(Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)
Dinorah Lejarazú is a modern-day scribe who lives and works in Mexico City. She’s been meticulously reproducing Mexican codices by hand for many years and her work is of fine quality. Several of her codices are on permanent exhibition in the National Anthropology Museum in the capital. You’d think she would have gained widespread recognition. Think again...
or starters, to our amazement there’s no acknowledgement in the Museum of Anthropology to Dinorah as the painter of the facsimile codices on display! Worse, a few years ago she donated 200 hand drawn copies of the Codex Boturini to the Mexican Ministry of Education (SEP) for use in schools. She heard nothing more until, to her utter astonishment, a friend alerted her to a radio advert offering (her) copies of the Codex for sale (to tourists) in the Anthropology Museum shop! Upset, she immediately recovered them: they have languished ever since in a cupboard in her house.
Worse still, back in 1992 (for the 500th anniversary of Columbus in America) Dinorah produced - on sheets of real amate bark paper - over a hundred black-and-white copies of key pages from pre-Hispanic codices, and offered them to Mexican education authorities for use in museums and schools, for children to colour in. They were rejected. To add insult to injury, her proposals to work personally in schools with children on codex painting were regularly turned down. Understandably, she has become deeply disillusioned in her efforts to promote the teaching of pre-Columbian art and writing among Mexican children.
Like her Mexica counterpart (top picture, left), Dinorah remains passionate about her work. She has carefully studied the art of the Aztec/Mexica tlacuilo or scribe. Her son Manuel is a scholar with CIESAS (a key Mexican research centre) who has researched and published important studies of ancient Mexican codices. She uses the finest materials to create her facsimiles - animal skins (calf today since it’s now illegal to use deer skin in Mexico) that must be painstakingly scraped and then coated with stucco (very thin plaster) to ‘hold’ the ink, pigments and colours that she sources from around the world (from Mexican azul maya and ochre to Winsor & Newton artists’ materials from England...). She draws with a pencil initially, adding the painted red-and-black outline only at the end with a very fine paintbrush. Just one mistake is fatal - it means starting again from scratch!
Before starting work on a codex, Dinorah offers a simple prayer or dedication, and would encourage Mexican school children to do the same, as a mark of respect for pre-Columbian traditional beliefs.
When, during our meeting with her, she heard of Mexicolore’s work in English schools teaching Aztec/Mexica culture - and with extensive use of replica codices - she did not hesitate: she asked her grandson to retrieve from a shed outside her house a suitcase-worth of over a hundred of her reproduction codex pages, all drawn in black-and-white on amate bark paper - yes, the same ones she herself had offered to Mexican schools back in 1992 - and immediately donated them to us as a resource for primary schools studying the Aztecs here in England.