Jun 2, 2020

The Great Unmasking

As San Miguel began understanding the real threat of Covid 19, many of us began making cubrebocas / facemasks. I have a sewing machine, I had some fabric and as usual, most of what I used was repurposed clothing. When I had enough ready for a pickup, I called Guadalupe Alvarez at Amigos al 100After my donations were picked up by Amigos volunteer Alix Tze, I began making oversized masks to go with my large huipils, and some just to put on the wall. Do they serve a purpose? I don't know. Why am I passionate about creating them anyway? These are deep questions that I'm only in dialog with in the middle of the night, and they don't come with ready answers. 

So right now, I'm intrigued by the history of masks, and the metaphor of "the mask." What mask am I wearing? What mask are you wearing? The scientists, the politicians, what masks do they put on every day as they leave their homes to go to work, to speak to the public, to preach what may or may not be their true beliefs? Behind my mask, ie., persona, I am not my pink hair. That went away weeks ago. I don't wear the mask of a gallery owner - my space has been closed for more three months now, and who knows if there will be any need for it in the future. I don't currently wear the mask of a community activist, because I have tucked myself safely into my wee space, not in the midst of collecting, organizing, distributing to the community as many people are here in my beautiful neighborhood of Colonia Guadalupe. 

Until last week, the great conversation has been about masks, ie. wearing one or not wearing one, about where and when one must wear one. I had been thinking about the history of masks, back as far as the Lone Ranger and Tonto, because I’m of that generation. There was Zorro, Superman, Batman, and endless other superheroes. Aside from those, we have bank robbers, Halloween costumes, the traditions of Venetian masks and Mardi Gras. In Mexico and Guatemala, there is a long history of hand carved wooden masks, used for dances and ceremonies, and here in San Miguel, we have a mask museum where one can see a great variety and hear the stories about them.

Earlier when I said "until last week" I was referring to the brutal murder of George Floyd

The George Floyd Memorial community mural/shrine in Minneapolis

A culmination of so many injustices and wrongful murders, it rocked the U.S. like nothing we've witnessed in far too long. Because I know we've all watched the unbearable footage, I choose instead to represent Mr. Floyd in this beautiful mural created in his own community. His death and now the protests that follow, are ripping the mask off you, U.S.A. 
Your hundreds of years of systemic racism against black and brown people. 
Your silence when it comes to standing up for all your citizens, the oaths your police officers take to "protect and serve." 
Your blue uniforms are masks behind which you commit murder with impunity. 
Your politician's oaths are masks behind which you make laws that serve white citizens above the rest. 
Your white faces are showing behind the Covid masks you wear as you destroy property in the name of Black Lives Matter. 

If this is the apocalypse, let it be so. Religious connotations aside, here is the etymology of the word: 

Apocalypse: a Greek word meaning "revelation" and unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling."

So, here we are at the unveiling, the unmasking that we all must take a deep look at. The U.S. was built on the backs of slaves and it has not evolved since. Who are we? What mask are we still wearing? 

I have questions, and I know that I do not have answers. I see that what I am capable of is following my heart, which leads my hands into the unknown region of chaos sitting on my studio table right now. Art is my medium, my work. May we all follow our hearts in our own way, through our own work, until we recognize our human race and work for its survival. 

Apr 22, 2020


Everyone in the world is experiencing something together, for the first time in our lives. Even after all these weeks, that concept is still hard to wrap my head around. As I've been reminded, and totally agree with, we are not all in the same boat. Of course, if we're paying attention, we know we couldn't be. However, here in San Miguel we have a strong community working together to make sure that those in need are taken care of during this time. To name only one of many, Amigos al 100 is fulfilling daunting tasks every day, as are hundreds of others. 

At this time, it's said that we have 8 confirmed cases of Covid19, and regulations are getting stricter, finally, about the stay at home orders.

