By: FJM and UNICEF Mexico
The Jorge Marin Foundation, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today launched the project “Art and Language”, comprising, initially of four audio-visual capsules in which, based on the work of the artist Jorge Marin, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, children from Triqui (Oaxaca) and Maya (Yucatan) communities converse in their respective indigenous languages.
“Art and Language” – developed by a multidisciplinary team comprising art historians, audio-visual filmmakers, child psychologists and members of indigenous groups- promotes the right of all children and adolescents to learn in their own language, as well as to participate in the cultural and artistic life of their communities and country.
Indigenous roots, and particularly the Mayan cosmovision and culture, are fundamental to the work of Jorge Marin. The influence of these is evident in his pieces, for example, in the sculptures inspired by ancestral mythology.
The indigenous population in Mexico, representing 10.1% of the country’s population, speak 68 languages, with 364 linguistic variations. However, many children and adolescents in Mexico do not have the possibility of being educated in their mother tongue. In addition, according to INALI 2015 estimations, 51 languages will have disappeared by 2035.
Despite the international and national framework that promotes the culture, language and education of indigenous populations, education indicators for this population reflect a considerable lag, particularly regarding learning outcomes.
As evidence of this, a fifth of the indigenous population (17.8%) are illiterate and among speakers of indigenous languages, 1 in 4 (25%) cannot read or write. These figures are far higher than those observed on a national level (5.5%), according to estimations of the educational panorama for indigenous and afro-descendent populations by INEE and UNICEF in 2017.
Furthermore, students in indigenous schools fare worse in standardized testing. For example in the PLANEA 2018 test, 96% of indigenous children and adolescents in 6th grade of Primary school, were not able to achieve a satisfactory level in Language and Communication.
“This reality shows the need to strengthen models of bilingual, intercultural education to ensure their quality, and cultural and language relevance in schools. We know that children learn better when using their mother tongue”, noted Christian Skoog, UNICEF Representative in Mexico.
“All children and adolescents have the right to a quality education, regardless of race, color, or ethnic origin. Furthermore, education in the mother tongue is a human right recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties”, added Skoog.
On this issue, Jorge Marin noted that, “currently, we are facing the loss of various indigenous languages, which puts people on a path to cultural exclusion and the destruction of our intangible patrimony. As such, it is important that children learn in their mother tongue, and that resources that they can access, are in their language and compatible with their culture”.
Through the Jorge Marin Foundation, “Art and Language” undertakes artistic and social projects- on a national and international level- based on the work of the Mexican sculptor. For Marin, “these audio-visual capsules were developed to bring contemporary art closer to the children in two different indigenous regions- Triqui and Maya-, both with a living language and rich culture dating back to prehispanic times”.
“It is material designed to be translated into other languages, and that can be replicated in any region or country that maintains its original language and that may be in danger of extinction”, added the sculptor.
“Without culture, there is no language, and vice-versa”, noted Lorena Hau Ucán, member of the Mayan community of Kinil in the Yucatan. She stressed the importance of the project, as through this “the children learn in their language, and it is them who will teach it in the future and ensure continuity of the culture”. According to this teacher and defender of indigenous languages, it is important “that children do not only see art in books, but that they can interact with it and imagine themselves as artists, or that they connect professionally with the culture”.