Huichol Beaded Skulls


Catherine Martin – My Exquisite Corpse

19/12/12 – What is Huichol Art?

While I was searching through Amor Y locura on Gertrude Street, I had discovered these amazing beaded skulls on the bottom shelf within the glass cabinet. I was immediately attracted to all the different colours and patterns, they were just exquisite! I asked the lady about the skulls, she explained that the skulls were imported from Mexico and the beads also reflect a tradition within Northern America known as Huichol. A gentleman had approached the counter who explained that the various patterns and designs represent different representations.

I was fascinated with this particular style of art, although there is limited research that is available on the internet. I was able to discover that “Huichol Art” reflects some of the ancient traditions and beliefs from the Pre-Hispanic community in Mexico. According to the British Museum, there are some “Indian Tribes” that decorate the skulls in an assortment of beads. The skulls do feature a very distinctive quality and I can imagine that the skulls do require hours of patience in order to achieve such a decorative design.


Scorpions x Flowers by Revolucionario

On the other hand, David Baird, Shane Christensen, Christine Delsol  & Joy Heoo explains that the “Huichol Art” is still a traditional practise within some indigenous communities and the majority of the artworks are sold within a place known as “Puerto Vallarta”. What I did not realise was the fact that the beads are also “pressed in wax” as referenced by David Baird in “Frommer’s Mexico, 2011”. (Baird, 2011)

I decided to undertake further research into “Huichol art” and Hope MacLean in “The Shaman’s Mirror: Visionary Art of Huichol” explains that “Huichol art” has become a popular trend since the 1990’s. Artists in Northern America often decorated real animal and human skulls in colourful beads, the “Huichol Artists” often decorated very wealthy establishments and homes. (Maclean, 2012) I suspect the skulls that I had found in the store were not real human skulls, I would imagine the price would be rather extortionate. I will find out whether the skull is real on my next visit to Amor Y Locura, which will be very soon, every time I travel to the city, it’s one of the first stores I walk into.

huichol skulls
Beaded Skulls by My Exquisite Corpse & Huichol People

From what I have read so far, Huichol beadwork does contain very complex meanings and representations. David Baird & Shane Christensen also explain that the artists do incorporate animals, reptiles and other natural elements into their designs. Most artists usually reflect animals that do not have any relevance to their own indigenous culture.

Baird & Christensen quote “Usually the beaded designs represent animals, plants, elements of fire, water or air; and certain symbols that give a special meaning to the whole. Deer, snakes, wolves and scorpions are traditional elements; other figures such as, Iguanas, frogs and any animals not indigenous to the Huichol territory”  (Baird & Christensen, 2012)  I did find this particular statement interesting; it is very interesting to realise that most of the designs reflect animals, trees or plants.

I am currently researching this particular subject and I hoping to learn more about the symbolic meaning behind the designs used in “Huichol Art”. It is really great to see artists preserving and maintaining some of their own cultural heritage. What I do find particularly interesting is the fact that there are artists working with other indigenous tribes in order to learn more about Huichol Art including the various patterns and designs.


My Exquisite Corpse & Huichol People

I then began to question has Huichol Art become a trend in contemporary art and popular culture? I think it would be rather challenging to disregard these amazing and intricate designs! i wonder how this particualr art from is interpreted in the Western culture? as we normally associate death with the absence of colour. When I see these beautiful beaded skulls I cannot help admiring the vibrant colours; in a way the skull has been aestheticized and I no longer see the skull as a symbol of death. To me the beaded skulls become a reminder of life, nature and beauty rather than a reminder of death.

There are black and white beaded skulls but the patterns do not resonate any reminder of death. I suppose the pattern may influence one’s own representation of the skull, if there were crosses I may have a completely different interpretation towards the beaded skull. I must confess, I wouldn’t mind having my own skull decorated in colourful beads when I die, to me it’s important to adopt a positive attitude towards death.

Cartherine Martin is a contemporary artist that works within this particular market; according to LN – CC, Catherine Martin had discovered Huichol Art in Mexico who has also worked with certain tribes in order to create her own beaded skulls in vibrant and decorative designs. I remember research Catherine Martin’s work at the very beginning of the year, although I was not aware of Huichol art until a couple of weeks ago when I had walked into Amor Y Locura. i must admit the store is a fantastic place to visit if you are hoping to learn more about the Mexican culture. (LN-CC, 2012)

Stay tuned for more research on the Huichol Skulls!

Reference List

1. “Huichol Indian Art Skull, Small”, The British Museum, Accessed 23/12/12,

2. Baird, David, Christensen, Shane, Delsol, Christine & Hepp, Joy. “Huichol Art in Puerto Vallarta” in Frommer’s Mexico, 2011. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing Inc, 2010.

3. MacLean, Hope. “The Sharmon’s Mirror” in The Sharmon’s Mirror: Visionary Art of the Huichol. Texas: University of Texas Press, 2012.

4. Baird, David & Christensen, Shane. “A Huichol Art Primer” in Frommer’s Portable Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Guadalajara. Under “Beadedpeices”. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

5. “Interview: Catherine Martin – Our Exquisite Corpse”, LN – CC, Accessed 23/12/12.

Image Citations

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