendly, it's just the tradition they're used to, much the same as in San Miguel or any other city in Mexico. 

I arrived here a couple of weeks ago to install my latest huipil exhibition, CUENTOS COSIDOS. For non-Spanish speakers, it roughly translates to Stitched Tales. Most every piece in the exhibition has a tale to tell, a story to share. I share them gladly and hopefully with the people here, extending a hand of peace, tolerance and justice. I feel it's one small thing I can do as an "white-faced gringa from el norte." In reality, it's the same work I've been doing since the huipil series began in 2003. The works in CUENTOS COSIDOS span the years 2008 - 2017. 
El Tendedero, the clothesline works from 2009, still here to
represent women whose voices and/or lives were negated. 

There isn't a single piece that addresses "grab 'em by the pussy" or "they're not sending their best".... just two of the infamous phrases that represent the new Hater in Chief. And I say the rather than our, because he does not represent me. Actually, we all know that it isn't only this new regime at fault. The U.S. has consistently created, fed and supported dictators privately, while condemning them publicly. But until now, never within our own country. 

So, this self-proclaimed art ambassador, (me) spreader of truth and beauty, with magic sprinkles in my pocket and a smile on my face, is here to gather tales, stitch them again and again, weave them together with the threads of color, joy and tolerance and love. 

Installation detail of Detrás de la Etiqueta
Detrás de la Etiqueta / Behind the Label, 2013

Jan 23, 2017


Haiku came into my life so unexpectedly, so instantaneously, and I have no way to understand or explain.  Towards the end of December, I remembered a box of Haiku magnets that I had bought, so I pulled out some strips and placed them on the front of the guest refrigerator. Thinking that there are so many writers and poets that stay at Casa Lenita, I felt I was doing it for them, giving them one more little morsel of playtime while they're making coffee or preparing food in the terrace kitchen.

Guest Haiku / play time!

Then one day, I noticed I too, was writing some every day. I began to think of the 365 small huipils from 2015, that might like some new attention.  As I  sifted through the tiny artworks, they seemed to guide me towards commentary. Not necessarily the usual Haiku content, which historically relates to seasons, nature, temperatures, etc.  According to The Haiku Foundation, it can also describe things and events which produce certain feelings in us. All are 3 lines, which is the rule of Haiku, and even though not all of them follow the rule of 17 (syllables), it seems an auspicious number as I dive into this project. 

In truth, 2017 began with such explosive, politically charged issues, that I needed for a place to put these emotions that ranged from deep sadness to outrage to helplessness and back and forth between acceptance and just trying to find my own center. This week of inauguration and the Women's March has been exceptionally challenging; I've fallen behind and am earnestly trying to regain my daily routine of writing. 

Huipil Haiku from 36542015

on feeling lost:

trail twists upward now 

hit my heart sideways
watch for the signs

Huipil Haiku from 36542015

on boasting:

from out of your mouth
polluted rivers spill mayhem
small birds resist bites  

Huipil Haiku from 36542015

on divisiveness: 

the split is real
inner and outer
may we find our center

Huipil Haiku from 36542015

on the inauguration:

other revolutions
tell us change is possible
coffee for everyone

What I'm noticing is a subtle yet circular connection between the works I made 2 years ago, and the events / emotions / experiences of right now. As is stated in The Haiku Foundation, "a haiku gives the reader a sense of something happening at a specific moment in time."  We shall see if this synchronicity continues to occur as I follow this path. 

Dec 15, 2016



But all of these are true, so it's just the end of another year. Each December is for me, another ending, another beginning, due to my birthday being this month as well. 

2016 began with preparations for my solo exhibition at El Nigromante Bellas Artes, titled HILOS. (Threads)
Lena Bartula's HILOS exhibition, Bellas Artes, San Miguel de Allende
(photo credit: Hal Schade)

365 Huipiles for 2016, Lena Bartula, Bellas Artes, San Miguel de Allende
(photo credit: Hal Schade)

In July, I travelled to San Cristobal de las Casas, for a stint at the paper-making workshop Taller Leñateros. I was so inspired by the process, the town, and then, by the director, Javier, that he and I began to work towards an exhibition of HILOS. He secured all three salas at Casa de la Enseñaza, a spectacular cultural center in the heart of San Cris. It's set to open March 4, 2017.

Casa de la Enseñaza, San Cristobal de las Casas

And as I was enjoying a nice autumn vacation with the family, I got an invitation to show here in San Miguel with my friend Alberto Lenz, the director of Bellas Artes. He is a prolific painter, sculptor and jeweler, and I'm honored to be sharing an exhibition with him that runs from December 16 to February 13, at Bar Berlin. For this, I made new works, smaller and two-dimensional, for the first time in 5 years. Many of these are re-visioned, re-cycled works that were never resolved, but are now finally what they wanted to be.

Promotion for Armonías en Oposición / Opposing Harmonies

For now, it feels like the END OF A REMARKABLE YET UNREMARKABLE YEAR. I'm grateful for it, and for all my friends and supporters who continue to fill my life with abundance, frivolity, creativity, meaning and love.


