Few forms of religious folk art are as abundant or expressive
as Mexican Retablos. Most
commonly found throughout the states of western Mexico, retablos
are small colorful paintings on sheets of tin dedicated to images
of Christ or the Virgin and left in well-known shrines as tokens
of thanks. They contain stories of dangerous or threatening events
from which the subjects have been miraculously delivered through
the intervention of the holy image, to whom thanks are reverently
Originating from the Latin word retro-tabula, "behind
the altar," retablos first referred to paintings and sculpture
placed behind the altars of European Catholic churches in the early
Middle Ages. Retablo painting
gradually emerged as a genre in Mexico at the beginning of the
seventeenth century as a unique fusion of European and Amerindian
traditions. With the introduction of inexpensive tinplate in the
midnineteenth century, many more people could afford to have retablos made.
Today, retablos are a thriving popular art form that has
influenced some of Mexico's leading artists.
The images and texts found in this gallery come from retablos
of Mexican migrants who have endured the troubles and difficulties
of crossing the border in search of employment in the United States.
The retablos themselves are works of art, old and deep-seated religious
expressions, depicting the migrants' experience. The
texts, which complement the retablos, give a brief explanation
for the reason a migrant prayed or gave thanks to a particular
Saint or Virgin. The texts capture not only the physical, but also
the social phenomena, of Mexican migration. It allows one to see
that making the decison to migrate is not simply an economic phenomena,
but rather a cultural, emotional, and religious phenomena.