These works are inspired by the fantastical creatures now widely crafted by Mexican artisans.
Originated by a certain Pedro Linares, in 1930s Oaxaca, who, falling very ill, dreamt of a strange place populated by incredible creatures; upon recovering he began to materilise his visions and soon the value of these creations was recognised, others began to make them, and they have since became extremely popular, both with the Mexican public and international tourists.
I have used alebrije-making as an exercise with students to explore their understandings of biology, their imaginations, and their creative practice, alongside the role of different forms of text in authorising knowledge (they have to accompany their alebrije with an interpretative 'text' of some sort). My own efforts began with inventing, then making (Thorny Puffer-bird 2016) and are now focussed on allowing my 'beast' to emerge from driftwood material (Jungle Ooze-wallow 2018) and, in 2019, the Six-eyed, Spotted Thwark (Thwarkus stiktika) with commensal Thwark-snake (Thwarkopthidis filomenos), attacked by a Beaked Crabulus (Kavulas ramphostis).
The Thorny Puffer-bird was a flightless species recently discovered living in the undergrowth of the remote forests of Fafafa on the Island of Guff, where it fed on fruit, insects, small animals. A distant cousin of the Kea (Nestor notabilis), and remarkably, despite its bright colours, was well camouflaged - which explains why it was only recently described. The full range of its colours only became apparent when in defensive display, such that in response to any significant threat the bird inflated itself, raising its specially adapted quill-like feathers, and opening its wings and mouth to flash bright yellow. The effect was to make the bird appear large, menacing and to surprise would-be attackers.
Moreover, at the same time its eyes would take on a hypnotising appearance and the bird produces loud bellowing calls, which sounded not unlike a large mammal passing wind. Similar calls of a higher range were used to attract mates and deter rivals during the breeding season. Unfortunately, the distinctive features of the Thorny Puffer-bird made it an object of desire for collectors, both of live and preserved specimens, and despite attempts to protect it through the establishment of local protected areas and legal instruments, the population has been in steady decline. It was hoped that a systematic campaign conducted in collaboration with the native islanders will be effective in reversing the fortunes of this unique species. However, sadly, no living specimens have been recorded for several years and it is feared extinct.
The Thorny Puffer-bird
The Jungle Ooze-wallow is thought to have been described first by the renowned explorer Sir Billy Posenby Farquar on the basis of remains he found one of his porters eating during his 1869 expedition to British Guyana. Much of the carcass had been consumed, so the forelimbs and unusual tail were not included in the image drawn in his expedition diary. Indeed, he described the ‘dubious’ creature as perhaps belonging to the monogeneric primitive snake family, Acrochordidae, rather than the even more unique representative of the monospecific two-legged, scale-less, aquatic, lizard family, the Bipedidae, which it was subsequently proven, to be
The Jungle Ooze-wallow is remarkable in many ways. Accidently rediscovered as recently as 1977, it was found living in liquid mud deposits in the Guyanan rainforest, where it apparently feeds by scooping up mud in its elongated lower jaw and sieving out small animals through its large array of teeth. With its powerful ‘suckered’ legs and elastic body it is able to squirm effortlessly through the mud and amongst tree roots. Its scales have evolved into small, shiny cell cluster patterns with a limited ability to expand and contract and thereby change the animal’s colour proportions to afford some camouflage capacity. The tail is also specially developed as a bifurcate organ with teeth-like, horny protuberances and two eye-like, bright red, raised spots, which together make it look like a head and likely confuse predators. Also, the tail ‘teeth’, which are hard and sharp, are probably used in defence. The Jungle Ooze-wallow’s eyes are also highly adapted to function in its murky habitat, being sensitive to low light levels and the slightest movements, which enables it to evade predators and helped it remain undiscovered for so long.
A Six-eyed, spotted thwark and commensal Thwark-snake being attacked by a Beaked crabulus. All three species were sympatric with the Jabberwock, Jubjub bird, and the frumious Bandersnatch, described by Lewis Carol in 1871. Sadly, no details of the original distributions and detailed ecology of any these species have been found, and no further records of their existence have appeared.
Six-eyed, spotted thwark and commensal Thwark-snake (Thwarkus stiktika, and Thwarkopthidis filomenos), being attacked by a Beaked crabulus (Kavulas ramphostis)