Gigantes y Cabezudos

In an intensive workshop featuring seasoned artists from Spain, SCU students explored virtues and sins through the art of cartoneria, a Spanish and Mexican folk art tradition.

Gigantes y Cabezudos

In December 2005, a devil, a chicken head, a chocolate-dipped rabbit, a blue hand, a hamburger, and even a 12-foot-tall figure of St. Ignatius were among more than 30 “giants and heads” that paraded around campus. Accompanied by faculty member Jimmy Biala on drums, the parade was the culmination of an intensive project based on the Spanish and Mexican folk art tradition of cartoneria, which uses press-molded paper, a cardboard-like material, to make large heads and figures.

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This rooster head is one of several pieces that were created by Spanish artists David Ventura and Neus Hosta and flown in from Spain for the SCU workshop. These examples helped students visualize the project and better understand the medium.
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SCU student Liz Lueders works on her mask titled "Suicide." In her artist statement, Lueders wrote "I have chosen to comment on the moral issues surrounding suicide, and I have revealed in the Cabezudo's 'eyes' why he has taken his own life.... Throughout the weeks it took to create this sculpture, I received many shocked and startled responses."

The Department of Art and Art History coordinated the parade, which was held in conjunction with a 15-day intensive workshop taught by Sam Hernandez, SCU professor of art. The workshop also featured two artists from Navata, Spain—David Ventura and Neus Hosta—both of whom create heads and figures for use in public festivals and processions. A few of the figures in SCU’s parade were flown in from Spain, including the Ignatius figure, but SCU students created the majority of the figures in the parade.

Hernandez started the project by asking students to choose a virtue or a sin to portray in their projects. Then, under the guidance of Hernandez and the visiting artists, students brought their visions to life.

Students wore their creations in the parade, and parade-goers received a program that included an explanation of the cartoneria tradition and brief statements from the artists about which sin or virtue they chose, and why and how they chose to represent it.

“I chose gluttony because I am a huge food aficionado,” wrote SCU student Jessica Clee, who created a giant hamburger to represent that sin. “I come from a large family, and our family gatherings are usually centered around food. I consider eating one of the great pleasures of life…but just like all great pleasures, it must be done in moderation.”

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This devil's head is another piece that was created by Spanish artists David Ventura and Neus Hosta and flown in from Spain for the workshop.
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Sam Hernandez, SCU professor of art, works with SCU student Halina Boyd on her mask. Hernandez says he was thrilled and surprised by the intensive workshop he helped organize with Spanish artists David Ventura and Neus Hosta. "The quality of the student work was impressive," raved Hernandez.

Senior Michelle Dezember chose to represent ignorance. “The face of my sculpture is quite content and happy with his life,” she explains, “yet he is peacefully blinded from actually seeing the world around him. Instead he remains comfortable behind the things in his life that keep him satisfied. His car, his money, and his entertainment all act as a blindfold. They allow him to ignore the harshness of the real world and permit him to live a life of mediocrity where he is inactive and immobile. As the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ demonstrates, his blindness to the world lets him remain happy in the face of the horrors and suffering of the world.”

Hernandez says he was thrilled and surprised by the project. “The quality of the work was impressive,” he says. Because the project demanded that students explore and share their feelings in a public venue, Hernandez says he wasn’t sure how students would react to it. “But they completely embraced it,” he says. “In some senses I was surprised at how much they embraced it.”

“We are a country with very few traditions,” adds Hernandez. “This is a strong tradition in Europe—the Mediterranean, Italy, Spain, Greece, even France. The students there participate in the tradition. They enjoy it. They look forward to it. They are really proud of it.” He was happy to see SCU students have a taste of that pride.

In that tradition, he explains, each village has a signature or representative giant that they use in all its parades. “Maybe one day we will have a Santa Clara giant,” he muses.

— Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly ’93 is the contributing editor of Santa Clara Magazine.

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