(Photo Essay) Matrix, Mother, Womb by Lena Bartula

Antigua, Guatemala, 2014

Matrix can be described as ‘something in which something else develops or forms.’ Also as ‘something shaped like a pattern of lines and spaces.’ In Spanish, it translates to “Matriz: womb.” In several exhibitions since 2008, visitors to my exhibitions have been invited to choose a pre-cut   paper huipil, i.e. a blouse or dress in Mesoamerica that served as a message bearer. They can then use a marker provided, to write a tribute, message, or poem to an important woman in their lives, whether human, divine, mythological, etc. The collection now includes approximately 700 – 800 notes in all languages, all in praise and support of the feminine. It is interactive only when I’m available in the gallery to keep refilling with blank huipils.


Antigua, Guatemala, 2014

Each huipil is 2-sided, so it can be installed in a window or in the center of a room where visitors can pass between the ropes that hold it. It’s usually presented on a grid like those used in construction, or strung on a fine clothesline across a gallery. The first time I made one was in Albuquerque; the original idea came from seeing the film of the same name. It was such a heavily patriarchal title, I wanted to know more, so I began researching the etymology of the word. This came about synchronistically as I was preparing an exhibition titled Mensajes Guardados / Saved Messages. I was already working with the theme of huipil, enjoying the natural amalgamation of text = textile. While considering the multiple meanings of the word Matrix, I happened on a junkyard with these construction grids, and the project was born. I decided I wanted to ask visitors to write messages to Mother, any mother, and I began cutting up recycled maps, gift wrap, any kind of paper, to fit the grid openings.

Bellas Artes, San Miguel de Allende, Mx.
Bellas Artes, San Miguel de Allende, Mx.

Every so often, there are many who decline my invitation to participate in what I call “our” exhibition. They can’t bear to think of it, because of unloving memories it triggered. I say “thank you for sharing that, but this isn’t only about paying glorious tribute to your Earth Mother, it can be broader than that,” and we begin the exploration of Mother Earth, Mother Nature, Mother gods, Fairy Godmother, etc. and slowly easing into the Good Mother / Bad Mother syndrome. Sometimes then it becomes a deep conversation, and other times, it’s too intense and the woman will simply excuse herself. The large number of ‘walking wounded’ around this subject increases both my awareness and my compassion.

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mex.

On the other hand, there are some expected notes, some loving, some irreverent, some of course, that I can’t read because of the language, so in reality, they could say almost anything. In the midst of the writing, and the reading of what others write, I witness and participate in rich conversations about things like the correlation between La Virgen de Guadalupe and Green Tara, for instance. Or the need for earth goddesses to arise in our consciousness as we battle the corporations that further impact climate change, water and air pollution and our food supply. Then too, the talk can turn to the finding and nurturing of our inner mother, and even our inner daughter. Each time this interactive Matrix is displayed, it gifts us all with a deeper interconnectedness within the grid.


Meet Mago Contributor Lena Bartula

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