Kevin July 5th, 2009
It is with great saddness that I have to inform you all that on July 01, 2009 at 9;40am Jose Benitez Sanchez suffered a massive coronary and left us. He was undoubtably the best recognized Huichol artist. I don’t think that there is a museum or institution the world over that has done an exhibition of Huichol art without at least one of his pieces. Most recently the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology put on an exhibition of Benitez yarn paintings and published a book called ‘Visions of a Huichol Shaman’. The book and exhibition were curated by Peter Furst undoubtably one of the most eminant Huichol scholars.
Artes de Mexico edition no.75 titled Arte Huichol featured many of Benitez yarn paintings and had an indepth interview with the artist. It was just last month that Margarita de Orellana the director of Artes de Mexico contacted me looking for Benitez. They are planning to do an exhibition of his work in October at the University of Kobe in Japan.
Benitez as a boy was being trained by his father to become a shaman. An ardorous path that he left as his success in art began to grow. As a boy he had a job sweeping floors in the offices of the INI in Tepic. Benitez graduated from sweeping floors to buying artifacts that the Huichol would bring in like woven bags and small yarn paintings. Eventually, the director Salomon Nahmad asked if he could do yarn paintings like the other Huichol were bringing in to sell. It was there at the INI that Benitez met Juan Negrin a Harvard graduate student who began promoting his work in the US. Together they would transcribe in great detail the visions that Benitez had put into his work, their meaning and greater significance. Benitez never turned his back on his culture and eventually returned and finished his path to shamanism. In 2000, Jose Benitez Sanchez was awarded the National Award for Science and Arts.
Benitez was at Peyote People back in March signing books and explaining the meanings behind his art to a small but loyal group of collectors. He was an eloquente man who, even though Spanish was his second language, he could describe things with infinite detail. To this day I cringe when people ask me to translate the writting on the back of Benitez paintings. For one thing its not easy to think like a shaman, they speak metaphorically and tend to jump from past, present, and future with no regard to our linear way of thinking. But more than that, I’m affraid of not being able to capture the spirit that each and every piece that Benitez did had.