Just today, our beautiful botanical gardens of El Charco del Ingenio has closed. I imagine that was going to be a destination that many had hoped to walk around today, Earth Day. It's strange to see what is deemed essential business and what is not. Of course, art galleries are non-essential, except as food for the soul, and maybe food for the owner. La Huipilista Artspace has been closed since March 13, and I feel like an old hand at staying in, isolating, but also helping out where I can. Everyone has a story about what they would have been doing, what has been cancelled, or what changes have thrown them off their supposed norms. 

I've been thinking about mine as well, and realize that this week, I would have been in Antigua, Guatemala, presenting my book Whispers in the Thread. Friends had scheduled me for a booksigning and sale at the gorgeous destination hotel and restaurant, Meson Panza Verde

I was excited that I'd be seeing some of the people who have been instrumental in my work for many years, some in particular who would have seen themselves or their works in the book for the first time. Now, we just say that we hope to reconnect after the virus has died, when we're all safe, and travel bans are lifted.

Even before this month's plans were the cancellations for the month of March, which would have taken me to the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. My mission: a presentation to the art department, of my extensive work about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

When I cancelled, it was still January and they weren't at all sure that the virus would be an issue two months later. Sadly, I was right to cancel, but I do hope to return when it's feasible. 

Originally, after returning from UNC, I was scheduled to co-lead a textile tour to Chiapas with my friend Judith Gille. We had great plans to visit weaving communities, and both of us were scheduled to present our books on March 26 in the library at Na Bolom, in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. When I was last there, I shot this tranquil photo, although the event I was there for totally packed the room.

As with the other book tour, I was looking forward to connecting with friends, many of them who had been on this journey with me for so long. And some who would have recognized their parts in bringing the project to fruition. 

I'm hoping that this too, will be rescheduled when the time is right. For now, I wish you all a peaceful place to shelter, a trust that we'll get through this time together, and come out on the other side of it, as better human beings who take care for each other and our planet. 

Mar 11, 2020


Today I find myself thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the master of Magical Realism, and his book, Love in the Time of Cholera. It's more about the title than any similarity to the story itself. Maybe Stephen King's post-apocalytic bookThe Stand is better for comparison, and many of his fans are making that connection right now. For sure, we can count numerous novels and films in the sci-fi genre that have the ability to skew our perceptions of what this Covid-19 is, could be, might be, etc., conspiracy theories aside.

One of the toughest things for me, with this panic / pandemic / pandemonium is the non-handshake, non-hug hello, the non- kiss on the cheek, one side or both, that many of us are accustomed to. Daily. These small intimate gestures don't seem like much until we're told to forego them, for our sake and the health of those around us. One friend hugged me and then said, "well, if we can't hug or kiss, we might as well be dead." 

So, are we living in a time of magical realism itself, where rather than wash away, we can wish away a virus, because human touch means more to us? Is that another way of blurring the line between reality and myth? That's how artist Pandemonia describes herself. Called the Art World's Barbie, she's a bit like Banksy - she's real, we know she exists, but we don't know who she is or where she came from. Does that remind you of Covid-19?

Aside from all the art forms that will come out of this pandemic, I have other questions. Is Covid-19 more dangerous than "love" in a violent relationship that ends in death far more often than we'd like to believe? Or machismo that kills girls and women on a daily basis, with impunity in many cases? This was on my mind as we commemorated 8M, International Women's Day. 80,000 in Mexico City and thousands more around the world believe this is the pandemic of our existence right now. 

But every day now, we are blasted, and will continue to be, with more new findings about  Covid-19  and what to do about it. Are we all going to hide in our houses, working online, shopping online, until we have forgotten how to be with others? Isn't that what we all decry about social media, that it's made us forget how to interact with other humans? 

So the question to myself to day is, how do we show up for each other, take care of each other, more regularly, more authentically, move lovingly? 

Until we figure this out, I'll be blowing kisses to each and every one of you. 

Jan 27, 2020

The Salon at Nectar

"salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation."  So says Wikipedia. 

