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Nacimeintos/Nativity Scenes, Latino Public Art Installation in the Front Yard

A different angle on a Nacimiento.  Photo: Albert Lopez
A different angle on a Nacimiento. Photo: Albert Lopez

During the Latino Christmas season, which begins December 12th on the Feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe and lasts until January 6th the Epiphany, Latino front yards become a celebration of public art installations.  Unlike many Christmas lawn decorations, which are pre-designed and store bought, the Latino front yard Nativity scenes are personal explosions of creative ideas.

The creation of Nacimientos/Nativity scenes is a Christian tradition that dates back to the 12th Century when St. Frances attempted to highlight the celebration of the birth of Jesus through creating a Christmas scene, rather than gift giving that was popular at that time. The early nativity were humble installations.

The enclosed Latino front yard becomes the perfect venue to keep this tradition alive by hosting these large dioramas.  Residents spend days in their front yards setting up these imagined places.  The fence that encloses the front yard creates the protection for the miniature landscapes needed from dogs, and children. The visually permeable chain link or wrought iron fence allows the public viewing access and create a space for the public to peer into the front yards.

These rich public displays highlight the handy work of (mainly) woman who attempt to represent the birth of Jesus.

Photo: Albert Lopez
Photo: Albert Lopez

These women tap into their memories of places, real and imagined and knit them together in elaborate dioramas.  They utilize the existing site conditions and materials at hand. The ubiquitous suburban front yard is transformed into a magical place.

The construction of the Nacimientos can be as simple as putting a table in the front yard and placing the diorama on top of it. Others scenes are elaborate, elevated land masses of mountains, valleys, and plains that start on the ground plain and work themselves up to as high as three feet. Cardboard, sand, rocks, moss, construction paper, real plants are all used to create the landscape.

Shimmering waterfalls, creeks, and ponds made of foil, mirrors and cellophane, are added to the mossy landscapes to create a rich tactile character.

Animated animals, Christmas tunes, flowing water, and lights create engaging dioramas.

From the mountain’s of central Mexico, the dessert’s of Northern Mexico, to the jungles’ of the southern Mexico, the artist create the topography and landscapes where they come from or are familiar with. In addition the ranchos, pueblitos and pueblos are reproduced in miniature form.

Hundreds of tiny, colorful objects are used to represent forests, deserts, villages, towns, and the nativity scene. Stones from their village, a small structure, re-enforce the memories of their homeland or a place passed on through generations.

Traditional clay, handmade, brightly colored, Mexican miniatures representing cactus, animals, buildings, and people are combined with Victorian house miniatures of snowy Christmas places. The juxtaposition of the hand made verse store bought, snowy landscapes verse deserts landscapes illustrates the diversity of these miniatures where nothing is discarded. These are whimsical approachable and engaging.

The statues of Mary, Joseph and the Christ child are located usually in the center or some proximate place in the scene. Some nativity scenes contain many holy family sets. They are surrounded by vast landscapes of adoring plants, animals, and people.

The creators can walk you through their dioramas like touring their life in three dimensions.  Their dreams and family histories are interwoven into the physical landscape to enacted the urban fabric of Latino neighborhoods.

Majestically during the Christmas season these Nacimeintos sit on display for all the world to view with little recognition to the artist who create them.

As Latino immigrants settle into the suburbs, they bring with them new ideas on how to use public/private space through their cultural practices.  By enacting these spaces Latinos are creating new public art and urban design pattern out of the suburban front yard.

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