Sep 5, 2016


My obsession with huipiles began in 1995 in Mexico City, when I met an elderly woman named Mercedes sitting outside the bank where I was on the hunt for an ATM machine, aka Caja Automatico. Mercedes was perched on a step, in the shade of the bank building, selling a few colorful things that caught my eye.  Wearing a blouse of the most intricate and dynamic weaving that I had ever seen, she told me it was called a huipil. Then she regaled me with stories of her village, San Antonio Aguas Calientes, in Guatemala. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was then that I became a huipilista. Since that day, due to my encounter with Mercedes and the first huipil I ever bought.... 

Lena Bartula / first huipil in an ever-expanding collection.

.... I have loved, collected and worn huipiles, travelled to find them and traded to acquire them. To this day, they continue to speak to me in the language of art, and of heart. I didn’t know until years later, what influence they would have in my life and my art.
And I didn't know until recently how much I wish this huipil was still whole. I split the seam, years ago, and gave it the other half to my ex-other half. I hope he's still enjoying his as much as I enjoy mine. 

The second part of that story is this only two of Mercedes' meager offerings went home with me. Besides the huipil, I also bought this mask from her. 
Lizard Woman mask, collection of Lena Bartula

No one would be very surprised to learn that it turned into this collection that now lives in my Mexican kitchen:

Mask collection, Mexico and Guatemala

Aug 30, 2016


Lidia Lopez, from San Antonio Aguas Calientes, is a maestra in every sense of the word. An expert weaver on a backstrap loom, she also knows the foot loom, embroidery techniques, thread preparation, dyeing, selling, teaching, and the symbolism of the figures on any given huipil from any region of Guatemala.  I'm not sure there's anyone better I could have connected with, not only because of all that, but that she's a genuinely kind, loving, brilliant, fabulous being on all levels.
Lidia Lopez and her bird, Tikal
 When I was in Antigua, we collaborated on a huipil, my first experience ever on a backstop loom. She and her sister Blandena created the warp, then she and I together worked on the weft, recycling both plastic bags and fabric strips. Here's a bit of what Kerstin Sabene and Emy Bartula captured on camera. 
Blandena and Lidia on their patio in San Antonio Aguas Calientes.

Not finished, but happy that we got this far in only 2 weeks. The remainder will have to be done in my studio in San Miguel de Allende. Gracias por todos, amigas queridas!

Jul 15, 2016


Last week, La Huipilista spent a few days at Taller Leñateros, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. San Cris, as it is lovingly called by some, is in many ways very similar to San Miguel de Allende. Gorgeous colonial architecture, grand churches and precious plazas, colorful facades, although with more varied color choices from blue to green to hot pink. Upscale restaurants of every kind, near perfect climate but with more rain, and the same friendly, generous people. But that might be where the similarity ends.

 Ample sidewalks and walking streets that ring the central plaza abound with sidewalk cafes, buildings that are lower, often not more than one or two stories tall. Indigenous peoples from surrounding communities, offering artesania and wearing tipica traje, i.e. huipiles, and the women's skirts are made from sheepskin as often as from the loom. With all of this, it reflected the Mayan influence of their brothers and sisters across the border in Guatemala. Indigenous languages too, mostly Tzotzil, are incredibly well preserved, and they speak it more often than Spanish.

Even though I had planned to write about the workshop I took, I'm going to continue down this line of thought and feature some of the fabulous huipiles and other textiles. The Museo de los Altos de Chiapas and Museo de los Trajes Regionales "Sergio Castro" had some examples of the finest clothing I've seen. 

And so, I leave you to drool over these, until the next time, when I tell you about the paper making workshop at Taller Leñateros.  

May 8, 2016


'Ni Una Mas' is a slogan used by mothers when their slain daughters, victims of Femicide, are found in Ciudad Juárez.  The murder of women, whether in Mexico or other parts of the world, rather than decreasing, is on the increase. I wanted to call attention to this on March 8, International Women's Day, with an art intervention. 

Pink crosses remember the victims of femicide in Ciudad Juárez

Today being Mothers' Day, I decided to write about it. Because it's the MOTHERS who make the pink crosses, who mourn, and who march in the streets, push for legislation, and cry out for justice. These are warrior women, as are the mothers of the 43 students who refuse to stop asking the tough questions.  

Arriving at the Bellas Artes that morning, my friend Emerson Pirot and I carried pink crosses, candles, flowers, and a huipil I had created in 2009, to commemorate  these women.
Ni Una Mas huipil, Lena Bartula, 2009

Along with  Antonio, the ever-helpful groundskeeper, we began to trace a figure in the dirt of the courtyard. 
Then the Ni Una Mas huipil was placed on top of the figure, and we completed the space with the crosses and other things we had brought. As we placed the last pieces, it began to rain, heavily and unseasonably, so much that we had to stop for a few hours. 


We watched helplessly as the huipil sank into the rocks that were there to hold it down in the wind. At 4 pm, the sun came out, and some members of Ser Mujer along with other friends, gathered to join us in a small ceremony. Standing in a semi-circle, each of us read aloud a name of one woman from Juárez, plus that of any woman we knew who had been a femicide victim. Due to the rains, we were unable to light a candle, but the spirit of sisterhood, motherhood, and solidarity shone brightly.
Ni Una Mas ceremony at Bellas Artes, International Women's Day 2016
Recently, Annie Leibovitz viewed and photographed a section of the rio with pink crosses in Chimalhuacan.