We shall amuse one another and have a conversation this Friday at Camino Silvestre's Correo 43 location, at 5 pm. I hope it will be as much fun as all those I've attended since Nectar began holding salons there last year. 

I'm working on an audio-visual presentation that gives the back story of the works in the book, segueing into the curious and dynamic journeys the works have taken since their creation. I don't think I ever expected that they would have a life of their own, and it's the first time I've really understood the continuum of my own arts + activism work. 

Limited seating, come early!

Jan 8, 2020


       To open a new year, I want to express my gratitude for all the love, support and encouragement that you, my friends and followers, have sent my way. 2020 started 
with a bang: a calendar filled with new adventures and opportunities. 

The December book launch at the Literary Sala was the first a series of book signings and presentations of Whispers in the Threads. Never having written or published a book before, I couldn't have guessed that every chair would be filled, that standing room would then be filled and that some people were turned away at the door. I would apologize for that, except that "who knew?" If you were one of those, trust me, I was as surprised as you were. 

Whispers in the Thread / Susurros en el Hilo book launch at Sala
Literaria, Bellas Artes San Miguel de Allende

And just before the year ended, I had was a book signing and presentation at
A Page in the Sun, a popular book store and cafe in Puerto Vallarta.
Polar opposite from the Lit Sala, this one was a smaller crowd, intimate enough
 to inspire thoughtful dialogue. I loved both extremes!

A Page in the Sun reading, Puerto Vallarta

Falling in the same time frame was a visit to my solo exhibition at MannMade Mexico
an exquisite design galleryt in the Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta. It's there until 
the end of this month, in case you happen to be in PV or surrounding towns.

Louise Mann and Lena Bartula in front of MannMade Mexico,
Puerto Vallarta.

What better way to get ready for a brave new year than just putting 
myself out there, front and center, with trust that all will be perfect no matter what's 
happening in the world around us right now. Oh, about those adventures and 
opportunities, I promise to put them in the next post! 

Dec 1, 2019


Dear friends, art lovers and book lovers, please 
join me for a Book Launch and Reading 

Tuesday, December 17, 5-7 pm
 Hernández Macías 75, Centro

8.5 x 8.5”, 147 pages, full color, bilingual english/spanish, soft cover
Design by Mary Meade, editing by Gina Hyams, translations by Cristina Potters
With foreword by Ana Paula Fuentes 

Get your copy at the book launch, $43. usd / 850 pesos. Also sold at
 La Huipilista Artspace, Julian Carrillo 1, Colonia Guadalupe 
Order your copy here: lenabartula@gmail.com with Paypal, or 

Whispers in the Thread celebrates 15 years of my huipil series. It has been an inspired, passionate deep dive into the mystery and seduction of a Mesoamerican garment that is at once text and textile. Borrowing from the idea of the shirt as messenger has transformed me from a painter into a fabric / collage / installation artist and along the way, an advocate for women's rights. Come along with me in this bilingual book that features full color images of my art and poetry, stories, legends and artistic process, plus writings by contributing authors Kathryn Jordan, Merilyn Simonds, Maia Williams.
Susurros en el Hilo celebra los 15 años de mi serie huipil. Ha sido un clavado inspirado, apasionado, en el misterio y seducción de una prenda mesoamericano que es a la vez texto y textil. Prestar de la idea de camisa como mensajero me ha transformado de una pintora en una artista de textil/ collage/instalación, y, en el camino, una voz en pro de los derechos de la mujer. Ven conmigo en este libro bilingüe que destaca imágenes a todo color de mi arte y poesía, cuentos, leyendas, y proceso artístico, además de escritos de autoras contribuyentes Kathryn Jordan, Merilyn Simonds, Maia Williams.


