Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Watermelon House

Some years ago my Digs collaborator Carol Hopkins invited me to "The Watermelon House" in Xochitepec, Morelos. She promised me a magical afternoon reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "One Hundred Year's of Solitude." I was not disappointed. Entering the world of "The Watermelon House" is a combination of Macondo, Wonderland, and Oz.  

A marvelous meal was served.  Each dish had watermelon as an ingredient, was served in a watermelon dish, or both. Everywhere I looked I saw a kaleidoscope of red, white, and green with watermelon art literally exploding from the walls and furniture.   

Now you too can experience this watermelon world created by artist Wilberth Azcorra. An exhibit of his art, "Fractales de Sandias" (Watermelon Fractals), is on view at Cuernavaca's Borda Gardens until October 21.  I attended the opening of the exhibit and arranged to have lunch with Wilberth a few days later.

Wilberth's current exhibit makes use of textiles, wood, tin, canvas, oils, and acrylics; all of it is watermelons, in every form.  Applying the literary and musical term for a recurrent theme to art, Wilberth refers to watermelons as his leitmotif. Having chosen only one topic for his art "has meant that I've found many ways to portray it, and I'm always finding more."

"I'm always challenged and find something new in my leitmotif.  If I said I'm satisfied with what I have created and I have found what I was searching for it would be as if I were no longer living."

Wilberth remembers watermelon farms near Valladolid, Yucatan, the city where he was raised.  "As children we were given the heart of the watermelon, its sweetest part.  A great treat, even though adults said 'it's just water.'" 

Not wanting to study to be a primary school teacher, which was Valladolid's only educational option, Wilberth applied, and was admitted, to the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura (ENA) at Chapingo.  At 16 he set off alone to Mexico City. 

A characteristic of the ENA, even under its new name of Chapingo Autonomous University, is that all students are on full scholarship and most live in student housing on campus -- a boon to a teenager needing to cover all of his own expenses.  Wilberth studied there two years before deciding that as much as he loved watermelons, growing them was not in his future.

He left to study philosophy and letters at the National Autonomous University. Wilberth entered artist Angela Gurria's weekly printmaking workshop where he worked to cover his tuition. Most of us have seen one of Gurria's grandest sculptures, the black and white 18-meter high "Señales" at the intersection of Mexico City's Periférico expressway and Avenida San Jeronimo. 

Gurria's assigned homework was to bring a print to the next session.  After a few sessions the other students teased Wilberth with "you're not going to bring another watermelon next time; are you?"  But, sure enough, his art was watermelon after watermelon. 

Gurria then said "If you want to continue in this workshop you must have an exhibit." 

"But where will I exhibit, Maestra?" asked the student.

"Find somewhere," was the teacher's reply.

Down the street from where Wilberth lived there was a restaurant called "La Sandia".  It gladly made wall space available.   

Maestra Gurria then told him, "That's not enough.  You need to exhibit frequently.  At least once every two years."  And with ever more varied exhibits, Wilberth has exhibited, in big cities and small towns.  His current exhibit is in the State of Morelos' most prestigious location for an art show. His next exhibit will be in Chiconcuac Morelos during the Days of the Dead.

By interesting coincidence, Gurria's exhibit "Tiempo de Trabajo" (Work Time) is overlapping that of her former student and continuing admirer at the Borda Gardens.  In fact the introductory text posted on the wall at the entrance to Gurria's exhibit is signed Wilberth Azcorra.

After last week's lunch at the cecina restaurant on the autopista to Acapulco, I drove Wilberth back to the Watermelon House.  The Watermelon House not only features Wilberth's work but hundreds if not thousands of watermelon gifts received by this avid collector. He asked what I'd like to drink.  Spotting a watermelon on the kitchen counter I knew there was only one appropriate answer:  "agua de sandía".

Wilberth's home in Xochitepec, with it's Yucatecan ambience, is open on request to groups of 10 or more for an exceptional Yucatecan meal with a watermelon flair accompanied by marvelous, thought-provoking conversation.  Keep it in mind when traveling to Xochicalco, Taxco, Acapulco, or as an excursion from nearby Cuernavaca.

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