"Lena Bartula’s art is based on the huipil tradition and is both a modern interpretation and a tribute to the past. Her work is so complex that each piece has subtopics within subtopics – a weaving can be a fabric of pain and an installation can express injustice or joy. The intricacy and beauty of Bartula’s work is unique and belongs to the canon of what a garment – especially a woman’s garment - can mean." — Jennifer Clement, President, PEN International

"El arte de Lena Bartula se basa en la tradición del huipil; es a la vez una interpretación moderna y un tributo al pasado. Su trabajo es tan complejo que cada pieza cuenta con sub-temas y más sub-temas—una obra puede ser un tejido de dolor, de injusticia, de alegría. La complejidad y la belleza del trabajo de Bartula es única, y pertenece al canon de lo que alcanza decir una prenda—y más que nada, una prenda de mujer."

"Whispers in the Thread is a camino, each page a step honoring the women who spin, weave, and stitch their threads of joy and struggle into lives that matter. By embracing the Mesoamerican dress called a huipil as the vessel for her vision and story, Lena Bartula creates a bold and unexpected body of contemporary art and process thinking. Images and text leap borders and sociopolitical abstractions. These modern adaptations of the huipil are woven with threads of social consciousness relevant in our world today. This book is a spirit guide for the rest of us."—Maia Williams, Co-director, San Miguel Writers’ Conference & Literary Festival

"Susurros en el Hilo es un camino, cada página un paso que honra a las mujeres que hilan, tejen, y cosen sus hilos de alegría y lucha en vidas que importan. Al abrazar el vestido mesoamericano que se llama huipil como la vasija para su vision y su historia, Lena Bartula crea un valiente y inesperado cuerpo de arte contemporaneo y pensamiento del proceso. Imágenes y texto saltan fronteras tal como abstracciónes sociopoliticales. Estas adaptaciones del huipil se tejen con hilos de conciencia social relevante en el mundo actual. El libro es un guía spiritual para nosotros los demás."

published by 

Nov 3, 2019


I'm a woman who loves reading women's stories - throughout time and across cultures, contemplating what unites us and what separates us. One common thread is apparel: our relationship with our clothes. Many metaphors and sayings we use relate to sewing and weaving of our clothing, which in many cultures would be traditionally women's work. We spin yarns, we compliment a friend's outfit with "hey, nice threads!", we weave magic, and even the words text and textile have the same Latin root: "textere" to weave. It's thought that textiles were a language even before writing, and it's no surprise that some of us are in love with both the written word and the stitched word.

Often, the huipils I create are inspired by my own words, and often, by words, legends or stories of another. Since the early 1990s I've been enchanted by vintage huipils because they tell of a time when secrets and wisdom were woven into a garment for passing on to future generations. These are popular among textile collectors who love them not just for their colors and patterns, but also perhaps because we recognize the value of something richer and deeper than what we find in commercial cloth. They offer us a story of individuality within the context of community, and when we wear them, we might feel a part of "herstory" on a cellular or psychic level. As women, we've all learned that there are certain things not to be talked about, things we keep contained, and the huipil served as that kind of container for Mesoamerican weavers who were charged with keeping the wisdom alive.  

To an outsider, they may seem very much alike, but each huipil is as unique as the woman who weaves it. Each village has its own designs, colors and shapes, but each woman can weave her particular stories, hopes and dreams into her clothing. There are no two exactly alike.The color and pattern variations are reminiscent of nature itself - the feathers of a bird, the rows in a corn field, petals on a flower, the flow of a river. In this, we recognize that we are in nature and nature is in us. Like the "whole cloth" of the human race, what we have in common is so much more than what our differences might be. 

To celebrate my 'quinciñera', i.e.,15 years of creating alternative huipils, I've spent 2019 working on a book. Full color and bilingual, it's titled "Whispers in the Thread / Susurros en el Hilo." Those of you who have followed my blog all this time will recognize many of the works I've created throughout those years. It also features poems, stories, legends and a few selected works by contributing writers. Here's a sneak preview of the cover designed by Mary Meade. Printing is being done in Mexico City at Grupo Fogra, proof should be on the way this week. Color me excited!